Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Crit Partners Need to Be Honest

Go to fullsize imageThe short answer? Because you're not doing anyone a favor if you're pumping up writing you know can be better.

It's the reason our moms can't be our crit partners. Crit is something you need to give AND receive with an open mind, and you're probably not going to get it from someone who's afraid to step on your toes, just a little.  Just a little being the operative phrase.  There is no need for mean in crit work.

Having said that, take my first draft of my finished ms, for example.

My very first beta reader, Aleeza Rauf, was very honest in telling me that, while she loved the characters and the story, the first half moved too slowly, and that an integral character needed to be introduced much sooner.  I knew she was right, but I had already trimmed over 10,000 words, and had no idea where I'd be able to snip more.  I thought I could trim another 1000 at most.

Know how many words went on the chopping block?  Six. Thousand.  And I don't miss a single, superfluous one.  And that pivotal scene? I moved it up two whole chapters, along with a bit of other re-arrangements throughout the novel.

By the time I sent it off for another beta read, I was very proud of the changes.  Changes, which, if Aleeza hadn't been honest, might not have been made.

My second beta reader, Heidi Windmiller, is basically a genius.  Don't bother to argue, Heidi, because you are. I was floored by her ability to see both minor details, individual story arcs, and the big picture, all at once.  She pointed out spots where my pacing could be picked up or even slowed down, where action or dialogue felt repetetive, or even diction too similar between the two main characters.  And at the same time, she told me how my characters made her laugh, how engrossed she was in the plot. 

More changes for the better ensued, thanks to honest, fair, constructive crit. 

It's probably why my third crit partner, Leigh Ann Kopans, wound up being my biggest cheerleader -because she got to read the best draft yet.  Even so, she helped me make one of the hugest realizations to date: my love triangle was never really a love triangle. I was so biased toward The Boy Who Wins Her Heart, I'd completely written off the other as a viable option.  Ironically enough, she'd done the same in her novel, and we both had our huzzah moment while e-mailing back and forth rallying for The Other Boy in each other's stories.  Furious re-writes, e-mail exchanges, new kissing scenes, and hilarity ensued. 

In case you were wondering, said "kissing scenes" = freaking awesome. Mine AND hers.  You haven't lived until someone asks you exactly how much tongue action went down in a kiss.  But that's a blog post for another day.

So, I think you get the point.  You have to be able to showcase the pros in someone's work while also pointing out the cons, or you're robbing them of the chance to improve.  Telling someone they're "there" when they're not defeats the whole purpose of a critique.  The satisfaction of TRULYgetting "there" will last a peson a lot longer than any hot air you might pump them with.

But enough of the heavy stuff.  To read Leigh Ann's hilarious take on my critique of her novel, (and echoing my sentiments) go here and here.

Happy Critiquing and Revising!


  1. AHHHH Gina! I'm so glad I helped you give J the chance he deserved, even if we all knew from the beginning who would win that love triangle.

    It was an ABSOLUTE PLEASURE to cheerlead for you. Hope on your next WIP I can assist with more of the nitty gritty.

    Last: I know you've seen this post of Natalie's, but according to her crit arsenal list, it seems like you've done a pretty perfect job of assembling a team.

    Now all that's left is finding an agent and LBD hitting the shelves. Should be no problem. ;)

  2. It's tricky finding the right CPs. My old ones were good, but not tough enough. My new CP isn't afraid to tell me how it is. Plus I scored big time with some awesome beta readers. :D

  3. You are too sweet!

    I'm glad you found a nice variety of CPers. And that I can be part of that list.

    I'm interested in how the ms changed when spotlighting the romance with J. I guess I never really thought of it as a love triangle--I was so concentrated on M. Fun changes!

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  5. So very true on all counts. "You haven't lived until someone asks you exactly how much tongue action went down in a kiss." -->> LOVE that!

  6. You're people sound AMAZING (caps necessary) :)

  7. I love my writer's group. Some of the best changes I've made in my writing are when I point them out in others' works. It gives me that objectivity and a light bulb goes off. Right now, I am in a mixed writers group, but I'm hoping to find a YA-centric group.

  8. Aleexa's book reviews are amazing. I could def see how she would be a really beneficial beta reader. I'd love to have her beta for me, too ;)

    Great post. I was just writing one on criticism, and you touched upon a lot of the same issues I was thinking too. It's important to be honest with ourselves as writers and important for our betas to be honest with us too.

  9. I think more people need to be aware like you are. When I first wrote I just wanted someone to be kind and tell me how awesome I was... no wonder five novels still sit collecting dust in the corner of my house!

    Now I've created a thick skin (or at least have a carton of ice cream and tissues near by) and waiting for a REAL critique. One that will lead me to the problem and fix it.

    Great post!!!

  10. I have a friend who read my novel, and I kept saying "Look, PLEASE tell me if there's something you think needs improving, or doesn't need to be there, etc." All she ever had to give me was praise, unadulterated praise. And that was BEFORE I cut out 40k of my manuscript. hehe