November 6, 2014
By Jennifer Fusco and Lane Heymont
Top 10 Tips for Critiques
I’m one lucky girl. After years of writing in solitude, bumming critiques from friends or winning them as part of the Brenda Novak auction, I discovered writing gold. A critique partner of my very own. So, together, my critique partner, Lane Heymont, and I thought we’d put together our top 10 tips for critiquing.
- Respect your partner – Any productive relationship must be built on mutual respect. Go into the relationship knowing that your style and your partner’s style of writing are not the same, and it is wrong to change that person. Of course, it helps if you’re a fan of their work, too.
- Communication – Make sure you let your crit partner know what you are looking for. Are you just looking to see if they like the “flavor” of the piece you are writing or are you looking for a line edit. Telling them what you need and how fast you are hoping to get the pages turned around. Communicate any deadlines.
- Don’t strike words or sentences without offering a replacement – Some writers, like me, really struggle for word count. Therefore, if a sentence or paragraph isn’t working for Lane, he will generally take a stab at re-writing it. Now, I may not choose to use what he wrote, but generally I can come up with a similar replacement in my own words.
- Don’t feel the need to critique with someone who writes your same genre. I write romance. Lane writes fantasy. I love to read fantasy, but I know I don’t possess the ability to write it myself. It’s just not how I’m wired. I trust that Lane knows the rules of his genre, and I know mine. Therefore, I think we’re more productive as a team because we critique story elements like, character and sentence structure, rather than story structure.
- Know what to expect – Lane is hell with track changes. I know when I get a critique back its going to be full of red lines and comment bubbles. He’s tough, but that’s what I want. Someone to make me a better writer.
- Time — It takes time to accurately and fairly critique someone’s manuscript. You’re hurting your fellow author if you breeze through the provided pages without putting in the effort to truly dig deep into the material. Someone (assuming a friend) has poured their heart and creative energies into the words you are reading, and that deserves your full attention. A close read is an important process of critiquing material in a productive way.
- Productive — Be. Productive. The comments you make pertaining a manuscript need to push the manuscript in a better direction. If not that, then at least get your critique partner thinking. This includes phrasing criticisms in a way that doesn’t feel like an attack. If I’m not liking Jen’s protagonist, I’m not going to say, “I hate her. Change her.” No, I’m going say, “I feel like she’s coming off a little too whiney.” Why? Because I might perceive the character that way, while no one else does. One perk of having a minor in psychology is knowing the “I feel…” statements. I’m not commenting on Jen’s writing or character development, but rather how I perceive it.
- Rewriting — As Jen mentioned above, sometimes I rewrite sentences in her manuscripts. I don’t expect her to use what I write, because it’s not my story. It’s hers and special to A story is an extension of who you are. So why do I rewrite, which may come off as presumptuous to some people? If I feel a sentence needs some rewording, just saying, “reword this” does little help. How can you reword something without knowing why it should be reworded? By doing so myself I am showing Jen the kind of flavor or direction I feel she should be heading in. I’m comfortable doing this, because we tell each other what we’re looking for. Does she want something grittier? Am I looking to keep a protagonist sounding like a weakling? Also, there’s no need for Jen to even use what I write. Again, it’s her story and needs to be in her flavor. If anything, it will get your critique partner thinking.
- Be Supportive — Plain and simple, support your critique partner. We all have those gloomy days where we think our writing sucks and success is this sneaky little sprite always just out of our reach. Those are the days you need to tell your partner, “No. You’re writing kicks arse. Keep writing!” But, what if you don’t believe that? Then you shouldn’t be critique partners with that person. This is a personal relationship with someone you should respect and whose work you enjoy, otherwise you’re only wasting each other’s time. I think Jen’s writing is amazing. There have been times where I’ve read things of Jen’s and said, “Damn. This is going to sell like CRAZY.” Support shouldn’t only come when it’s needed. It should be expressed whenever.
- Confidentiality — Don’t discuss the particulars of your partner’s work with other authors. Jen trusts me with her work. I get to see plot, story, and character development unique to her. Imagine if I went blabbing to a mutual friend about her story and six months later that story ended up published by said friend. Wow, that would suck. Of the friend and me. It’s wrong and unprofessional to reveal privileged information. SO, if you’re going to discuss your partner’s material with someone, don’t be a critique partner for anyone.