Saturday, April 14, 2012

I so enjoy all that we do here at A Pen for Your Thoughts. Are you now ready for another great Writing Tip about being a Critique Partner from our knowledgeable author contributor,  Delia Latham?
Delia has some suggestings to all of us who are Critting Partners or who toss our manuscripts out there to be scrutinized.

To me, it's a bit like going to the doctor to get myself fixed up and working well before I go out in the world where everyone can see me from head to toe (with my best clothes on, of course.)

Read below, and find out about being that doctor critter. Get some good ideas to help you or those that are critting you out. Don't forget to send in YOUR own comments about critting.

Critting it Right
Delia Latham
© 2012

 Critiques are a literary “bread of life” to some writers. Others shudder at the thought of allowing another author to rip/tear/shred at their carefully chosen words.

To each his own.

Here's my take on the subject. A solid critique can mean the difference in having a manuscript (which may never be seen by anyone other than the writer and the editors who reject it) or a novel (which makes the journey from writer to critique partner to writer to editor…then into print and available to readers).

I'm not here to laud the value of a critique. If your mind is made up to hate them, I doubt I could change it anyway. So this article is for those of you who, like me, wouldn’t dare send a manuscript out without your critique partner—or better yet, partners—having seen it first.

I’ll talk about giving constructive criticism. Since I'm certainly not the reigning guru, you can take or toss anything I say—just as I hope you would do if I critiqued your manuscript. Because that's the whole idea, isn't it? Get someone else's take on your work. She'll watch for typos and misspellings, sentences that don't flow well, and inconsistencies (like your hero having blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another). She'll also make suggestions she thinks will improve your words. The thing to remember with a critique is that, just because your crit partner makes a suggestion does not mean you must use it. It's a suggestion. Something to consider. That's all.

(That’s the extent of what I’ll say about receiving a critique.)

All that said, critiques can hurt. I've been there. So, while it's important to be honest (otherwise, what's the point?), it's also important to be nice. Making the writer feel unspeakably stupid should not be your goal.

And please, please…when you read something you do like, say so! It's like salve on an open wound to get that little nugget of praise in the middle of a chapter that's bleeding red crit marks. It can mean the difference in leaving your critique recipient sobbing in defeat or rejuvenated and raring to do another rewrite.

Seriously…isn't that what it’s all about?

Let's look at some examples. For the record, I’ve been given permission to share these tidbits of critiques with you. (I won’t be sharing the writers’ names or the titles of their work.) Blue text indicates my comments and/or changes.

Not wanting Nate the men to see her amusement, Rose busied herself with Jenny Ann, handing her the baby a piece of meat to chew on. Her hero acted like a she bear protecting her cubs when it came to her and the baby. (This sentence gets a little confusing, with three “hers” referring to two different “hers.”J  See what I mean? With the suggested changes in that first sentence, maybe this will work:

When it came to her and Jenny, Nate behaved like a protective Mama bear with cubs.

Love the analogy, especially when referring to a supposedly big, bad he-man! lol)

Not every criticism can be followed by a compliment, but when possible…by all means, do it! (Ever had your eyebrows or upper lip waxed? The sweet girl who does mine follows each painful rip of skin and hair with the firm pressure of her fingertips. It doesn’t replace the missing skin, but it sure helps relieve the sting. I try to always remember that a critique is much like the removal of unsightly facial hair. Each time I deliver a criticism to some author’s literary darling, I’ve ripped away ‘skin and hair’ and left her hurting. If I can find something to compliment, it eases the pain. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?)

Also, note the yellow highlights above. I use them to indicate repetition of any word (or form of the same word) in close proximity. Without my having to voice a single criticism, my critique partners know what they mean: You should probably rephrase, and avoid overuse of this word.

One more example. This one is taken from a synopsis, thus the “telling, not showing” style of writing.

(When? I'd insert that here. "Two years ago, Scott…") Scott Lunsford experienced every firefighter’s nightmare when he answered a routine accident call involving a loved one. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the images of his girlfriend Julie’s shattered body out of his mind. Counselors recommended time off and he decided to go someplace with happier memories. His grandmother’s turn-of-the century-house has set been vacant since she passed away almost two years earlier. (Your call. Nothing wrong with "set," it just sounds weird to my ears today. lol) Scott thinks it’s the perfect time to start renovations on the old place. But he’s not prepared for the amount of work the house needs and even less prepared for the ghostly images of Julie that show up nightly every night!

Offering an opinion is fine, even if it isn’t necessarily a “rule” of writing. In this case, my suggestion to replace “set” with “been” is nothing more than personal taste. But that’s all right…it’s like a mini-brainstorm session. The author can take it or leave it, but it gives her something to think about.

As the one on the giving end of the critique, it’s important to remember that you’re not there to rewrite the book. Let that author keep her voice and style. Your task is to watch for several things in particular, including (but certainly not limited to):

§  Typos

§  Misspellings

§  Inconsistencies

§  Incorrect grammar

§  Kinks in the flow of the storyline

§  Repetitive words

§  Weasel words

§  Timeline issues

§  Anything else that seems “iffy” or makes you backtrack/re-read.

