Why Writers Need Critique Partners

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On September 4th, 2016, I had decided to use my knowledge gained from about sixteen years of writing in order to stabilize my income. I started freelancing as an editor and critique partner on Fiverr and Upwork.

For the most part, I love this job, because it basically pays me to read. A lot.

But there’s a flip-side: I sometimes have to deal with a lot of writing by people learning the craft. Don’t get me wrong. I love helping people. But the truth is that often, an editorial letter and comments written into the margins of a manuscript just aren’t enough to explain exactly what I mean.

The biggest reason for this is the huge disconnect in experience between me and my client. At the moment, probably close to two thirds of my clients for content edits are first-time writers. They paid for me to tell them how to improve their stories.

But when it comes to things that I take for granted, they never even thought about it. Within this blogging community, we’ve formed a sort of short-hand. When someone’s offering to exchange critiques with me, I know it’s okay for us to use that short-hand, because we do share a common background when it comes to how and where we find our knowledge.

So in a lot of ways, the bloggosphere forms a sort of hive-mind. Although the transmission of information isn’t perfect, I usually know, when I picked another blogger’s work up to critique, more or less what the level is that I’m batting for. So when I say, “Your opening isn’t really hooking me,” I’m pretty dang sure the writer I’m critiquing either knows what I mean, or knows where to find the information they need to correct this issue.

My belief that this is so is further reinforced by the general level of writing I’ve critiqued over the last seven years. You can see when someone has a concept of what’s going on.

I believe there are certain fundamentals to the plot and development of fiction (regardless of genre). And most of the time, people in my network get the majority of those fundamentals right. In this way, then, content editing is more about catching where the writer slipped than anything else. I think it’s because we are a network that shares what we learned and often I would critique someone, who critiques someone else, who critiques someone else, etc. Because a large amount of us are connected in multiple degrees (I have 20 people or more in my network who are also in your network), it means that the information I share gets refined and then applied to my work again when one of you reads for me. And just so, if I learn something new because of something one of my critique partners (CPs) picked up, I can take that information, refine it, and apply it to that CP’s work, and also the work of all my other CPs.

And so, overall, the quality of our output increases.

But when I’m freelancing, all those assumptions go out the window. I can’t say “This opening isn’t a good hook,” because the writer has no idea what a hook is.

And often, none of the fundamentals are there.

Without any of the fundamentals in place, it’s almost impossible to improve the writing without rewriting the whole thing first. And no matter how nicely I try to put it, that’s an incredibly demoralizing thing for a new writer to find out.

I’m talking about things like character arcs. I’m talking about motivation. I’m talking about internal logic. I’m talking about obedience to the set-up. I’m talking about having the set-up be in the writing, in a way that’s palpable to the reader. I’m talking about not having certain plot points in the writing because it’s “done” in the genre, but have that be at the cost of believability. I’m talking about the ways to create tension and to keep the pacing at a reasonable clip.

These things rarely come naturally to writers. They’re learned by trial and error. And honestly, I don’t think learning all that by paying an editor is the best way to do that.

So my suggestion: Don’t give up on writing. On the contrary, write more. Practice. But improve on your craft by learning from other writers. Get critique partners and learn both from the critiques you get and the ones you give. Read up to understand why your CPs are suggesting certain things. Learn.

That way, your developmental editor is there to help you perfect what you wrote and revised, instead of finding gaping holes that will make you want to write off your skill as a writer entirely.

Also, it’s easier for a content editor to write a thousand-word outline of why this one thing needs work. Not so much when all of your fundamentals are missing. It’s simply too much knowledge for someone to impart in one go, and it’s also too much for you, with your small amount of experience, to understand.

All of us had to start somewhere. But those of us who are here after ten years or more crawled before we ran.

And if you’re a new writer paying for an editor without having critique partners look at your writing first, you basically tried to skip to riding a unicycle.

Do you have critique partners? If so, how did you find them? Any tips for finding and being an awesome critique partner?

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Four Tools for Revising Your First Chapter by Crystel Collier

Welcome Crystal Collier here today to share her new book and some writing tips!

In 1771, Alexia had everything: the man of her dreams, reconciliation with her father, even a child on the way. But she was never meant to stay. It broke her heart, but Alexia heeded destiny and traveled five hundred years back to stop the Soulless from becoming.

In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Church has ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate the Passionate, her bloodline. As Alexia fights this new threat—along with an unfathomable evil and her own heart—the Soulless genesis nears. But none of her hard-won battles may matter if she dies in childbirth before completing her mission.

