I can’t over emphasize the value of critiques–both getting and giving them. They’re not only how we make a story better, they’re also how we grow as writers.
I’m starting to work through the critiques of MAGIC’S FOOL so the topic of how to make the best use of these critiques is very apropos.
Some critiques are like ringing a bell. They start an avalanche of ideas that makes the writer jump up and down shouting “Of course. Of course, why didn’t I see that.” Those critiques are precious. Sometimes you have to work a little harder for that same insight, but it’s just as valuable when you do see it.
Often a critique or a group of critiques will point out a problem that the writer isn’t aware of. After all, as the writer, you know all sorts of things about the story that didn’t make it onto the page and no matter how long you let it rest you can’t ever completely come to the story the way a reader would. If three or more people say the same thing, you probably ought to pay attention because there likely is a problem there. But, and here’s where things get interesting, it isn’t always the problem that the critiquer points out. It might be something deeper. Occasionally, it’s something much simpler that leaves me saying to myself something like, “Yes, but if I hadn’t been an idiot and cut this paragraph, that would have made much better sense and you wouldn’t have been confused.”
In this case, I’ve got an interesting mix of critiques. One reader says that I need an external antagonist. Another keeps asking me to show not tell and says the first half was slow, but the second half was great. Still another says that the story has potential, but lacks excitement. As a writer what am I to make of this?
The first thing is to wonder if they’re all reacting to the same thing and just saying it in different ways. I think they are. I think what they’re trying to say is that they’re not feeling the protagonist’s problem, at least during some parts of the story. I haven’t done a good enough job of ratcheting up the conflict.
And now I have at least some ideas of how to make my protagonist’s conflict much stronger. I’ll need more, but that’s what revision is all about. So, thanks to my great beta readers. It’s going to be a much stronger story when I’m through with this revision.