What is most helpful to you in a critique? Or do you simply shy away from them? If so…why?

 Let’s talk about it…

Always thankful to Julia Bettencourt for her artistic talent in the creation of the many images
I was able to use back with Hearts for Christ Ministries
and now here at A Pen for Your Thoughts.
Bless you, Julia


  1. I totally agree with Delia; a compliment is needed to balance the sting of criticism. However, it is difficult to maintain that courtesy if a repeat critic partner doesn't bother fixing their favorite mistakes...You know; the mistakes that are frequently pointed out and highlighted. It shows that these authors aren't paying attention, which makes the load heavier on their partners.

    Delia & Shirley, great article that touches on a very sensitive topic. Great job

  2. Great advice Delia - especially about giving praise in your critique.

    Speaking as recipient and giver, this is important and encouraging to both!

    One thing I try to keep in mind also is where the particular author is in his or her career -- is she previously published? If so, how many books? These questions aide me in knowing whether I should be tougher -- I mean if you have an author whom you've worked with for years and they make the same mistakes over and over, either they aren't listening or this is an area they have problems understanding - like POV.

    If they just don't get it, regardless of how often and how many ways you explain - keep working with them and one day it'll click.

    If they are just not listening, then maybe you both need to reevaluate whether the relationship is beneficial.

    I ALWAYS try to give new authors a lot more leeway - teach them 1 step at a time I say - be patient with them and they'll be patient with themselves.

    One other thing is to try and work with authors on both ends of the spectrum from where you are in your career.

    More prolific authors will encourage you to grow. New one's will be more like a reader than an experienced author.

    BOTH are important!

    JMHO of course :-)

    Good luck & God's blessings!

  3. Great observations from both Su and Pamela. I have to say, I have learned SO MUCH from my long-time crit partner, Sally Laity...and simply by paying attention to the things she drew my attention to in critiques. They can be an invaluable learning tool if one pays attention.

  4. A good gritique partner is a gift from God. I've been working with mine for a couple of years. We were both newbies to ACFW and strangers to each other when we started working together. We danced around each other for several weeks, raking the measure and finding a comfort zone. I dont think those weeks bore any benefit to either of us, but I think it was necessary. Now, we're fast friends who've learned to be truthful with each other. I'm so glad God brought us into each other's lives.
    Sharon Srock

  5. Sharon, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It's a wonderful thing when two people learn each other's quirks and foibles enough to really work well together. In my opinion, that kind of crit partner can only be a God thing. :)

  6. Critiquing has become a second love in the call I've answered in writing. I NEVER would have dreamed I'd enjoy being a critter. I have become so enamored I now do freelance critiquing.

    This article is tremendous and oh so valuable. Too many new writers do what my Twinner, Ane Mulligan once warned me from - FAST TRACKING - take the time to learn it all - and as she so aptly put it - enJOY the journey - it's all in the journey.

    Thank you for this great posting!

  7. I agree, Joy - there's something special to be learned in every step of the journey! So glad you stoppped by.

  8. When I'm critting, I like to look at the scene endings and at the chapter endings to see if they leave me with something to keep that desire to go on. And, yes, I love the encouragement, even if it is sprinkled only here and there. We all need that.
    By the way, Delia. You are one of the greatest Beta Readers out there. I love your expertise. So yes, I would say you are indeed a guru at this stuff.

  9. I've enjoyed all these good comments and , Delia, this fine post and can't add anything more edifying. I always try to put myself on the receiving end when I am doing a crit, but try to be as honest as is needed, with love.

  10. Shirley, you are too kind, as always...but I'm glad my crits don't offend you. I'm not known for doing a lot of soft-soaping... lol

    Jude, thank you so much for stopping by! I think putting ourselves on the other end of the crit is probably the best thing any of us can do. In critting, as in any other area of life, the Golden Rule applies. :)

  11. What a timely and valuable post, Delia. Your first paragraph is so right-on. I agree with Pam's comment and appreciated the others. I am about to revise a novella based on input from one of my critique partners. Her insight is invaluable to me. We've known one another long enough that she can say in one breath how much I have grown spiritually and as a writer, and in the next breath say something that blows me away because I didn't even know I had put such a thing on the page. Her comments make the difference between a ms worth of an editor and a rejection. She pulls me back to center and lets me know what's passive writing. I could go on and on singing her praises. All writers, no matter where we are in our journey, need other eyes on our work.

  12. I couldn't agree more, LoRee! Thank you so much for coming by and joining the discussion.

  13. What a fantastic post! Informative and insightful. Thank you for the tips. I know I'll be using them - and yes. The compliment does seem like balm or salve on a wound. Excellent, excellent, excellent.

  14. Hi, Amanda! I'm glad you liked the article. Thanks for commenting! :)