10 Tips for Using Critiques to Improve Your Novel

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Many writers of fiction wonder if they should have critique partners. Critiques can cause beginning writers problems, but they can also be helpful if they’re used right. Even the most experienced authors can benefit from a critique of their work, but bad critiques or using them in the wrong way can become your worst nightmare. Here are 10 tips help you benefit from critiques.

Don’t get a critique too early. Finish your first draft before you even consider getting a critique. In fact, you should write your first draft before you ever show it to someone else. There are some reasons for this. 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 as you discover your story. The novel evolves as you write it, and if you share it too soon, it will no longer become the story you have because other people’s opinions will affect the way the story evolves.

You can get help brainstorming during the first draft. Brainstorming is different than critiquing. When you are struggling with a plot point or have written your story into a corner, brainstorming can help. Remember that brainstorming consists of getting a lot of ideas about a certain plot plot. It doesn’t discuss how to write the novel or cover more than one plot point. Once you get a variety of ideas, one of them might spark a totally different idea to lead your story in the right direction.

Edit your own first draft. 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. Now do your own editing. You’ll learn your craft by laboring over your first and second drafts working them to become great. A book I recommend for this stage of the process is Self Editing for Fiction Writers. There are also a number of editing checklists free online. Do the hard work. Don’t expect others to do it for you.

Find critique partners. 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.

Be careful who critiques your novel. I’ve lived through a number of horror stories in my early days of writing because I chose the wrong critique partners. Once I had a group of critique partners who wrote contemporary category romance. I write intense historical fiction. It didn’t work out well. Another time, I chose a novice who though she knew everything about writing. She kept wanting me to phonetically spell out all my accents. When I wouldn’t do it, she almost had me in tears. Later, after I’d studied the craft more, I found out I was the one doing it the right way. Many times finding a good group of critiquers is trial and error. Keep working at it until you find the team that helps you the most.

Don’t Get Discouraged. When you get your critiques, don’t be discouraged by varying opinions. Remember they are opinions. Also, after you read a critique, don’t change anything right away. Let the critique set a day or two to digest the information and help you look at it in a fresh way. Sometimes a critique will be spot on, but it stings so much, we can’t see it at first. Other times, the critique partner is adding too much of her own style and would ruin your voice if you took the advise. You are the expert on your novel.

If there is something you struggle with, inform your critique partners to look for it. You may have a difficulty with setting or you’re not sure the character motivation is right. Tell your critique partners, and they may be able to help you in those areas.

Don’t let a critique partner change your voice. Take everything critique partners say into consideration, but don’t let them change you voice or your story to suit them. At some point, you may need to back away from critiques to make sure you’re writing the story your way, or you may need to find different critique partners. Do what you need to do to maintain the integrity of your story.

Get different kinds of critiques. This is where having different types of critiques helps. Sometimes you will want to tell each person what type of critique you want. Some critiquers will look for holes in plot or character motivations. Others will notice the “rules” for writing and let you know when you’re head hopping or when you haven’t resisted the urge to explain. Some are sticklers for word choice and will alert you when you have worded something clumsily. The last kind of critique you want before you submit your manuscript is a beta read. A beta reader will look for punctuation, spelling errors, repeated words, weak verbs, etc, and will let you know if your character changed eye color or shrug too many times. Even if you don’t get the other critiques, every author needs a beta reader.

 Don’t get too many critiques. More than ten 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.

Keep Your Focus

by Carole Brown

In one of my recent devotionals I read recently, the topic was on endurance, and the way to endure was to focus. 

A runner must focus on the goal. He wants to finish his race which means he must tone his body and build his strength to endure to the end. If/when he finishes, he will have the satisfaction of gaining an earthly reward: greenery wreaths, plaques, money or ribbons.

But a Christian, to finish his race, must focus on Christ/God. Keeping our attention on him will make the hindrances seem less frightening. Focusing on God keeps our perspectives in line and correct. We want to finish our race knowing our reward will be the words: Well done, my good and faithful servant.  We know it is a never-ending, permanent, and glorious reward well sought after and certainly well worth striving for. 

