Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Lesson 12

with 2 comments

Wednesday is a big deal. I am starting my last fall quarter of my undergraduate education. Exciting! Wednesday is also lesson day! CONFETTI! Now let’s talk about friends.


Friends, AKA Critters

I’m currently getting e-friendly with two lovely ladies who I’m hoping will become fantastic crit partners in the future. But I’ve learned a few lessons about critiquing: you need to be careful. You need to know who you’re critiquing. There needs to be a basis of friendship so you know that if you’re being too mean or if you’re missing the point, something will be said–and not before it’s too late.

Four Things to Think About When Looking for a Critique Partner

1. What

You need to know what you’re critiquing. Is this the first draft? The second draft? Is it in a stage that needs to be line-edited or picked apart for characterization and plot? These are things to think about before tackling your next critique project.

A lot of people like to revise the first few drafts themselves and then send it off to a few people for specific things. They may have a harem of people, where one person is particularly good with plot and another is fantastic with grammar.

So what are you good at? What can you bring to your partner to help them the most?

2. How

Once you’ve decided what your critique partner needs, you need to find out how to deliver it. Does your partner have thick skin? Are they going to be torn to pieces if you mention something about their style? You need to figure out what kind of feedback they need in order to give it to them in a way that will help them the most.

The rule is always to follow up with a positive. Point out the good things and the things that need improvement. Always be a critique partner. Always give constructive criticism. Never, ever be mean or rude or condescending. But honestly, this can be easier said than done. Sometimes tone doesn’t transfer over track changes!

This is why it’s important to have a relationship with your critique partner. If they know you, then they’ll know you’re not trying to be mean and that it may come across that way simply by accident.

3. Who

It is vastly important to know who your critique partner is–not just their age, sex, and location. Some authors have thick skin (not the gross kind, hopefully) and others don’t. If you have a bond and a relationship with your critique partner, your words will resonate with them a lot better than some stranger. They’ll know you have a proximity to their piece because you have a proximity to them. They’ll know you aren’t trying to rip their story to shreds by pointing out every time they use the phrase ‘in fact.’

They need to know who you are as a person so they can understand your critique and what matters to you. Understanding is a big thing. It’s a huge! thing because you need to assess what they can handle and when they can handle it.

4. When

Some authors start the critique process early (me) and others don’t. Just realize that the when comes after the whathow, and who. Once you’ve established everything else, then the critiquing will follow.

Now, when you’re going to start looking for a critique partner is up to you. It’s not easy and you’re going to come up short because the sad truth is that looking for a critique partner is almost as hard as looking for an agent. The only difference is that an agent doesn’t mind telling you no because it isn’t for them or it didn’t attract them. Authors are way nicer than that and they’ll say yes just because they want to help.

Just wanting to help isn’t enough.

So, here’s the big take away:

You have to want representation and publication for your critique partners just as much as you want it for yourself. Their story, in some way, needs to inevitably become yours. It’s like nurturing your sister’s daughter. Their story is your niece! (Or nephew!) You need to love it to pieces and want it to grow up well–and pretty–and get married and have children and have an amazing life.

So, how do you find someone that’ll be your story’s auntie or uncle?

Look around you! There are so many writers out there who’re looking for a good critique partner, and that person could be you. This isn’t the time to be shy. You need to be you and you need to put yourself out there.

Good luck!


Written by Jessica Lei

September 22, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Critiques, Lessons, Revising

2 Responses

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  1. I’m a new follower and this was such an excellent piece!!! I wish I would have known this before I first fell into the critiquing world. I’m afraid I learned the hard way, and they didn’t realize I didn’t have a thick skin.

    Now I do, and I’ve found people who work well with me and the goals I need to accomplish. It might take you a bit to find the right one’s, but when you do, it’s magic.


    September 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

    • I wish I would’ve known, too! I was reading a post by Natalie Whipple on the topic, and things clicked for me a bit 🙂 then this is just my two cents. I’m glad I could help!

      Jessica Lei

      September 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm

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