Welcome to Part 4 of my Critique Series. If you missed the first three posts, definitely check them out. Fresh Eyes, 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner, and Where, Oh Where, Has My Little CP Gone?.
So, once you’ve found someone you’d like to try out as a CP, what do you do? Unlike a good crit, I’m only skimming the surface here, but maybe it will help a bit. First thing, you’ll probably want to exchange work for a trial crit. If you’re writing a novel, exchange opening scenes, or even the entire first chapter. Beginnings make good first exchanges because the other person can see your work as a reader would, and be able to tell you if something is confusing, or if you’re revealing too much or too little.
How do you know what to crit in the other person’s work, and how do they know what to crit in yours? This is a detail that needs to be worked out either before, or as, the work is exchanged. Personally, I prefer to have the other person do an in depth, extensive critique. That allows me to gauge the person’s skill in critting, and whether they’re at a similar level in knowledge of writing technique. It also lets me know if they’re going to be nit-picky, or if they overlook a lot of errors. I can also figure out whether they pay attention as they read, or if they just skim, and whether they have decent reading and language comprehension. Sometimes, I’ll even “salt” the work with problems of varying complexity to see if the person is able to pick them out and make viable suggestions for fixing them.
What are some of the things to ask for, or expect, in a critique? When you specify what you want in a crit, specify any, or all, of the following, among other things.
- Mechanics: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, verb tense, pronoun use, sentence construction, word choice, typos, etc. Let the other person know if any of these are a particular problem for you, and if you simply want errors pointed out, or if you want suggestions for fixes.
- Narration and Description: Is everything understandable? Have you given enough, or too much, information? Are there info dumps? Is your description over done, is it too sparse to give the reader enough to approximate your vision? Any purple prose? Do metaphors and analogies work? Is narrative balanced with dialog and action? Is all the narrative necessary to move the story, or have you gone of off on tangents and self-indulgent info dumps? Any characters staring at themselves in mirrors in order to describe themselves to the reader? Are details and characteristics consistent throughout?
- Dialog and Action: Is your dialog realistic, the way people speak, or have you given all your characters the same voice? Any talking head syndrome? Are dialog tags or beats effective, overdone, impossible? Can the reader visualize what the characters are doing as they move around the scene? Any extra body parts or physically impossible movements?
- Pace and Flow: Does the story move along, or does it drag in places, or halt entirely? Are some areas simply too fast for the reader to follow? Does one scene flow smoothly into the next? Is the order of events logical?
- Voice: Does your voice as an author intrude on the story? Is your message or agenda interfering with plot? Is the narrative voice consistent, reliable or unreliable? Does each character have his or her own unique voice?
- Character: Any flat, cardboard cutout characters? Are all the main characters unique, well rounded, three dimensional individuals? Do main characters grow or change, or remain static? Are character motivations clear and logical, or at least justified? Is there enough info given about minor characters for the reader to have a hint about who they are? Are any of the characters stereotypical? Any Mary Sues? Is the point of view clear and consistent?
- Plot and Arc: Does the sequence of events move logically from beginning to end? Is there enough conflict? Is the story working toward a resolution of conflict? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Plot holes? Have you skipped or glossed over events the reader needs in order to understand? Have you given too much, held the reader’s hand?
There are other elements to crit as well, but there isn’t enough space here to go through everything. Both you and your potential CP need to know what elements the other wants and expects to be critiqued. You need to be very clear about whether you want suggestions for fixes, and you both need to understand that such suggestions are not an attempt to rewrite the story. Both of you also need to understand that trying to take over, rewrite, or make significant changes to the other’s story isn’t okay.
When you do a crit, it’s important to read carefully, and analyze the writing, both in detail, and in a “big picture” view. You both owe it to the other to do the best crit you are capable of doing. If the other person just does a rushed, half assed crit, just skimming the surface, be aware that’s probably what they’ll do each time.
In order for this potential partnership to have the best chance of succeeding, you both need to be clear about expectations and needs, as well as scheduling and level of commitment. Don’t take advantage, or allow yourself to be taken advantage of.
Are there other issues you would need to clear up at the beginning? Other specific elements to a good crit? Things to look out for that signify a potentially poor match?