Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Critique Partners

For NaNoWriMo (the annual National Novel Writing Month) I’ve been rewriting a novel which I first wrote in the 1970’s. In those pre-internet days, I’d never heard of critique partners. I did have what is now called a beta-reader but she was a non-writer friend who read my chapters and helped me brainstorm ideas for the development of the story.

I hadn’t even looked at this particular novel for years; now, having read it again, I’ve realised how much it needed the help of a critique partner. Okay, it was published exactly as I wrote it (without any editorial input), so maybe the style of my writing was ‘normal’ at that time. Now it simply makes me cringe!

I started writing romance again about five years ago and know I was still writing in my ‘old’ style to start with. I only have to look at my first ‘fan-fiction’ stories and the first novel I wrote to realise that. Then I started to change my style.

Why? Because I found two great critique partners. I've never met them - I'm in the UK and they're in the USA, but during the last couple of years, we’ve worked together (and become friends too).

Writing, as I know from when I was writing my early novels and knowing no other writers at the time, can be a lonely job, and it’s good to have a friend who is prepared to read your work and give you his/her honest opinion. The word honest is important. I don’t want just positive feedback with a few ‘nice’ comments, although a comment of ‘Great, this really worked well’ does wonders for one’s confidence. But at the same time, I want a genuine opinion and, if necessary, hard-hitting comments.

A good CP can help you to improve both your storyline and your writing style. They can highlight your word or phrase repetition, overuse of passive verbs and adverbs, and telling rather than showing. I was guilty of all of these but didn’t actually realise it until my CPs told me. I’m sure they could list plenty of other errors too!

Sometimes (often?) we can get too close to our own story and characters. A critique partner comes to it with fresh eyes and can point out the things that you may have overlooked. They can look at the big picture and tell you what is working and what isn’t, where the plot holes or anomalies are and whether the pace of the story is too slow or too fast. They can also help you to brainstorm when your story runs into a sticky patch.

It works both ways, too. Critiquing someone else’s work has the double bonus of helping yourself as well as (hopefully) helping them. I have learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t from critiquing.

Now I’m going through the process of critquing my own 1970’s novel, and the errors I made in the original are jumping out at me. Before I worked with my CPs, I doubt I would have noticed any of those errors.

So this is a tribute to my critique partners – with a million thanks to them both for their help, support, encouragement and friendship!


  1. I'd always been afraid to show anyone my writing. Then I found a critique partner and I LOVE HER! She and I work really well together--each of our strengths are the other one's weakness and we've done a lot of great work together. Great post!

  2. I've done 'help me fast' critiques for online group members who disappear when it's time to reciprocate. The best one-on-one CP's becomes a best friends because the are honest with feedback, suggestions, and commitment.

  3. Lovely tribute to your CPs :)I think all of us were scared to hand over our work first time, but once you realise the value of a CP you'll never go back!

  4. Jenn - sounds like you've found the perfect CP.

    Ana - agree, critiquing is a partnership, not a one-sided thing.

    Laura - you said it right! I couldn't survive without my CPs now.

  5. Thank you for this insight. Your CP must be a true blessing to you.

  6. Hi Kay, thanks for visiting - and yes, I totally rely on my CPs to give me honest comments about my writing now.

  7. I don't have one particular critique partner, but we do critiques as part of our meetings at my RWA chapter.

    Without the helpful advice from the fabulous ladies of Chicago-North, I'd never be published today.

    I never submit anything to an editor without getting the first chapter critiqued at a meeting. I also learn much from hearing the other critiques, even if it's not my own work.