By Patricia Bradley, Author of Justice Delivered (Release date: April 2, 2019)
As writers, we’re often asked to critique other writer’s stories. Or we’re asked to judge a contest and make suggestions that will help a fledgling writer. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few techniques that I try to follow.
First of all, before you start tearing down a manuscript, find several things you like about it. Even the worst stories usually have gold in them. Point out what the writer is doing well and let that be your first comment.
If the manuscript has a problem with telling rather than showing, take one of the telling sentences and reword it so that it is showing what the character is doing. Don’t rewrite the whole manuscript, though. The writer should be able to take your example and apply it to other telling sections of the story.
Same thing with dialogue, most writers don’t have an easy time with dialogue—often it is stilted or formal with little or no contractions and spoken in complete sentences. We don’t talk in full sentences; instead we use fragments as well as contraction. I always suggest that a writer read his dialogue aloud and not just to an empty room but aloud to someone. It is amazing how problems will jump out when you do that.
Suggest craft books that you believe will help the writer your critiquing. There are so many good craft books dealing with different aspects of writing. One way I know which craft book to suggest is because I read at least five craft books a year. Right now, I’m re-reading one on how to show instead of tell.
Another thing we as writers need to be aware of is trying to fix a problem when there is really no problem. Case in point. I was brainstorming with a friend. I wasn’t all that familiar with her story, but when she told me her hero died, I said, “No, you can’t do that.”
Her shoulders dropped a notch or two. “But…but that’s the way it has to be for the next story.”
I was adamant. “You can’t kill the hero. Nobody will buy your book.”
We discussed it back and forth for a bit, and I could tell I had shaken her writing confidence. Since that day, I’ve done a lot of thinking. Conclusion? I had no right to tell her how to write her novel. Even though I’ve always believed that a romance must end with “and they lived happily ever after”, or at least have the promise of a HEA, I am not an expert. Nicolas Sparks writes romance and in many of his books, the hero or heroine dies. And he’s made a decent living off his stories.
My friend did not ask my advice about her hero. She knew how she wanted to write her story—it wasn’t my story—and I made her doubt her writing ability. That was a grievous error.
Now for a word to all who have been on the receiving end of a critique, reading is subjective. Not everyone will like what you write, so don’t let someone else tell you how to write your story. Tell your story in your voice to the best of your ability. I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider what a critique partner says, but unless three or four of your critique partners (or your editor or agent) say the same thing, don’t be pressured into changing it or your voice. We all have our own stories to write in the way only we can write them.
In conclusion, when critiquing another writer, start out with positives, move to constructive advice on how to make the story better, but never try to change another writer’s voice.
Patricia Bradley, a 2018 Carol finalist and winner of an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award in Suspense, lives in North Mississippi with her rescue kitty, Suzy. Her romantic suspense books include the Logan Point series and the Memphis Cold Case Novels. When she has time, she likes to throw mud on a wheel and see what happens. I love connecting with readers on my blog every Tuesday where I have a Mystery Question for them to solve: www.patriciabradleyauthor.com/blog
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