Manuscript Crit


I just found this in my draft folder…from back in January. It’s appropriate to post now, though, since Midwest Writers’ Workshop was last weekend.

In my last post, I mentioned that I bought a manuscript (first five pages, really) critique at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop. I submitted the opening of my current WIP and waited impatiently.

In addition to the paid critiques, everyone had the opportunity for an open critique: putting your pages on a table in the library for anyone to read and critique. I tossed those same pages into the ring.

As part of the weekend, I signed up for an all-day intensive workshop with the same published author who was doing the paid critique. I figured I needed to learn more about him so I could better weigh his comments.

One of the first thing he said was that authors need to name their character right away so readers know who they’re dealing with and aren’t confused when the names are finally mentioned. My first person narrator wasn’t named until the end of the submitted pages. Strike one.

Then he said when he’s reading he wants a description of characters’ clothes. If not, he has naked characters running around his head. Strike two. Plus, the two main characters in the first five pages were college girls…kind of icky to have them running around naked in readers’ heads.

As the day went on, my Strike List got longer.

I wasn’t looking forward to the critique session. However, I figured that since I knew what he was looking for I could at least steel myself for my pages to come back dripping in red ink.

Except they didn’t. He liked the pages. He liked my characters. He liked where and how I’d started.

“But, the clothes!” He hadn’t noticed.

I was elated. I’d managed to break “the rules” and get away with it.

Meanwhile, the open critique of my pages had comments that contradicted each other and the comments from the paid critique.

I’m not surprised. For good writer’s karma, I critiqued a few of the manuscripts (too many to read them all). There was a range of genres, but most of the manuscripts I picked up were fantasy. I was out of my depth, but tried to give helpful feedback anyway. I’m sure that many of my comments were written off because it was obvious I didn’t read the genre.

Ask five people, get five different opinions.

Looking back, on this post, I would say that the real take away is that all comments aren’t created equal.

An incredibly important part of a writers group, or any critique, is learning how to decide if a comment is good or bad. It’s not easy, but it’s an important skill to hone.

More on that next time…

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