Wordy Wednesday: Best Critique Partner Traits

IT’S SO WARM OUT.

It was thirty five out yesterday and already it’s forty today and I’ve just been wearing a light utility jacket to class the past couple days and I never want it to be cold again.

Also I forgot to mention in Monday’s post, because I’ve already talked about it everywhere else (but I should probably share it here too): I got hired to write for The Huffington Post last week! I’m going to be a blogger for their College section and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED. Watch out on Twitter and Facebook for me to obsessively share the links to my posts.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. And since I’m currently in the midst of sending a novel back and forth with critique partners, I figured I’d talk a little about that.

Critique partners (and/or beta readers) are so, so vital to writing. I’ve been working on this particular novel for three and a half years now–this particular draft for over a year–and every time I think I’ve finally fixed everything, I send it off to a round of CPs, only for them to find even more issues.

On the downside, this has started feeling like an endless process. On the upside, these issues have been growing smaller and smaller with each subsequent round of notes (so I’ve got to reach the end eventually).

Because I’ve been working on this novel for so long and it’s gone through so many rounds of critique, I’ve worked with quite a few CPs at this point. All of them have brought something different to their critiques and all have been crucial to getting the novel to where it is now and I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

I’ve noticed, though, that there are certain traits my CPs’ critiques share that make them particularly effective. Some of the critiques have all these traits; others have only a couple, but do those things really well. So I figured I’d share them as kind of a checklist for how to effectively critique someone else’s writing.

Question Everything

First and foremost, a great critique partner reads actively and is constantly on the lookout for things you could improve. This doesn’t mean, like, questioning your every choice as a writer. But also not accepting everything you say as fact. (For example, I had some issues with character motivation a couple rounds of critique ago and one of my CPs basically said, “I could go along with this, because the text has told me to, or you could show me why I should and actually make me want to.”)

Let You Know What They’re Thinking

If a CP has any qualms about something, big or small, it’s his/her job to tell you. Sometimes something might not seem like that big of an issue to a critique partner, but in mentioning it to the writer s/he uncovers a larger issue that really does need to be fixed.

It’s also nice if, say, you’re working on a whodunit and the CP keeps you updated on who she thinks, you know, done it throughout the manuscript. (The novel I’m revising involves a kind of tricky red herring situation and it took a couple rounds of critique to make it work right. I never would have known there was a problem with it in the first place if one of my critique partners hadn’t kept me updated on who she thought was the bad guy, because it didn’t look like an issue from the outside, but definitely was one.)

Editorial Letter + In-Line Notes

This might be more of a Me Thing than anything else, but my favorite way to receive critique is to have both a letter detailing the overall state of the novel in the CP’s opinion (big issues, overall reactions, etc.), along with notes right in the text (usually as comments on Track Changes) for the smaller stuff. This helps you sort through the feedback so you can quickly figure out what’s going to be a big, time-consuming, difficult fix versus an easy, quick one. (And if you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to change something based on a critique partner’s reaction, the fact that s/he thinks it’s significant enough to mention in the letter means it’s probably something you really should change.)

For example, one of my CPs had mentioned in a comment in the text that she was having trouble with a character’s motivation in one scene, but none of the others had mentioned anything there. I probably would have written the comment off as an individual issue (brought on by being tired or having to take a long break between chapters or something), except that the CP then went on to talk in more detail in her letter about why she was having an issue with the motivation there, and it turned out she was completely right and the other critique partners in that round had just simply missed it.

Compliment the Parts They Like

This is such a vital part of critique, because while it’s important to know what’s bad so you can fix it, it’s also important to know what’s good so you can:

A) Aim for bringing the rest of the manuscript up to that level.

B) Not accidentally ruin something that’s working well.

C) Remember that you don’t entirely suck at writing.

I like to think of reading critique partners’ compliments as the reward for slogging through the rest of their comments. If a critique partner compliments a certain sentence or plot twist or scene, it makes fixing all the issues s/he’s also pointed out seem so much more doable (and worth it).

Additionally, this is really useful when juggling several CPs’ comments. A couple rounds of critique ago, one CP absolutely hated the way I’d ended a chapter and another loved it. I hadn’t been sure if I should change it per the first CP’s advice or not, because I really liked that chapter ending myself. The fact that the second CP complimented it reminded me that while my CPs’ opinions are important, they are just that: opinions.

Not everyone is going to like the way you phrase every sentence or end every chapter, but as long as someone likes it, you’re doing something right. And I wouldn’t have known that that chapter ending was okay if all I’d seen was the criticism.

**********

What are some of your favorite traits of your critique partners? Share them in the comments so we can fangirl over these wonderful people who put up with the worst of our writing. πŸ™‚

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

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4 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: Best Critique Partner Traits

  1. I don’t have any CPs yet, but I think they’ll be really useful when my novel is ready for critique. I’m currently revising a mystery in space, so I think my CPs will be particularly helpful in telling me whether my mystery is unpredictable or not. No one likes a predictable mystery!

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