Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Critters

There was some talk over at Books & Writers about critique partners/readers. I know I've touched on this before here and there, but not all in one place. So,

How to Choose Critique Partners (aka critters)

To me, critters and readers are a vital part of the process of writing. I wouldn't feel comfortable sending a book off to agents without knowing that somebody besides me had read the thing.

I expect my critters, in general, to:

--tell me if the story "hangs" together
--point out plot holes or inconsistencies (why did Davy's eyes change from green to blue?)
--check pacing (did they want to keep turning the pages? was there anywhere it sagged?)
--note any oddities in language that pulled them out of the story
--tell me about character (did they like Katherine? did they hate the villain? why? Were their feelings mitigated or changed at the end?)
--say, as a reader, if the ending and the story arc was satisfying. Were they happy when they closed the book?

These are from regular critters. "Expert" critters I expect to really just look at their portion of expertise. I had someone read TMT to check that my descriptions of the countryside and flora and fauna of northern England were correct. She also had some excellent comments about the little bits of dialect I have, since she's a native-born of that area. I had a monk look at the scenes in an abbey of his order. I had an archaeologist look at the scenes in the abbey that he's excavating. These readers may or may not have other comments, but you really need them for their expertise.

So what things do you look for in a critter, to give you all this feedback?

1. Honesty. This one is absolutely imperative. It's up to you whether it needs to be honesty couched with tact, or plain-speaking brutal truth, but you need to know what they really thought. Not what you want to hear.

2. A critical eye. I don't think critters need to be writers; a reader's perspective can be just as valuable (that's who you're selling to in the end, after all!). But it won't help you if they read it and say only "it was great!". They need to be able to evaluate it and be able to express what they liked, and what they didn't. How it could be improved.

3. Patience. I doubt this one is just me. I tend to pepper my critters with questions after they finish a read, at least for a day or so. They need to be able to deal with questions.

4. Expertise. If they're one of your expertise readers, but of course.

What do they get out of doing this monumental task for you? Well, if they're writers, you might offer to read their work critically in exchange. This is almost always a good deal. If they're experts, they get the thrill of having been asked, and being able to talk about their expertise. (you laugh, but this seems to be enough) If they're readers and like your genre, they get to read a book, hopefully a good one, when no one else has had a chance to see it yet.

And of course, they get a mention in your acknowledgments when you do get published. Never forget your critters in the acknowledgments; they helped you get this book out to everyone else.

Medieval Word of the Day: selcouth: Unfamiliar, unusual, rare; strange, marvellous, wonderful.

7 comments:

Sara Walker Howe said...

But how does one solicit for critters? I quit the workshop because of too many cooks: too many cooks rewriting the same three chapters, too many cooks obsessed with punctuation, too many cooks clueless when it comes to Story. I don't frequent the forum anymore because of the negativity. (I would post my monthly goal only to get "are you sure you can manage that?" as a response (Not from Lauri. Her response was usually "If you can do it, go for it!"), and suggestions I should go with a smaller word goal.)

I would love a CP, but I don't have the foggiest idea how to find one who is on the same page as I am.

Susan Adrian said...

Sara:

Hmmm. As far as I've seen, it's rather like gathering friends...you have to run across someone and realize they would be a good "fit" for you. I don't think they have to be writers in your genre, but just someone with a good eye and someone you can work with.

I've had the same problems with the forum sometimes--not goals, but the negativity that can be too prevalent there. When it's like that I duck out for a bit, and sometimes it cycles back to being helpful. I'm fortunate that I've made some very good reading contacts there and at Surrey.

Is there anybody you've come across whose stuff you like, or who seems to have similar writing values?

Renée said...

Great entry! I'm going to be soliciting for reviewers soon and this helps a lot!

Susan Adrian said...

Thanks, Renee! Good luck getting those right people. :)

Sara Walker Howe said...

Hmmm. I guess I'll have to take out a want ad on my blog when I'm ready.

Jo Bourne was one of my beta readers, but she's so busy, I'd really hate to put more demands on her time.

My other beta reader is job searching and again, I'd hate to put demands on her when she's not even writing.

I've been thinking about asking you, but since we're both sparse writers, would be able to help each other much? Plus I know you've already got readers, and I'd hate to demand your time.

I'd ask Vic, she's a good match for words/day and positivity, but I'm afraid we'd step on each other's story ideas and she's probably bound by contract from seeing other writers' works. I should probably steer clear of anyone writing UF or paranormal anyway.

I can't put a bulletin out on the forum, because Margaret will have my head and tell me to go to Forums America. *g*

I've been feeling kind of stuck about this issue for a while now. Plus, I'm a total introvert, and get paralyzed asking anyone for anything.

Susan Adrian said...

Sara:

I don't have a lot of time for regular crits--I used to do that, but just can't manage it. But I would be happy to crit a draft for you. Just let me know. :)

Sara Walker Howe said...

Thanks, Susan. And of course, I'd return the favour.

Not ready yet. I want to finish banging out this draft, then give it a polish. I'd kind of like to see how far I can get on my own.