Critique partners and Beta Readers are always a big topic among writers. I highly recommend them for new writers…but it’s difficult to find the right ones.
Beta readers are those people who read for story. Does it flow. Do the characters seem real. In general, they give you a one page opinion piece of your story. That’s really hard for writers to do because as we read, and we see the mistakes we ourselves make, we are dying to point them out, which can cause a different set of problems.
I love working with other writers, so I usually have a couple I critique with and some I brainstorm with, and I don’t always use the same ones, because its always good to change it up, but I’m careful who I work with and do a little interview and sample critique with each other. Why?
Well, I have some issues with critique groups. First one is what is constructive criticism?
The business dictionary defines it as: A recommended set of instructions that aims to collaboratively improve the overall quality of a product or service. Often containing helpful and specific suggestions for positive change, constructive criticism is highly focused on a particular issue or set of issues, as opposed to providing general feedback on the item or organization as a whole.
No where in that definition does it state you need to say nice things. But it does say “positive change”. I think this is key. I’ve sat in too many groups where you have to come up with something nice. Well, sure, if something is great and you love something in someone else’s writing, yes, state it. But how can you improve the overall quality when you don’t focus on specific problems.
We all have strengths and weakness in our writing and it’s important to define them and understand them. I’m really good at coming up with a killer twist at the end of a book, but sometimes it comes at the cost of proper character development.
I also struggle to write women, but men? Easy-peasy.
Once we get that draft down and have lived with these people for months and we’ve written, rewritten, wrote more, read and reread, we can’t see the little mistakes we make. I have this horrible habit of starting chapters with three paragraphs of omniscient voice, which in my books feels passive. It’s a subconscious thing I do to ground me in the scene, but I don’t recognize it most of the time in rewrites.
A good critique partner will listen to me when I tell her want I’m looking for and point them out, offering suggestions. This is a positive thing. As a writer, I need to decide if its something that needs changing. Ha! No one likes change. But remember, these are specific problems. Not a general feel for the book (that would be the beta readers job).
When you find the right partner, you’ll know it because you’ll be excited to see what they have to say, even though you know some of it might hurt. You’ll also start seeing the mistakes as you write, which will make your writing stronger.
The art of writing is a continual process… go write something today!