Every novice fiction writer is encouraged to get critiques of her novel to improve her writing. This is good advice. A good critique can help a writer improve greatly. Even so, too many critiques, critiques done too early, and having the wrong people critique can be a writer’s worst nightmare. Here are six ways to benefit from critiques.
Don’t get a critique too early.
Finish your first draft before you even consider getting a critique from someone. After writing your first draft, edit and polish your story the best you can before you ever show it to someone else.
In the first draft, you are working out the story on paper. You don’t need someone telling you they don’t believe your characterizations or where your plot is going. You work those out in the first draft as you discover your story. The novel evolves as you write it, and if you share it too soon, it will no longer become your story because other people will affect the way the story evolves.
Brainstorming (not critiquing) with others about plot points you need to work out during the first draft is helpful at times, but remember that it is your story. You have the final say.
After you finish your first draft, put it in a drawer and ignore it for at least a couple of weeks. This will help your objectivity and make it easier to edit. After the first draft has had time to sit, it is now time to do your own editing. You’ll learn your craft by laboring over your first and second drafts to tweak and perfect them. Do the hard work. Don’t expect others to do it for you.
Be careful whom you have critique.
After you’re sure you’ve edited and rewritten the best you can, go ahead and show the story to a few people who love the genre of fiction you write. You’ll want different people in the mix. If you know a grammar expert, definitely recruit that person as one of your best resources. Also, find a couple of people who love to read but don’t necessarily write to point out where characters or plots seem unbelievable or where the reader loses interest.
Last, find a couple of writers well versed in the craft who understand your voice and style of writing. These writers don’t have to be published, but they do need to have a basic understanding about how to write. Many times finding a good group of critique partners is trial and error. Keep working at it until you find the team that helps you the most.
When you get your critiques, don’t be discouraged by varying opinions or opinions that differ from yours..Remember they are opinions. After you read a critique, don’t change anything right away. Let the critique sit a day or two to digest the information and help you look at it in a fresh way.
Don’t feel you have to accept a critique you don’t agree with, but always consider what the critique partner has to say. You may need to research different writing techniques to see if the critique has value. Remember this is your story.
For instance, early on in my writing career, I was getting critiques on a Western novel. Many of the critiques were very helpful, but one person was insisting that I add a lot of dialect spelling to add flavor. After researching for myself, asking different opinions, and reading a couple of Westerns, I came to the conclusion that a little dialect goes a long way and rejected that critique. Another critique really stung because the person said my story started too slow. I wanted to argue the point since I loved the way my story began, but later I realized she was right. I changed the beginning of my story.
You will want a critique partner who will do a beta read. A beta reader will look for correct punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, and any writing errors such as adverbs, point of view problems, and repeated words.
After the beta read, you are ready for the other comments – things such as holes in the plot, character problems, and pacing. Don’t make these changes right away. Stew on them for a while. Consider which opinions you want to use. If more than one person points out something, give that opinion more weight. But remember, it’s your story.
Don’t get too many critiques.
I’d say more than six is excessive. You probably don’t even want that many. If you have too many opinions about your work, you might be tempted to second-guess yourself. It’s your story. Always remember that.