Can Alexia escape her own clock?
 
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4 Tools for Revising Your First Chapter

Thank you Misha for having me here today!

We all struggle with beginnings. Let’s face it. You’ve got an epic story, but that first sentence is the toughest to get on the page.

My advice?

Skip it.

That’s right jump over that first sentence and just write.

What?!? Here’s the deal. It’s almost guaranteed you will come back and restructure your beginning. Hovering over the first sentence is like worrying what flavor of icing you want before deciding the flavor of the cake.

When you come back to revise, start as late into the story as possible. No traveling to the place where the story starts. No sitting and pondering the upcoming trouble. As a writer, it’s your responsibility to drop us into a boiling vat, right from the get go. (Meaning trouble–not necessarily climactic action.) What inciting incident sets the characters on a journey? Start us there.

So if you’re at the point where you’re ready to revise and make your beginning kick trash, where do you start? Good editing is about asking good questions. Here are some aspects you should question about your beginning:

(Disclaimer: I will be using examples from my books, not because I hold myself as an authority, but because this is a blog tour for my new release. Now BUY MY BOOKS. *winks*)

The first sentence: We appropriately put weight on this one line, but it doesn’t have to be a mind-blowing literary masterpiece. What it does need to accomplish is AT LEAST two of these things:

  • Introduce a question or problem.
  • Show us the viewpoint character. (Including the perspective of the story–1st person, 3rd person, etc.)
  • Establish the mood.
  • Give us a snatch of the setting.

Example: (MOONLESS) Alexia was reasonably confident that exiting the carriage was the equivalent of stepping into Hell. (Character, mood, setting, and problem.)



The first paragraph: By the end of this paragraph (or two), your reader MUST be asking a question. If you’ve done your job right, the reader will be immersed in drama, care about your character, and be anxious for the next line.

Example: (SOULLESS) Alexia’s eyes snapped open, heart thundering. Well, she wasn’t dead. Yet.

The reader might wonder, “Why does she think she’s going to die?”

The first page: By the end of the first 250 words, the reader needs to be grounded with the basics:

  • Who–is this character? (Name, gender, age, occupation, ethnicity or culture, orphan or surrounded by family/friends.)
  • Where? Physical location, time, etc.
  • What–is the problem?
  • Why–should I care? (Did you hook the reader on this character?)
  • and How–is the character going to face/overcome this problem?

If using an “all’s-well” opening (where we KNOW life is good and it’s going to be disrupted), there had better be a hint of trouble either foreshadowed or mentioned.

The first chapter: At this point, we all hope to have a bear trap clamped around the readers ankle. To do this, we need 1. a character they want to root for, or 2. a problem they need to solve, or 3. a metaphorical rug that got ripped out from under their feet. (Preferably, all three.)

1. This making us like the character, how does that work? Blake Snyder calls this the “save the cat” moment. The character has been placed in a circumstance where they have to show their inner convictions. In the first chapter of Soulless, Bellezza shows up to murder Alexia. Yay. Not only does Alexia escape her murderess by using her ability to freeze time, but faces Bellezza to interrogate her. (All while suffering through a blinding migraine caused by using her gift.) We see that she is angry and injured, but a person who confronts her fears rather than running away. There’s something to root for.

Source

2. A problem that needs solving. We are all creatures of comfort. If there’s a problem, it creates discomfort in the reader’s mind, and a need for resolution. In the first chapter of TIMELESS, Alexia is battling the Knights Templar…eight months pregnant. (Yup. There’s the problem.) They have hunted her and her companions from one place to another…all while facing the inevitable deadline of birth. Which could happen on the battlefield. Get to solving, Alexia!

3. The rug ripped out from under your feet. This is that moment, that last line or thought that makes you go, “Brrr?” The first chapter of Moonless ends with a mystery. A man straight out of Alexia’s nightmares has appeared at a social gathering–the man she saw in her most recent dream standing over her dead host. Who here has met someone face to face who first appeared in their dreams?

In the end, formulating the perfect beginning is just about hooking your readers. Do that, and you’ve got it made.

What is your favorite/least favorite story convention for hooking readers?

Crystal Collier is an eclectic author who pens clean fantasy/sci-fi, historical, and romance stories with the occasional touch of humor, horror, or inspiration. She practices her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese.


Find her and her books online HERE.

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