Let us remember:

  • Know ye that they who run in an earthly race runs to receive a prize, but only one obtains it? But every man that strives for mastery in this heavenly race must be temperate in all things so that we all might obtain an incorruptible crown.  (paraphrased from KJV: I Corinthians 9:24-25)

racer run free

Run! Focus! Win!

How do you keep your focus on God?

 

The Hated Reviews

by Carole Brownbooks on shelf free

 

“I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories,

just as long as he finishes the book.”
—Roald Dahl, WD

 

Reviews:

  • Eh. It was alright. At the low low price of free I can’t complain but it was just interesting enough that I had to finish but I certainly won’t recommend it to anyone.

Lol. Free. Interesting. Had to finish. ‘Nuff said. 

  • I just really wish I’d known this was a “Christian” book before purchasing it – I’ll be more attentive to descriptions in the future.

What? You bought it and didn’t read the description?                                                        At least she read it, and just maybe learned her lesson! 

  • This book was very well written. Kept me in suspense the whole time. Felt compassion, anger, disbelief, relief, so many emotions. Felt like I was reading about real life.

Very well written, huh? Great review. I’ll take it, even though, whoever, gave it a “3-star.”

How do “bad” reviews make YOU feel? How should “we” feel when receiving them? Angry? Hurt? Disappointed? Discouraged?

We can let it hurt us to the place where we’re ready to give up writing, or…

We can buckle down, take what good (if any) we can get from the review and improve our ability, determined to grow instead of withering. Ignoring the negative, unprofitable only benefits us. 

 

We can only grow as writers, if we learn…and that means realizing that this business is not all roses and acceptance. We must:   forest path free

  • Find our path. By that I mean, what are we called/what have we chosen as our writing call? 
  • Be true to that path. Don’t waver. If you’re called to write nonfiction, then stick to that. If you know Sci-fi is your thing, then plow straight ahead. I KNOW rocky hillside path freeI’m called to write suspense/mystery. I might toss in a little humor and romance, but suspense/mystery is my core calling.

 

(This is not to say people can’t write in more than one genre. Not at all. Many writers spread their writing wings to cover more than one, and that’s okay. That’s their calling, their ability, their interest.)

  • Accept that not everyone is going to like your writing. I was heartbroken at my first “bad” review of three stars, but as I expanded my writing, gained more experience, published more books, I’ve accepted that I can NOT please everyone. 
  • Grow. Use the negative to your advantage, by turning it around and helping you to gain insight into improving your craft.
  • Finally, relax and be at peace. If you’ve found your path, staying true, accepting the dislikes and growing, then you’re doing what you should. Know that God is leading you on the path you should be on, the one that is the best for you, and proceed straight ahead with peace in your heart that you’re doing

    hand freeall you can do. 

Be glad that another person has read your book. Who knows what may stick in their mind down the road and lead them to pick up another book of yours. And if not, then it’s their problem/decision. Leave it in God’s hands.

Is it Real or Not?

by Carole Brownbook world free

Writers are creators. They create people, settings and events. To do this, they need real or realistic thoughts that turn real-life into imaginary stories on paper. And to produce the work they do, they need three things: 

  1. Imagination
  2. Love of work
  3. Dedication

Why? Because without all three, most people could not continue through the pressure and discouragement you encounter in this line of work. Today, let’s focus on the first one: Imagination.

Without imagination stories would be unrealistic, flat and boring. Imagination keeps the writer soaring and excited over their work, during their production and marketing. Imagination helps to produce the results you, as a writer, craves. Using your imagination successfully is what keeps the reader reading and coming back for more of your work.

forest path free

How would you like to stroll along this lane? What emotions would fill you? What sensations would stroke you?

  • Writers create settings. That includes communities, whether a forest or a city. To do so and do so correctly, one must give the reader that pull into the setting. As one reader said of the Appleton, West Virginia Romantic Mystery series: “I want to move there.” That’s making the setting real. The reader must experience the coolness of the shady forest and cool wind on their cheeks and shoulders, sense with their feet the squishy, moist softness of pine needles on the path, sway with the headiness of standing on the edge of a cliff and staring into the abyss below. These settings can be real places you’ve visited or imaginary ones you’ve dreamed up, but whichever they must seem real to the reader.

