Asking a trusted friend, colleague or fellow author to review your work is a brave thing to do. And it’s an important and necessary part of the writing process- when publishing is amongst your goals.
If you have chosen wisely, your ‘critiquer’ will be someone who can be honest with you and whose opinion you can trust.
Still it’s never a good practice to hand someone your work and say, “Let me know what you think”. Even a seasoned editor or literary agent has a checklist of plusses and minuses they refer to when diving into a new manuscript.
That being said, if a general impression is what you are looking for- ask for that. But if you want help identifying strengths and weaknesses in your piece, you need to focus your reviewer’s attention, without overloading them with too much to look for. Their job is to give you constructive feedback…not to edit your work for you.
My writer’s group Somerset Ink has one member each month offer a piece of their writing for peer review. At the end of the submission are two or three questions for their fellow authors to work from. This not only helps to focus the critiques but also serves to identify patterns in the feedback when a group of individuals review the work. Similar comments or impressions can be red flags within your writing.
So, when handing over your ‘baby’ for critical inspection, ask your reviewer(s) if they can identify two or three specific issues including questions, which offer the opportunity for praise as well as censure- i.e., “What do you feel is my antagonists number one strength and number one weakness?”
When I asked this of Lucy, the main character in my novel, Lost and Found: The Souls of Rosewood, I got a resounding, “She’s too nice. She needs a dark side.” This warned me that the most important character I was creating was not authentic. My readers were not identifying with her because she was too good. I needed to give her a vice or a button, which when pushed made her angry maybe even unreasonable. Being the heroine does not exclude her from being flawed like the rest of us (most especially because she’s a teen).
As my own worst critic, I always have on tap plot issues I am sure I am writing into my story. I know I always struggle with tense. So I usually ask my ‘critiquers’ to point out where in my work, I may have switched tenses.
If you know you have reoccurring plot issues, be sure to ask about that.
Here are some other topics for your reviewers:
- plot holes, inconsistencies
- point of view
- scenes that drag or soar
- clichés or lazy writing
- too much or too little dialogue
- confusing plotlines
What would you ask of your ‘critiquer’?