Are you done writing your novel or book? Are you eager to share it with family and friends first before getting a professional manuscript critique? Learn what questions to ask your prospective reviewers with today’s tip of the day from the Novelist’s Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone, an award-winning author, screenwriter, former Army officer, and professor.
Obstacles, most military strategists will tell you, are not good things to try to go through. However, sometimes the mission or tactical situation dictates that a unit go through terrain that’s filled with tank traps or barbed wire. It’s dangerous ground, but with specialized tools and tactics, a unit can make it through.
Three Critique Questions You Should Ask
Having someone read and respond to your novel is like volunteering to negotiate a minefield. When it’s time to traverse this literary minefield, ensure you get focused feedback and not a face full of shrapnel by asking your early reader to respond only to the following three specific questions.
- At what point did you put it down? If your reader went from beginning to end without halting, that’s an indicator that your first thirty pages are doing their job of introducing the situation, characters, and stakes while holding the reader’s attention. On the other hand, if your friend says that at page eight she took a break to have a root canal—well, that speaks for itself.
- What characters did you feel the most strongly about? If your reader hates your protagonist’s opponent (a.k.a. your villain), consider reexamining that character to give her some qualities that make her at least a little sympathetic and therefore more complex. If, however, your reader doesn’t remember your protagonist’s name, closely evaluate how you can make your protagonist more intense and even larger than larger than life.
- What parts did you skip? The answer to this question can be a real eye-opener. Although the answer will surely differ from reader to reader, what a reader decides not to read is important. By skipping a passage, your reader is telling you that that section of text didn’t establish an emotional connection. Check these skipped passages closely—they’re prime targets for rewriting or elimination.
It’s usually best for your early reader to be an objective party, like a member of a critique group. However, you may decide to share your work with a friend or family member. After all, these are people who know
you well, whose opinions you trust, and who want you to succeed. But to spare the strain on your friendship or relationship, make sure your reader understands that you’re not asking what she, your buddy, thinks. Rather, you’re asking what she, a book-buying reader, thinks. Also, it’s best not to toss a five-hundred-page opus at a friend—no matter how close you are. Instead, give her just the first thirty pages and ask for responses on very specific topics. Otherwise, keep the relationship and put away the manuscript.
Maybe it’s time to talk to someone other than your close friends about your writing. Maybe it’s time to enter the larger writing community. To find your way out there, turn the page to the next mission.
Today’s tip of the day is from the Novelist’s Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone, a former Army officer turned award-winning author and screenwriter. Buy this book and:
- Develop your story line and characters
- Practice description, setting, and dialogue with writing exercises
- Cut, revise, and improve your story
- Get a detailed schedule for writing a novel in 12 weeks