 

Civil war canon free

The Civil War was a very real event. How would you draw your readers into this? What would the sound of a cannon be like? What emotions would your characters feel? Fear? Excitement? Awe? 

  • Writers create events. Again, whether you’re writing about specific happenings in our world and inserting special scenes that help create the story you’re penning, the reader must believe, as they’re reading, that this certainly did happen–or at least it did while they’re reading your book. 

 

old woman free

What is she experiencing right now? What emotions are running through her? Is she remembering her past? Worrying over her future? Afraid? Hungry?

  • Writers create characters. They become people watchers. A certain move, speech impediment or action from a real life person aids them in creating their story world character and help that character emit responses that bring them alive.  If your characters are “real-like”, readers will shiver with fright, laugh with happiness and cry over the characters’ disappointments.

Is it okay to use real “stuff” in your books. Depending on what it is, usually, yes. Normally, it’s okay to mention historical figures, historical events and settings from yesteryears and today. In my WWII Spies series, I bring in a mention of the current president during that era. In some of my books, I’ll mention nearby towns and cities, but create my own community. In one book, I was asked where the town was located. Real? Seemed so to that reader.

Does it matter whether your book is filled with real settings and events? Do you need a book filled with people who really did/do live? No, not exactly.

  • But bringing in real historical people lends an air of truth to your book. Studying people aids you in inventing your characters.
  • Showing that your story plot happened during a specific event grabs a reader’s attention of what could have been. 
  • Setting your book in a particular city or place is great if you stay true to locations and particular things in that city. Equally good is creating chef Ok freean imaginary community where it’s so lifelike that, as I mentioned above, readers want to move there.

Is it real? Or imaginary? Only the writer knows for sure. That’s the way we want it, isn’t it?

Tell me, how do you create your settings, events and characters? How much truth is in your work/books?

Successful writing!

Should a Writer Dream Big?

Writing is a discouraging profession. We’re constantly told not to get our hopes up. Getting published is as unlikely as winning the lottery. Then if we’re fortunate enough to be published, we’re reminded that most novels sell less than 1,000 copies. If we do sell more than that, we’re admonished to not quit our day job because very few writers ever make enough to support themselves.

Christian writers have is worse. If they dare to dream big, they’re told they are pursuing worldly success instead of keeping their eyes on God.

Yet Scripture tells to believe that nothing is impossible with God. So what are we to do? We should follow the same steps anyone would follow, writer or not, when God gives them a dream.

Dream Big: Don’t put limitations on God. If you knew that after hard work and perseverance you would succeed, what dreams would you pursue? What dreams has God placed in your heart that are God sized? Every dream will be different. One person’s dream may be for one person to be touched by his writing that nobody else can reach. Another might be reaching for publication. Still another person might be looking for a career in writing that we’ll enable her to quit her day job. No dream is wrong when God is the one who put the desire there. Pray about it and make sure it’s God. But if He placed the desire there, run with it.

Psalm 37:4-5 Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.

Write Down Your Dreams & Visions: After you’ve decided what your God given desires are, write them down. Keep the list somewhere that you can refer to often like the refrigerator. Then work toward those dreams. Do your part so God can do His.

Habakkuk 2:2-3 Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.

Do Your Part: God is the One responsible for fulfilling His promises, but you need to do your part. Obey God even when it seems like you’re going in the wrong direction. Work hard to learn your craft and to write what God has given you. No matter how many rejections you get, Don’t Quit! Most agents and publishers admit successful authors aren’t the best writers, they’re the ones who never quit. Do your part, and God will open the doors.

Revelation 3:7 … When I open a door, no one can close it. And when I close a door, no one can open it.

Remember the Results are in God’s Hands: Once you’ve done all you can do, it is no longer your responsibility. Don’t strive to do what only God can do. Our hope is not in the dream God gave us. Our hope is in God. Trust in Him to guide your paths to the place He wants you to be. Whatever happens, God is more than enough.

Proverbs 3:5-6  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Putting God in our Writing

by Carole Brownquestion-mark2 free

As an inspirational writer and author, I had to come to the decision whether I would include God in my books?

  • Should I have heavy scenes with definite doses of conviction on the sinner and salvation transformations?
  • Should I go easy with the above things and hint at or subtly include all things pertaining to God?
  • Should I stick with “clean” writing that shows improvement in my characters?

