[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]
Recently, I was able to critique my old friend, Daniel’s, book while it was in its second draft. So, pretty early on. It was more like being a Beta Reader than doing a critique. He just wanted overall impressions and thoughts, not any line-by-line edits or thoughts. So, I was light on the line edits and heavier on the thoughts about plot, characters, setting, etc. And I think he found it useful.
It was a great experience, just to catch up with his creativity. But it was also great for my writing.
Why exactly? Well, let me explain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up…Using bullets. Here are my top three reasons you aspiring writers out there should critique/Beta read others’ works in draft stage:
When you put criticism in words you start to understand what needs to be changed.
It can be hard to go from a strange feeling that something isn’t working, to realizing it isn’t working, to verbalizing why it isn’t working.
Let’s take an example…Let’s say there’s a character and she says something off, it might strike you as a bit strange. Pull you out of the narrative a bit. Then, she says something more and it’s more revelatory about herself or motivations, a bit too revelatory too early on. And then you think, “Wait, why is she saying all of this, revealing all of this in the first couple of chapters? Isn’t it too much?”And you realize it isn’t working.
So, your verbalization of this/actual feedback to the writer might be: “Hey! I think this character, Alice, reveals too much about what her motivation is too early. Maybe if you subsume that a bit and have her reveal it later, it will keep the mystery and suspense alive and drive the reader onto the next chapter…”
In fact, something like that was one of my suggestions for Daniel’s draft: a female character spilled the beans a bit too early.
You see flaws in others’ work that you don’t see, or won’t admit to, in your own.
In any early draft you’re going to spot some flaws or mistakes. These will range from minor (misspellings, grammatical) to large (plot holes, inconsistencies). Somehow, psychologically, we’re all also flawed (surprise!) and we more easily discover imperfections in others’ work. When it comes to our own work, we seem to more easily skip right over the bad parts or not see them. I think this is true even for well-intentioned people: we invest more in our own work.
That being said, I did, of course, find flaws in Daniel’s stuff: some minor, some larger, like I said. I carefully made notes for the major stuff and ignored most of the minor things. And then I shared that in a constructive manner (forward-looking and improvement-focused) with him. But as I was adding these notes, I was constantly wondering: “Boy, I must do a lot of this, too.” And I bet I do. I just need to dig up my stuff to see it.
So, I hope as I go through my early drafts in the future, I can depersonalize things a bit and think:
“Hey, am I telling here and not showing?”
“Is this character revealing something they normally wouldn’t?”
“Does this next plot point really makes sense?”
And then, make the appropriate change.
You realize all early drafts are about 70% crap, 20% good and 10% solid.
This is a big one. As you read a draft, any draft, you come to realize that about 70% or more of any early draft is crap. That’s what makes it a draft. This is true of any writer’s stuff. Any writer (Yes, Shakespeare, I’m looking at you!).
So, the takeaway here is not to get discouraged when you go back and read your first draft and realize it’s mostly crap. That’s completely natural. The trick is…to slowly turn down the “crap-ratio” down as you advance through your following drafts. Every writer thinks this and every writer struggles with it. Again, it’s easier to see when you remove the ego and critique someone else’s stuff.
The key: not listening to that inner negative voice, taking the draft for what it is and moving onto the polishing stage where you turn that crap into solid gold…
Alright, enough for today! Got to get back to work and life! I hope that helped and I hope you offer to critique/Beta Reader a fellow writer’s draft soon. So you can learn and hone your craft in the process!
Until next time. Keep reading, Keep writing.