Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Critique Partners: Staging

Yesterday, I touched on "staging" a bit at the end of the post, but I want to discuss it more today.

I put this technique into practice because I had most of my beta readers (at the time) read the same version of my first ms, MANIFESTED. When I received their feedback, I made changes, and (silly me) asked them to read it again. They all groaned (is that a *bad* sign?). Gack!

It was a bad sign for multiple reasons:

1. They had JUST read it. It was too fresh in their minds for them to go through it again with objective eyes. Now, I still find this is true with beta readers. Critique partners, on the other hand, *should* be willing to read anything you give them, because that's their JOB. And they are paid well for it - right? What? You're not paying them?! YES, you are! You are paying them with awesome return critiques. :)

2. Clearly, my first "finished" draft of my ms was not as exciting as Twilight, or they would have read it over and over with no time wasted between reads. *choke*

3. I needed critique partners, not only beta readers. Um... and not only family members as beta readers!

So... here you go... You've found at least one critique partner, and your working out your system. Once you're comfortable with that, find another critique partner, and work out your staging.

Here's what works SMASHINGLY well for me:

1. Trade chapters, not the whole ms. Why? First of all, if you're working with a new CP, do you really want to give them the WHOLE pot of gold? (You know it's a pot of gold!) Test the waters with just one chapter. Trade critiques and see how it feels. If it works, send the next chapter. Second, a chapter at a time is very doable. A whole manuscript can feel overwhelming. You'll give and get more detailed critiques on a smaller chunk at a time. Use your beta readers for the whole ms (after it's been revised to death perfection).

2. Agree to trade weekly. A chapter a week is sweet. Now, that may seem too slow to some of you. But, I've come to realize that a slower revision is often a better revision. Plus, if that is too slow for you, work on your next ms while you're waiting! Plus, often times, my CPs and I finish the critiques early and send them back. We don't *limit* ourselves to one chapter a week, but we commit to accomplish at least that much.

3. Start with your first CP and get her/him ahead in the ms. At least two chapters. That way you will have a cushion to make necessary revisions to your work, before sending the revised chapters to your next CP.

4. In the last post, we discussed making only the changes that *feel* right to you. Now, here's where staging your CPs is essential. If your first partner suggests a change that you strongly disagree with, leave it. Wait and see the reaction of your 2nd and/or 3rd CP. If they make the same suggestion, you need to revisit the idea and consider a change. Because if your CPs are stopping on the same spot, chances are an agent and/or a publisher will as well.

5. With your first CP, list out the items you struggled with in the chapter. Such as: too many words, weak dialogue, too much telling, etc. Ask your CP to look for these things and mark the problem areas. Then, with their help, you can clean it up. When you send it to your 2nd CP, don't make a list. See if they spot the original problem areas. If not, you've fixed it. If they do spot them, work on more revisions.

Go forth and critique!

Do you stage your CPs? Or do you critique by the seat of your pants? Have a tip to share?


  1. Great advice, Margo. I do like to point out what areas I'm looking for most feedback in and anything else CP comes back with is like gold. I never mention areas I've revised per previous CP's suggestions for new CP so it doesn't mess with flow for that CP.
    I also like to do 3 chaps at a time. I try to have a 3-4 chap goal a week. I'm still catching up to my awesome CP, Kathryn, who returned my entire ms with full crit in like 2 weeks! (she doesn't have any kids.) lol. But how amazing is that?? I wish I could just sit and read for hours on end.....
    Oh and I have found that if you get too many different CPs, you really never finish revising. Each one will pick out different things which are their strong areas of critique. I've limited myself to just 2 very strong ones, and leave it at that. :)

    How are the queries coming along??

  2. Love this post. I feel so lucky to have a good critique partner. Though I'm not sure if I'm ready to find a second just yet. Need to work on writing more of my wip, then I'll think about it. :)

  3. I just wanted to say, "I love reading your blog."

  4. Great idea, to stagger your critiques and have readers on both sides of a revision. My CPs get busy though, I've found, and I'm sad they don't have time to keep swapping!

  5. PK - still plugging along on those queries. Argg!
    Angela - thanks!
    Kyersten - gee whiz! :0)
    Carol - another great reason to have multiple CPs, because hopefully when one is too busy to swap, another one can keep going!

  6. I do have one CP who I trade chapters with, but on the whole I think the most valuable thing I can get from a CP is feedback on the plotting and pacing. That's something you don't get from a group setting, where you read only a few pages or a chapter a week. It's hard to find someone who's willing to read the book straight through, but it's what I'm really looking for.

  7. Lisa - I think that's really where BETA readers come into play. Someone to sit and read the entire ms front to back and give general advice like you mentioned.