I was asked to read a friend’s manuscript the other day – something I was thrilled to do. Her story had always seemed interesting to me, so I was glad to get a chance to be able to read it. As I was beginning to go through the first few chapters, I had a thought – what kind of crit is she looking for from me? I mean, she and I had never exchanged mss before. She wasn’t one of my regular betas or crit partners…so what was it that I could do for her to help make sure her ms was the best it could be.
I decided to just email and ask her. Her response was along the lines to what I was thinking – a general overview of thoughts regarding the story, plus anything extra I felt compelled to tell her.
And this got me thinking – what kind of critic am I? What do I look for?
For me the answer is simple – emotional storyline. I don’t know if it is because of what I do for a living, or a result of my life experiences, or just the way I am bent (probably a little bit of all of it), but I am always examining the emotional content of stories. And life.
When I read someone’s ms, I want to be emotionally hooked to the characters and their personal stories. As a result, I tend to bring that same lens to my critiques.
With my weekly crit group, I do thorough line-by-line crits. I try to evaluate each and every word – see if I understand why the author is writing in the way they are. See the hidden messages woven, albeit subconsciously, into the storyline and point them out to the author – just in case it shouldn’t be there. Sometimes, my crits are intense (though not harsh, according to my crit mates), as I bleed every single page. And my crit mates do the same for me…bleeding it dry so I can reassemble an improved version of the original.
With the things I Beta, my approach is a little different. No longer in need of a thorough line-by-line, I tend to be more gestalt – looking at the overall themes, the emotional back story, the subplots. Does everything fit? Were things introduced in the beginning chapters developed throughout? What’s the overall arc of the story. That kind of thing.
The pages don’t usually bleed red – sometimes there are no marks at all (except the occasion “nice” or “brilliant”). I generally save all of my comments for the ends of chapters, sections or the book itself. That is where I list my comments and, if appropriate, concerns.
I take the job of critiquing very seriously – I want to provide feedback that will help the author craft the best possible story. And I learn – both from the crits I give and those I receive.
How do you crit? What kinds of things do you look for?