The thing is, when you’re writing, all these wonderful ideas explode in your head. If you’re like me, sometimes it’s a little bit of a struggle to put them into actual words and get them on paper. I know what I think I wrote, but that’s not always how it translates onto the page, so I need someone who can read what I wrote objectively and tell me if it says what I think it does.
Okay, that’s a perfect example. I totally confused you all with my words, but my point was very clear in my head.
When I’m critiquing Andrea’s work, what I’m looking for is any area:
- I had to read twice (or more)
- I was pulled out of the story
- I thought didn’t ring true or was inconsistent
- that didn’t feel cohesive
If I catch myself thinking about food, or my shopping list, or anything else for that matter, then the manuscript isn’t holding my interest. That’s a problem. In On Writing, Stephen King says, when his wife is alpha reading he watches, and anytime she puts the mss down—to go to the bathroom, or run an errand—he picks it up and reads where she is. You want readers riveted to your book. The biggest complement I can get from a reader is that they flunked a chemistry test because they couldn’t put my book down long enough to study. (Don’t really do this, please. Just an example. ;p)
As an author, I want the reading experience to be seamless. We don’t go back and relive a moment in our lives because something confused us. In a book, we shouldn’t ever have to reread a passage. Realistically, I’m fairly certain I’ve never gotten through an entire book where I didn’t have to reread something. Maybe a few sentences or a paragraph, but you want to keep your readers flipping pages forward, not backward. If I have to turn back too often, I’m going to get frustrated and stop turning forward.
Again, I want a seamless read. Turns of phrase, metaphors or anything else that pulls me out of the story, need to go. In my humble opinion, the writer should be invisible in any novel. When he/she starts to intrude on the story with flower prose, or poorly chosen words/similes/metaphors, I notice him/her. And when I start noticing the writer, I’m no longer in the story. They’ve lost me.
This is pretty self-explanatory.
My lovely critique partner and I both use the same writing method. I believe I’ve heard Andrea describe it as jigsaw puzzle writing. We don’t write chronologically. It’s not unusual for me to write the end first—or sometimes the middle. I write when my characters have something to say, and I’m not in charge of what that is. The thing about that is, when you get it all put together into a single story, just like the jigsaw puzzle, you want to be able to see all the detail in the story and it should be cohesive—seamless. (I know I keep using that word, but it’s really important.) I’ve read books (some of which have sat on the NYT list, so what do I know) that just felt like a bunch of scenes strung together. Each scene was separate and had a specific function—to introduce a character or plot twist, or to move the plot along—but there was no sense of cohesiveness to the story. I find that a frustrating read. Any of us can write a fabulous scene. Most of us can write several fabulous scenes. But, if you were to take those and just slap them together, it wouldn’t necessarily make a great book. There’s an art to writing a seamless story that holds together and flows effortlessly for the reader.
So, that’s my two cents on the matter. For those of you who write, what do you look for when critiquing?