Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Some Thoughts On Critiquing a Novel...

Did Poe ever have these problems?
 I've mentioned a couple of times that I belong to a writer's group that helps critique my writing. Every year or so, a question comes up on how best to critique a novel, since it is a longer work and most of the group writes short stories. I imagine I'm probably not the only one in the position of trying to get feedback on a novel, so I thought I'd list some of the things that are helpful methods of critique.

  • If you're part of a writer's group that critiques mostly shorter works, have no fear! Give them the novel in installments. In addition to making you feel as posh as Charles Dicken's himself, this method focuses more on line edits and specific mechanics within the chapters that they're looking at. If it's been a long time since they've seen the last segment, start with a preamble, such as, "When we last left Timmy..." to catch the reader up. 
  • But you need a method to look at a larger structure, right? Like where are the bumps in the plotting and such. I've found that individual readers really are the best ways to catch this. Most people refer to them as "Beta Readers", which for the life of me I cannot figure out how to pronounce. Where to find these readers? Individual people at your writer's group, the person sitting next to you at the writer's conference or other bloggers are all great resources for individual critiques. Just ask them if they'd be willing to critique the whole thing, and be sure to mention that you're willing to return the favor.
  • Try some writer's exercises. I normally don't have the patience to read anything that doesn't have a plot. Thus, writer's self-help books normally sit in neat little piles on my bedside table where they look nice but will never be read. There are a couple of exceptions. Second Sight by Cheryl Klein, has a list of post rough draft editing exercises. Sometimes, it helps me look at the manuscript from a different angle. So if you're feeling stuck with editing, these can be a good bet. 
Well, that's some of my thoughts. What are your methods for critiquing a novel? 


  1. Since we are in the same group you probably already know my answer, Jess, but I've suggested before that novels be critiqued in a similar manner to how an agent would request them: first three chapters and an outline. An agent/publisher can usually tell from "portions and outlines" whether the novel will work or not. It seems to be a good balance between reading the whole thing or reading just a chapter in isolation.

  2. I need someone to read the whole thing. Novels are complex...plot, pacing, characterization, holes, grammar, style, dialogue...it all has to be considered. There is no way around a good Beta and a good CP. (for me, a beta just reads for pleasure; the CP is ready to point out why the beta got bored)

  3. I agree. Groups in installments, individuals for large chunks. :)