June 22, 2011

Everyone Loves a Critic

A good beta reader:

-can recognize incorrect grammar and punctuation
-can point out specific instances where language or diction changes
-lets you know if there’s anything lacking in the resolution of all subplots or if there are plotholes
-looks for a taut, climax and satisfying ending
-is able to point out specific instances where the emotional connection is lost.
-identifies specific scenes, paragraphs, or passages that don’t seem credible
-can point out anywhere the voice or POV has been lost or violated.

One of the features often under appreciated in a beta reader is a cynical point of view.  This critical and logical style happens to be my way of critiquing. I interpret most everything literally and am prone to searching for flaws rather than allowing myself to be drawn into the story fully.Mind you, I don't do it to be mean or harsh, but nothing draws me out of a story more than plotholes.

This literal video translation of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is the sort of thing I look for when reading a manuscript, and I’m sure my critique partners will appreciate that I would never have let them go through with a production of this sort.

(Even if you're not familiar with the song or artist, it's funny if for no other reason than it was made in the 80’s.) 

For some reason, I could not get this to directly link from Youtube. The original video can be found here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj-x9ygQEGA

So what things draw you out of a story, or what things do you look for when giving a critique?


  1. This post is so useful in light of the email I'm writing you...RIGHT...NOW. :)

    I have to admit, when I started looking for beta readers about a year ago, I wanted people to be "constructive, but nice." But now I want people to be brutal, or, as you put it perfectly, cynical. Great advice.

  2. In my experience you've got the right attitude. I would even go one step further and say betas and authors both need to have that cynical voice that points out the flaws while not getting too caught up in the highlights. If you let yourself be swept away by the things you do well you'll never be able to spot the weaknesses. I think that ability, and blind, bull-headed persistence are the main skills needed to make it in this biz.

  3. i'm always drawn out by sloppy writing and punctuation. I almost can't not correct it

  4. Oh, man. I'm a bit of a brutalist as a crit partner... I tear EVERYthing apart. (It also makes me really slow, oops.) My buddy told me that almost every chapter I sent him made him enraged for about five minutes, then he started smacking himself for not recognizing it all!

    I dunno what I'd do without my crit buddies. No, wait, yes I do. I'd have sentences with things like "hunched Justicars hunching."

  5. I think all writers go through phases when they start writing their first novel.

    Stage 1 - They're convinced they've written the next best novel. They give it to friends and family to read who are too afraid to give an honest critique. Only when they start sending it out to agents do they realize there's a problem. It hurts, but, if they are a too writer, they try to figure out what's wrong with their writing.

    Stage 2 - They go in search of beta readers. They convince themselves that the first beta reader who gives them a harsh critique has just been realized from prison. What do they know?

    Stage 3 - Time passes. The writer is studying others works and learning a lot online. They come to realize that they know crap about writing. "Maybe my beta reader was right?"

    Stage 4 - Writer is humbled and finally willing to take all the advice, no matter how harsh, as long as it helps them improve.

    Stage 5 - Writer is finally published.

    This whole process usually takes years, unfortunately, and only the writers with a real passion make it though unscathed. :)

  6. I love my beta readers. They don't mince words and they always, always see something that I didn't. I want them to be brutal--blowing sunshine up someone's backside doesn't make you a better writer.

  7. You've certainly captured what a writer looks for in a reader. I have a few friends who want to read my manuscripts (some are even writers themselves), but they just want to read it for fun! I'm like, "Listen Yo, you have critique it if you want to read it!" Kind of funny that we crave criticism.

    I'm turned off by typos and when main characters are just plain annoying. Have you ever read Crown Duel? I love the story, but sometimes the protagonist was just so annoying.

  8. Great post!
    My crit partners... I don’t know what I’d do without them!
    And they don't crit the same, which helps immensely.

  9. How did I miss that video *I pride myself on time wasted on youtube*. Awesome.

    I really appreciate my critique partners. They're relentless savages who rip my stuff apart with no consideration for my diminishing self worth, but that's often what I need.

  10. I cringe thinking about what a mean beta reader what said to me, but I love that they'd be that mean. I'd be happier if I corrected it then if I was eaten alive later for leaving it in. Good post!