With these three choices that I narrowed down (for me), I compromised.  I chose to go with light or no mentions of God. Does that sound like I went too far “left” in my choice? Let me explain:

 In my Denton and Alex Davies series, I stick with improvements in my characters. I might mention church or meal prayers, but for the most part, I try to show a positive change in couples or people in this series. I like the subplot to focus on the love (relationship) between couples.

  • In the first book (Hog Insane), the two protagonists, who are married and avid mystery book lovers as well as amateur detectives, learned that give and take is one of the best things in a marriage. 
  • In the second book (Bat Crazy), one of the secondary characters had to realize where her loyalties really lay.
  • In the upcoming third one (Daffy’s Duck), I hope to show a distrustful relationship that has greatly improved by listening. 

Now in my WWII series, my Appleton, WV series and my debut, stand alone book, the God scenes are more real. I like to show acknowledgement that characters see the need of reaching out to God for help. These are light scenes, but there, and, hopefully, real to the reader. 

It was a slow process and one that I battled through writing my first few books, but I finally felt peace over how and how much to bring God into my books, when I decided to go with this decision.

Woman looking at large book

Woman looking at doorway in large book

Will I ever go with the more serious, strong God scenes? Probably not. And, no I’m not ashamed of my God. But I want to reach people who will put up with “some” God in my books and also encourage Christians to read and enjoy my books.

 

Will I ever go with clean, but no God mentions? Maybe. Time will tell on this one. I will definitely have to know the story will hold up for a valuable lesson to do so.

What’s your thought on bringing God into your book? Yes. or No?

Happy Reading!

Overwhelmed…Again!

by Carole BrownBurnout2 free

Once again I’ve allowed too many things to gather in one week than is healthy for me physically and mentally, and probably spiritually too.

This week has been stressful to say the least.  Grandson care, writing, appointments, therapy, driving, housework and all that goes with that, battle with faulty internet, inability to get satisfaction with a book cover, events that were scheduled but not necessary for us to attend although hubby and I felt “obligated” for various reasons.

Does every writer take on more than they can handle, or is it just me? I think not. Once again I have to sit down and figure out how to de-stress my life, and I’d like to share that with you today. Unless you’re a permanently organized individual, you might find these ideas helpful. I’m going to:

  1. First I need to sit down and study my upcoming weekly schedules and check off everything that positively needs to stay on my to-do list. These are very important things that should not be put off: a doctor’s appointment for hubby that I want to share with him. An Essential oil meeting that is important to me for various reasons, including my health regards. A promotion evening that is important in marketing my writing. Church, of course. These items are the basic things I know I have to keep.
  2. There were two events going on today that hubby and I felt pressured to attend–not that it was necessary to do so, but by “guilt words” from others. To say the least, we were stressed, and after we’d headed down the road, hubby said, basically: “That’s it. We’re not going to either.” And we didn’t. But we did make a detour for a few minutes alone to have breakfast together. Something we haven’t had time to do for awhile. Reminder, stop scheduling events that are unnecessary for ME.
  3. Writer (Me!), stop allowing unimportant life stuff drain the energy and inspiration from my being. Find the perfect time to write, and get something down. Stop allowing distractions to hinder my writing time. Figure out my best writing time and do my best to stick with it.
  4. prayer freeFor me, I have to take the time to replenish my soul with prayers and reading God’s word and good devotionals. When my soul is at peace, then it’s so much easier to handle all the rest of life.

 

 

Keep life as simple as possible. I KNOW who and what are important to me, so focus on those things and people, and stop being pushed into thingsdog free I have zero interest in. Take breaks. Sit on the porch. Read a book I love. Do nothing but stare at the leaves and sky. Whisper after dark with the one you love whether person or pet. Call someone you’ve neglected. Take a walk by yourself or with a friend or someone else. Do something you really enjoy at least once a week. Plan a vacation: short or long, close by or far away. Smile. Love. Pray. Relax.

I need to remember to stay on track. Only then will I have fewer weeks like this past one. 

Do you have weeks that are desperately hard to get through? What’s your go-to help to prevent the overwhelming?

Wishing you all a great week!