Critique partners. I just can’t say enough good things about them.
Officially, I have two groups of critique partners, an in-person group that meets once a month, and an online group that runs 24-7 (or whenever people are awake and available) – although it’s been almost a year since I’ve participated in my online group, due to the whole concussed-brain-can’t read-docs-on-the-computer thing.
I think every aspiring (and established) writer should surround themselves with as many critique partners as they can handle. My in-person crit group consists of 5 1/2 (one person can only attend about half the time) people, and each of us lends our unique talents to the group. For instance, one person is very good at seeing the big picture, the overall plot arcs, they know right away when a scene isn’t moving the plot forward. Another is good with character and their emotional development – if a character acts, well, out-of-character, they’ll call you on it. I, on the other hand, happen to be very good with the nitty-gritty details – if you have a character picking up his coffee twice in one scene, without putting it down, that’s the kind of thing I’ll notice. We all have our strengths. And I think that’s what makes our group balanced, and helps make our work as good as it can be.
But what happens if you get different opinions from your crit partners?
Well, sometimes it’s a matter of listening to the message underneath. Last year I had two conflicting opinions on a chapter. One CP (critique partner) told me that she really liked the parts where the action flowed quickly, but felt that the rest of the chapter dragged. Another CP told me he really like the more detailed parts of the chapter, but felt I rushed through the other parts. Confusing, right? Does the chapter need to be more detailed or less? The underlying message: the chapter was inconsistent. I ended up fleshing out the less detailed parts, and trimming down the longer sections, until the chapter read more consistently.
But what about when there really is no middle ground?
My latest chapter I submitted to CPs had exactly this problem. One CP went through the chapter and crossed out just about every line of interior thought, while another CP told me the interior thoughts were her favorite part, and made her feel connected to the character. What to do? This is where having multiple partners can come in handy. CP #3 liked the interior thoughts, as well. But more importantly, so did I. So they stayed.
Ultimately it comes down to you, the writer, having to decide what’s right for your book. But I think this is where having multiple CPs is invaluable. It’s easy to brush off a single opinion on your work – maybe the CP has a different writing style than you, or doesn’t understand where the story is going, etc. But if all your CPs are giving you the same opinion, then maybe it’s time to listen.
What about you? Do you have multiple CPs, or one trusted reader? Let me know all about it in the comments.