I’m going to admit something that will make a lot of you cringe in horror: I didn’t have anyone read my first novel before I queried agents. Well, maybe my husband. I don’t remember for sure. The thing is, I had this idea that it wouldn’t be mine anymore if other people gave me their opinions about it. Of course I didn’t get a single request. This is the manuscript that will forever be shelved. It was a long time ago. I’ve since learned that CPs and beta readers do the opposite–they challenge and inspire me to make my work even better. I talked about that a bit earlier this month in my post on solving the revision puzzle.
When I started writing seriously a few years ago, I got involved in the online writing community–chatting on Twitter, reading through blogs. When I traded CAVEBOY with someone else for the first time, I was terrified. And when I got her notes back, she had a ton of comments. I cringed. I set them aside. Then I took another look, and they made sense. I appreciate that harsh critique more than I can explain. I learned so much from it.
We’re all at different stages in our writing journey, and I find myself at the I’m-so-close-to-an-agent step. I’ve seen those posts where they list clues that you’re about to break in, and I fit the profile. When I get a critique now, I don’t need someone to explain how to show instead of tell, to keep my verbs active, or any of the other things that I needed to hear before. I’ve been doing a lot of critiquing lately, as well as receiving critiques on my revision, and there’s one thing I’ve noticed on both sides. Most of the people I trade with are at the same stage as me, so it’s not a matter of the writing not being there. It’s this one question: Does it make sense?
On the surface, that might seem like a minor question, but it applies to so many aspects of the novel:
- Does this twist make sense based on what’s happened before?
- Does it make sense for the character to act that way?
- Does my whole premise make sense?
- Does this scene make sense in the overall picture?
I could go on and on. We know our stories so well that we often jump to the next plot point without fully explaining how the character got there. Or, as happened with me recently, we revise something out of an early chapter that creates confusion later because we removed the seeds we planted. We don’t notice it ourselves because we know that happened. And if you have the same person read every revision, they may not notice either. It’s great to have CPs that you go back to over and over, but it’s a good idea to have at least one new reader in each round of critiques so that you can catch these types of inconsistencies.
Of course when I receive a critique I still want the reader to point out spots where I need to show instead of tell, make my verbs more active, or fix my pacing, but at this stage in the game, I mostly want to know that it all makes sense.
What stage are you at? Any other thoughts on what you find most valuable in the critique process?