Friday, June 5, 2015

Your Own Personal Critic

by Jean Henry Mead

William G. Tapply wrote an interesting article about acquiring a personal critic to read your work—someone you can trust who is well read: a spouse, who may be a writer; a literate friend who won’t just tell you what you’ve written is great, or someone who can “read your manuscript with fresh eyes and give you straight-forward feedback that will help guide you through the vital process of revision.”

Even well-established novelists such as Stephen King rely on others to look over their work. Fortunately for King, his wife Tabitha is also a writer. He’s been quoted as saying that his wife has always been an extremely sympathetic and supportive first reader . . . but she’s also unflinching when she sees something wrong. “When she does, she lets me know loud and clear.”

Tapply says that sympathy and support as well as unflinching honesty is what you need from a personal critic. He suggests the following guidelines:

~ Don’t expect your critic to be an editor. Simply ask for an impartial read.

~ Have your critic read the manuscript with a pen in hand and write his or her views in the margins. Don’t expect the critic to censor himself, but simply write down whatever comes to mind.

~ The most useful feedback is what doesn’t work for the reader.

~Tell your critic not to worry about hurting your feelings. You want candor, not kindness.

~ You’re not asking for solutions because repairing what’s wrong is your responsibility.

~ However, if your critic has ideas about how you can handle something differently, you should be receptive to suggestions.

~Ask that your critic note her emotional responses to the story, both positive and negative.

~ Ask that notations be made if a passage is boring. All your critic has to write in the margin is “Ho, hum,” or if confused, “Huh?”

~Did your reader skip parts or an entire scene? Have him note it in the margin.

~Did anything in the story contradict itself or seem inconsistent?

~Were any of your characters or events unbelievable?

~ Were there any factual errors?

~ Ask that any words or punctuation marks be circled that don’t quite ring true.

And because criticism is much easier to give than take, ask that your critic write you a letter that points out and explains the most important observations and overall responses to your story. When you receive your marked-up manuscript, give yourself at least a week to absorb the comments. Then, if you feel like screaming, hopefully no one will hear you.


Bill Kirton said...

Invaluable advice, as ever, Jean. My wife is a sensitive, perceptive reader but tends to be very tentative when she comes across something which doesn't work for her. I try to tell her that's exactly the sort of thing I hoped she'd say but she still apologises.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Bill. I think you're fortunate to have a sensitive wife who offers advice but doesn't criticize. A critical review can send some writers into orbit. : )

Jackie King said...

Good article, Jean. I have two very valuable beta readers. Neither are writers, both are avid readers. They are both friends, but very intelligent women and they understand what I'm needing from them. Both make notes of anything that stops them. One is very detail orientated, and the other is good with grammar. I am so grateful to both of them.

Jean Henry Mead said...

You are indeed, Jackie.