Critiques: A Treasure
Few things are more valuable in crafting a novel than critiques from other people. Critiques give you viewpoints on your work you would never have come up with. Some readers find characterizations you thought perfectly clear to be confusing. Moments of conflict you thought were dramatic are, to some, just ho-hum. Witticisms you thought were hilarious are, in the eyes of some readers, just plain dumb. And just to make life more interesting, you’re bound to get the opposite opinions from other readers.
How do you figure out who is right and who is smoking dried coconut husk? I’ve been working with an excellent critique group for over four years now and have recently started getting commentary from beta readers, so I have some thoughts on the matter.
Go by the Numbers
In my critique group, we are all agreed that if just one person recommends a change, it’s likely a matter of that reader’s taste and therefore, optional for you. If two people recommend the same thing, the issue bears close inspection and, possibly, a change. If three or more call out a flaw, the best advice is to fix that sucker.
Trust Your Gut
Even in cases where a significant number of folks call out a flaw, you’re still probably dealing with a relatively small group of opinions, so the observations you’re getting are not always going to be absolutely correct. You are the judge of what changes go in and stay out. I believe the best way to decide is to trust your writer’s gut. If a change just doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t hang with the rest of the story, and you have carefully considered it, then don’t make the change. Also, pay attention to the cases where only one person recommends a change and it feels spot on. Those are changes you want to make, as well.
Another way of dealing with changes is to try every one that’s suggested. Plugging your reviewers’ suggestions into the living body of your story is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t. This approach can also yield new plot or character developments you might not have thought of otherwise.
Work in Community
Whatever approach you take to judging input from your constructive critics, the most important thing to remember is to avoid working in a vacuum. Enlisting the brains of others to help polish your manuscript will not only make it better, it will get you away from your keyboard (or typewriter or note pad, if you’re working old-school style) and into a supportive community of writers and readers that will keep your writing going. (Note: If they’re not supportive, ditch ‘em!)
Do us all a favor and leave a comment about how you handle input from others. Thanks, and may your pages keep filling.