Show, not Tell

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

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Lesson 12

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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

Lesson 6

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We’ve learned a lot of lessons this week but we’re going to sum it up before breaking it down.


When people tell you sheepishly that they don’t like something, listen to them. Chances are that there’s going to be someone else (out if the millions of people who will read it when it hits the shelves because we both know you have a best-seller) who doesn’t like that same something. It might be a character, it might be a phrase, but it’s something and there’s surely a way to rewrite it (you’re a genius, you can do it!).

I’m saying this because receiving critiques can be hard. Everyone has confidence and pride in what they do–especially what they write–and when someone has the balls to point out that you’re not perfect, it’s usually a good idea to listen. That way you can be more perfect.

More perfect is good.

Written by Jessica Lei

August 15, 2010 at 7:44 am

Posted in Critiques, Lessons

Lesson 1

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Here is our first lesson as we start writing our first novel:

When you’re writing a novel to be published, it is incredibly important to find outlets to share your novel with before letting your baby out into the big bad world. Just like you nurture own baby, you need to nurture your story, too. It needs the proper clothing, the proper subsistence, and the proper environment to grow up well. We all want our babies, and our stories, to bloom into a successful adulthood.

For writing, I think finding someone to critique your work is almost invaluable (invaluable would probably be finding a publisher and a million dollar, lucrative contract).  When you’re writing, to stop and take the time to look over all the aspects of your own story is like trying to cut your own hair. It doesn’t work. You can’t reach the back of your head and you can’t find all of your own mistakes. Once you’ve read over your story once or twice, half of it is practically committed to memory, anyway. You need someone else who doesn’t know every aspect of your story like their very own pillow. No, you need fresh eyes, because not only are potential readers going to have fresh eyes, but your potential agent or publisher will, too.

By fresh eyes, I mean someone who has absolutely no idea what you’re writing. So when they read your first chapter, they don’t already know that subtle reference you made in your third paragraph will be meaningful in chapter twenty. For someone who knows next to nothing about your story, they can tell you if it’s truly interesting, and you must have an interesting story to find an editor, an agent, or a publisher.

So, great, you have someone who can critique your story. Even better, maybe you have several people. That is jolly.

Now, find someone else’s story to critique. Why? Because helping someone improve their story will help you improve yours. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before that teaching someone something helps you learn it, too. Taking a critical look at someone else’s work will force you to take a critical look at your own. When you comment on their lack of description, you’re going to wonder: how’s my description? When you point out an inconsistency, you’re going to wonder: do I have inconsistencies?

Giving and receiving critique is important to improving your story. Improving your story is a sure step in the right direction to getting published. Logic would say that it’s pretty imperative to start that critique group up soon.

Written by Jessica Lei

July 23, 2010 at 4:35 am

Posted in Critiques, Lessons, Revising