Or, actually, critiquing advice. And it isn’t my advice, but something that I read that struck a chord with me so I wanted to share.
As writers, we need critique to help us improve. We all realize this (though sometimes accepting it can be difficult). But how often do we put thought into what kind of critique we should be asking for?
Here are three basic questions we can ask our critiquers that will help us get an overall view of our story:
1. At what point did you put it down? If your reader went from beginning to end without halting, that’s an indicator that your first thirty pages are doing their job of introducing the situation, characters, and stakes while holding the reader’s attention. On the other hand, if your friend says that at page eight she took a break to have a root canal—well, that speaks for itself.
2. What characters did you feel the most strongly about? If your reader hates your protagonist’s opponent (a.k.a. your villain), consider reexamining that character to give her some qualities that make her at least a little sympathetic and therefore more complex. If, however, your reader doesn’t remember your protagonist’s name, closely evaluate how you can make your protagonist more intense and even larger than larger than life.
3. What parts did you skip? The answer to this question can be a real eye-opener. Although the answer will surely differ from reader to reader, what a reader decides not to read is important. By skipping a passage, your reader is telling you that that section of text didn’t establish an emotional connection. Check these skipped passages closely—they’re prime targets for rewriting or elimination.
Sometimes it’s the most obvious things that are the hardest to see. Asking your critiquer to answer these simple questions will reveal a lot about your story. You’ll know immediately where you aren’t quite hitting the mark.
And you can really make the process easier for your critiquer by asking them to mark a star at the place where they put your manuscript down of their own accord (and not for some pressing reason), x out the parts they skipped, and even write notes (observations, questions, what have you) about the characters in the margins so you can see if you’ve portrayed them the way you visualize them in your head. You’d have a visual representation of the places in your story that need to be spiced up and edited. (And if you’re worried about having to print out multiple copies of your manuscript, which can get expensive, either have them mark lightly in pencil, or ask each succeeding reader to use a different color pen. You can also have them do this digitally by using the “comments” and “track changes” options in Microsoft word, and again by having every one use a different color as they do so.)
If you’d like to read the entire article, you can find it here.