How to Get the Most Out of Your Critiques

So you’ve asked nicely, and now you are holding a copy of your own chapter which is covered in comments from another author.  They’ve shared all sorts of invaluable opinions on your characters, plot, setting, and prose.  All you have to do, is go in and change the things that they recommended you change.

That should be easy.

But it’s not.  It’s really hard.  Maybe you don’t agree with what they said.  Maybe you don’t understand.  Maybe you’re just not sure how to implement their ideas.

It’s actually fairly common that people aren’t sure how to make the best use of the critiques they’ve received.  So here’s my simple three step method for implementing critiques into your next draft.

1. Take your time

If you’re like me, you probably get really excited about getting your chapter back from a critiquer.  There’s just something exhilarating about having someone else share their thoughts on something you created.  If you’re like me, you probably want to open up that critique right away and start carving away at your old draft until you’ve made it 100% compliant to your beta-reader’s opinon.

Don’t do that.

Open up the critique and read it.  Read every little comment and quick grammatical fix.  Read anything that they said in summary.  And then close the window without changing a word.

WHAT?

Yes.  You need to give yourself some time.  Once the critique is closed (assuming you saved it) it’s not going anywhere, so don’t rush.  Give yourself a week or so and really think about what your beta-reader said.  How does it apply to the specific situation that was addressed in the critique?  How does it apply to your story?

Spending some time thinking about the critique will help you get a broader picture of how to improve your draft that isn’t completely dependent on the guidance of your beta readers.  (Of course, beta-readers are great, but you also want to be able to work on editing yoru story without them.)

2. Gather Intel

Once you’ve given yourself a week, it’s time to move into the action phase.  The very first thing you should do is save a new version of your chapter to work on.  There is the chance that you go through and rework a chapter, then decide that you like it the way you had it.  Save your old draft files separately… you don’t want to overwrite good work.

Then you want to get all of your critques into your work window.  If you’re writing in word, then use Microsoft word’s commenting feature to write your beta-reader’s comments right into your draft.  (Of course, if you’re on the ball, you could ask your critiquers to submit their comments in a Microsoft Word file, and then just transfer them over.)

You want to get all of your comments from all of your different critiquers (if you had more than one) into the file that you are going to actually work on editing.  Having them all in one place will streamline your process, and allow you to see any trends or inconsistencies between different readers’ opinions.

 

3. Go to Work

Things can get ugly when you start implementing critiques.  Some of your beta-readers might want you to go so far as to switch up scene structure and rearrange events.  Do it.  Remember, you’re working on a second save, so nothing you do is permanent.  Feel free to make drastic steps toward your goal of writing a better story.  Chop entire pages out.  Write a brand new page of conflict.  Pull up your timeline and see if you can move the whole scene around, per your critiquer’s advice.  Once you’ve addressed a comment you can delete it from the document, but make sure you save it somewhere else as well.  You don’t want to lose any of the valuable input others have shared with you.

Once You’re Done

This is sort of step four, but it’s also so important that I want to make sure it doesn’t get lost in a numbered list.  Once you’re done, go back to your critiquer.  Say thank you and ask question.  Ask all the questions.  Ask them about their advice, ask them to read little parts of your chapter that you are still not sure about, ask them what I call “The five questions”.

What do you think is going on?

What do you think is going to happen next?

Who is your favorite character and why?

Who is your least favorite character and why?

What did you think about _____?

Fill in the last one with whatever part of the chapter you are still not quite comfortable about.  If they don’t want to spend any more time on your story, they won’t reply, but the chances of that happening are like nil.  People would be in the critiquing business if they didn’t want to help you with your novel, and once they’ve read it (or at least part of it) they become very valuable pieces of your story’s brain trust.

Don’t waste your creative community’s talent.

 

Photo: Untitled, Javonni Christopher, CC BY 2.0


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Brandon

Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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  1. Laura March 23, 2017 at 9:03 AM - Reply

    So basically keep the old draft, create the new, and then go back read both to see the difference..? Good idea *nodnod* thanks for this!:D

    • Brandon March 24, 2017 at 11:05 AM Reply

      Yeah, something like that. I’ve made a few mistakes in my time as a writer… most of them involve deleting/overwriting files and then deciding that I still wanted them.

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