A good critique partner is a critical part of writing a book. What made sense to you when you wrote it might be incomprehensible to others. The things you thought were clear could be covered in mud from another perspective. You are too close to your darling words to realize which ones are boring or unnecessary, no matter how harsh you think you’re being on yourself when you edit. Other eyes on your work are needed, and that means finding a critique partner/group.
As relationships go, getting critiqued and giving your own in return is unique. You’re sticking a hand out knowing it will be slapped and knowing that you may be trading some hand-slapping in return. Being able to do this without causing harm is a skill.
Here are three things to keep in mind to be the best critique partner you can be when it’s your turn.
1. Be Specific
“I didn’t like this part, it’s boring.” is not as helpful as something like “This part moved slowly, could you take out some of the stuff (here) and (here) to tighten it up a little? Or maybe you could add a little more conflict with (stuff).” Even worse, saying “I liked it.” Well, that’s good to hear but what did you like? The characters? The conflict? The plot? The dialogue? The print type? The perfectly executed semicolons and em-dashes? There’s no way to know from a statement that covers absolutely everything under one umbrella.
You are a fabulous beta reader when you can point out specific problems instead of smothering with generalities.
2. Be Kind
While you’re being specific there’s no need to go in with needle sharp accuracy. It’s sometimes a thin line to walk between pointing out something that does not work and pointing out how very much it just doesn’t work.
A lot of critique partners use something called the “compliment sandwich.” Start with something good. “I really like your dialogue, it flows naturally and (character) seems so real.” Insert the problem you found, remembering not to be too harsh. “But, the descriptions were on the wordy side and I noticed three or four adverbs per sentence.” Add something else helpful or kind. “I found this awesome website that helps edit out adverbs and passive voice, can I send you the link?”
Never, ever let yourself forget that the person you’re critiquing threw their heart and soul into what you’re reading.
3. Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Grammar and spelling are important, but keep yourself focused on the overall plot while you go. If it’s a choice between nit-picking and moving the conflict along, I’d go with the plot. You are reading this as a stand-in for the general public that will hopefully buy the book. If the story is lagging, needs some tightening, needs clarifying or isn’t working as written it’s up to you to help catch it. Unless they asked for line edits, assume you are looking for plot.
And as a bonus, three ways being a critique partner will benefit you:
1. You Will Develop an Editor’s Eye
As you diagnose someone else’s plot and pacing, it will become easier to do it for your own story.
2. You’ll Get a Leg Up and Over Writer’s Block
Being surrounded by abstracts, ideas and solutions as you help work through problems you find in another manuscript will make you more agile working around your own. At the very least you’ll get some mental space to let your mind work through a plot point you’re stuck on.
3. You Will Get a Solid Grip on Technique
Finding the darlings for other authors to kill off, you’ll develop the discipline to hunt down and kill your own. As you critique by being specific and offering fixes, you will have the techniques and tricks you find fresh in your own mind to apply to your story.
Good luck with your critiques!