My first post on writing advice.

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.

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8 responses to My first post on writing advice.

  1. I do consider all of the ideas you’ve offered on your post. They’re very convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  2. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  3. Hey, I can’t view your site properly within Opera, I actually hope you look into fixing this.

    • Heather

      I wish I could do something about this, but I fear it is probably more to do with WordPress and their compatibility with Opera and so you might try contacting them and seeing if they have any tips for you.

  4. This is fantastic advice on what to ask for when you ask for critiques. You can get such a better picture than you will if you say, “I don’t know, just tell me everything you think I should change.”

    I also like that these are simple enough that if you have children as beta readers, they can do the same critiquing tasks.

    Thanks for this post!


  5. I really enjoyed your writing advise. Clear and straight to the point of what we need to focus on when writing. I look forward to many more posts from you to help me improve my craft! Thanks!

  6. Jen

    Fantastic! I need this so much! Thanks, Heather.

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