Following on Donna’s excellent critique partner post, I’d like to write about the actual experience of ‘critting.’
So you don’t think you have enough experience to be a critique partner?
Can you read?
I know. It sounds simplistic. But critique partners don’t develop overnight. And when you’re first starting to realize you need one, you can be sure that Nora Roberts is probably too busy to look over your work. (She writes 8-9 books a year). Needing a critique partner usually means the person expects you to critique their work, too.
I know it sounds strange to put two people together who’ve never done this task before. Or to put an experienced critiquer with an inexperienced one. But you’d be surprised at how well it can work.
So, how do you develop YOUR skill as a critique partner if you’ve never been one?
Read, read, read.
Once you’ve stepped off the cliff and offered to read another person’s work, there are a few rules for a newbie ‘critter.”
Grammatical errors are usually the easiest to find. Note them.
Look for instances in which you do not understand what is happening. Ask for clarification. Even if it is something as simple as “Who’s talking here?”
Read passages out loud. If it sounds odd, uneven, choppy or awkward, make a note of it.
Do not be afraid to insert a comment, sentence or paragraph that might clarify – such as “This doesn’t sound like how a little kid would lick an ice cream cone. Kids are messy and usually need bibs, napkins and a bath...perhaps this can be a little more realistic?”
When something makes you smile, sigh, get angry or sad, say so.
Start slow, read carefully, and most of all, enjoy your friend’s story. You’re job isn’t to take a hatchet to it, but to read it as a reader and note the areas you enjoy and the areas that need improvement.
Feed back is important. There is nothing worse to a writer than to have someone go through their manuscript, write “Good!” and “Wow!” in 8-10 places and that’s it. On the surface, that sounds great, but authors are really looking for a gut reaction. Authors want recognition for telling a story that reaches out to the soul in some way. They want to know if they touched the reader, if they elicited emotions that can be treasured, examined and mulled over.
Authors are like engineers. They construct the story, putting the right words here to support the theme, and the best words there to frame their masterpiece. The reward is a reader who steps into that world and finds something that speaks to them.
Read your partner’s work. Give them value for their construction. If a theme is weak, or a framework unsupported, it will fall. But if you can assist in strengthening the book, the reward is a gift that many people can enjoy.