Okay, so you’ve written a novel—or at least the first draft of one. Or maybe you’re not all the way done yet, but you’re pretty darn close. You stumbled upon LTWF’s Critique Partner page and found yourself an awesomesauce beta reader. You’ve gotten to know each other a bit, discovered that you both have a secret weakness for chocolate-covered gummy bears in your late night ice cream and a fondness for melodrama. Things are going good.
Then it comes time to send him or her your story.
This can be a nerve-wracking experience both for you and your new beta, especially if neither of you has ever critiqued for a critique partner before. And even old hands can get nervous when working with someone new. What if they get offended? What if they don’t tell me what they really think? What if I come across as a total jerk? What if they secretly hate my story but refuse to tell me?
Here are a few ways to smooth over this transition.
First of all, if you’re new, let your CP know! As a writer gets more and more work out there, his skin grows thicker. I’ve gotten a lot more resilient to critique since I first started. Good, honest critique is very important, but there are many ways to phrase something.
For example, if I’m critiquing a manuscript for someone I know well—someone I’m good friends with and who I know has been writing a good long time, I might just say, “That ballroom scene isn’t grounded enough. Your characters seem to float in a void, and I don’t feel an emotional connection to the protagonist.”
But for someone I know is new and who might not be ready for more blunt, straight-forward remarks, I might phrase things differently: “I think you could improve that ballroom scene; maybe try adding a few sentences about how the other girls’ dresses look or how the chandelier sparkles or things like that. Right now, it’s hard to picture the characters’ surroundings. Also, I’d like to know a little more about the protagonist’s feelings. That way, I can sympathize with her more.”
See what I mean? Both get the same points across, but the second is a little gentler about it. Of course, always be polite! No one appreciate your saying, “The ballroom scene sucks.”
Also, if you’re the one getting your story critiqued, try helping your betas out by letting them know what points you’d like them to focus on. For example, let them know you’re having trouble with world building and ask them for their thoughts. Or maybe you’re afraid your protagonist is too whiny, but you’re not sure. Ask them! Think your middle lags a bit? Or that your epilogue is too neat? Ask for advice, and you shall receive 🙂
Every critique partner relationship is different. Some like to do line-by-line comments. Others like to exchange the story chapter by chapter. Still others want to read the whole thing at once. Each adds its unique perspective on your story, and all are incredibly useful.
So get out there and start marking up some stories!
Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.