Friday, October 4, 2013

The Three Worst Critiquers You Could Ask For...

Critique Itch: The overwhelming desire to let other people read your work, whether complete or incomplete, in search of an opinion.

We all come down with it at some point, whether it's early on in our first draft, or later in revisions, or, for a lucky few, when the whole thing is polished and complete.  I, myself, have had the itch for quite a while now.  But care must be taken when we seek out opinions and critiques about our baby.  There are certain people that just shouldn't be asked for an honest opinion about anything in terms of evaluating you or something you have crafted.  You wouldn't ask your son's first grade teacher to diagnose a rash on your left arm, now would you?  No.  Because they don't have the context to be able to evaluate something like that.  

There are three people you should never ask to critique your novel, no matter how much fiction they read...

1.  Your Mom

Yes, your mom has hopefully been there for you through thick and thin, skinned knees and lost loves, graduations and birthdays.  She has been the guiding force in your life for as long as you can remember, and you ask her opinion about any big venture in your life.  The problem with asking mom to critique your writing is that she is waaaaay too close to you to give any kind of objective opinion.  She has always thought you were a winner, no matter how defective your science project was or how ridiculous you looked in those acid washed jeans pinned tight to your ankles.  She will tell you it's wonderful; everything a good story should be and that everyone will love it for sure.  She won't mention the giant plot hole that is staring her in the face from the get-go, or the complete lack of sympathy she feels for pretty much all of your characters.

2.  Your Best Friend

No matter how many fights you've gotten in, or how many boyfriends/girlfriends you've stolen from each other, your best friend has stuck by you.  They may even be the type to be relatively honest with you when you try on something atrocious or start dating an ex-con.  But when you ask them to  critique your writing, they will:
 a) be too scared to tell you what they really think
b) be too eager to spite you after you got the hot guy's/girl's number last night
or c) not have a clue what makes writing good and shrug their shoulders at you
Best friends are incapable of being objective, much like good ol' mom, above.

3.  Your spouse/SO

When you ask your spouse to critique your novel that they have seen you pouring your spirit into for the last few weeks, months, even years, they will look at you like a deer in the headlights and may even feign an illness just to get out of it.  Of course, they may be curious to read the thing you've kept secret and been obsessed with for so long, but to give an opinion on it is a different thing, entirely.  There is no right answer for them; no opinion of theirs that you will accept.  If they say it is wonderful, you will immediately be suspicious that they are placating you and get upset.  If they say it is garbage, you will immediately be suspicious they are just mad because you spent the last twelve date nights finishing your book and get upset.  The best they can hope for is a harmless indifference toward the whole thing, after which you will also become suspicious and get upset.  It's like setting a trap for them.  Not very nice.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't let these people read your book, because of course you should.  They will most likely want proof that you are, in fact, not insane and all that time spent obsessing about imaginary people and places was not for nothing. I just don't think these are the right people to seek a critique from.  They are your loved ones and think highly of you no matter what.  But when you feel the itch coming on, you don't want that.  You want validation.  You want to know whether or not you suck.  Hopefully, your mom, best friend, and spouse would never tell you that you suck (as a writer), even if it is, in fact, true.  

So get realistic and get a beta reader, critique partner, or writing buddy that will look at your writing objectively and critically, with their writing knowledge behind them.  It will help you learn to swallow some of the tough criticism that will no doubt come later in the querying stage.