While tidying the house, I remembered a comment the buyer (male) said to my brother-in-law about their home, “How does she keep it so clean?” Like it’s only my sister’s (or the man’s wife’s) responsibility? Grrrr.
But writing is a bit different. Everything in my novel manuscript IS my responsibility. Yes, my critique group can help find mechanical errors or ask good questions such as “What’s the purpose of this chapter?” or “Why would your character do that?” However, I need to do my own homework first.
What does that include?
For me the first step is setting a new chapter aside for a week or more. That allows me to reread it with a fresh eye.
When rereading I check for big picture items first:
- Does it make sense?
- Do the characters actions feel realistic? Is their motivation clear?
- Is there a good balance of action, thoughts, description, setting?
- Does the chapter move the story forward?
- Are the stakes clear? Or do I need to ramp them up?
- Do secondary characters have lives of their own?
- Is the ending a page turner?
- What’s the emotional tone? Or how does it change?
What big picture questions or comments do you hear from your critique partners? Is it that there’s not enough sense of setting or character’s thoughts? Or too much telling? Recently, one for me was about emotions being all over the place, hence the latter set of questions.
Next, I tidy up line-by-line items:
- Overused words
- Awkward phrasing
- Distancing the reader
- Places I stumble when reading
- Misspellings or wrong words
- Missing or incorrect punctuation
Think about those things you often hear from your critique partners. Is it run-on sentences, or misplaced modifiers, or too many adverbs? Add those to your checklist and challenge yourself to find them yourself.*
After I fix any problem areas, I read it again. I may let it sit another week or more and repeat the above before presenting it to my critique group.
The Critique Process
During my verbal critique, I often find there are issues critique partners bring up that really resonate with me.
- They may be easy fixes than can be changed immediately.
- Others take more time and consideration. For example, I get what the person is saying, but either I’m not sure how to rewrite or it’s going to take time to make all the changes affected by this one change.
Some, I may disagree with. However, if more than one partner brings it up, I know I must do something about that issue.
Often, I make a few changes before I get the written feedback emailed to me. But more work happens when I open the critiques and consider each comment. This is usually a few days later.
- I compare opinions and suggestions.
- I rewrite and reread and ponder if the changes addressed the problems.
- If I’m stuck on something, I set that suggestion aside and come back to it later.
If the chapter has major changes or additions, when it’s ready I probably have my group critique the rewrite before moving on to the next chapter. Which causes additional revision.
I reread and revise my material countless times. As author Michael Crichton said, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…”
*If you have trouble finding grammar issues yourself, try some of these options:
- A grammar checker where you paste your text in and it points out issues. Here are two:
- A test or lesson site, such as:
- https://www.grammarbook.com/interactive_quizzes_exercises.asp – try the free quizzes
- https://www.english-grammar-revolution.com/grammar-quizzes.html, or
- search for a test or lesson for your specific problem.