critique groups · Harriet Hale · writing advice

Harriet’s Opinion

Over the past few weeks, Nena has talked about the difference between writing and editing, Mags has talked about muses, and Sandra has talked about finding and reviewing her early manuscripts.

We all have a muse. We have a book we’ve read that makes us think “I could do that,” or we have the overwhelming impulse to put the story in our head onto paper. And in the beginning, we are alone.

A key to learning your craft is to be brave enough not to be alone and to let your manuscript see the light of day. In my opinion, one of the best ways to bolster your bravery is through beta-readers and critique groups.

Beta-readers: mine are the friends I trust. Not only do they read my drafts, they are there for me to bounce ideas against. “What if . . .”  They read widely, they have wonderful taste, they’ve given me fabulous advice in the past (on more stuff than writing), and I value their opinions. But we have one rule: I expect them to always tell me the ugly, unvarnished truth.

Critique groups: I found mine through an online workshop. The instructors moderate an online critique group of fellow romance writers. The participants are experienced and new, published and non-published. They will also tell me the ugly, unvarnished truth.

Once you turn your work over to readers and critique partners, you’re going to get varied comments from each group, and some of it is going to sting. You can’t be overly sensitive. People will stop being honest.

You want that truth. It’s how you get better at your craft. And you need that truth before you submit your manuscript. Publishing companies have large slush piles and no time to teach you how to be a better writer. Or, if you’re self-publishing, you’d rather hear it from people who like you rather than in your Amazon comments.

However, the story is ultimately your story. Some of the comments will be helpful, but it’s your job to take what you can use and not get sidetracked or discouraged. I pay the closest attention to the following:

  1. Pace – “it moved too slow,” “I slogged through all the details at the beginning.”
  2. Confusion – “why are you telling me about this person?” “what is the character’s background?” “I don’t understand the setting.”
  3. Questions – “why is this incident important?” “why are they doing this?”
  4. Plot – “I’m tired of wandering around waiting for something to happen.”
  5. Structure – “This is in the wrong spot.”

These are the places where you’ve gotten lost in telling the story. You thought you had it on the page, but you didn’t. (Or you thought you needed it, but you didn’t.) You don’t want readers confused or bored.

The rest of it, in my opinion, is their opinion.

I believe it’s instinctive to read something and try to put it in your own words. After all, that’s why most of us were inspired to write. And we each have our own style — our unique voice. But, in the end, these are my characters and this is the story they’ve told me. I’m going to listen to opinions and make an informed decision, but I’m going to tell that story. If I try to please everyone, I’ll lose what makes my writing unique.

Find people you trust, listen to their questions, hear their suggestions – but believe in your characters, your story, and your voice. That’s an equally important part of learning your craft.

HarrietI hope to have a chance to read for fun soon. This month y’all will have to do it for me.


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