How many of you have been asked by your close friend to read their manuscript and give them feedback on it? I’m sure many–if not all–of us have.
My sister Kris writes and we read each other’s stories all the time. Sometimes we read them when they’re finished, other times we read scenes at a time in case we need different opinions in the middle of writing.
When Kris reads my stories, she always has something decent to say about it. When I read her stories, I tell her, “that was good. I want to read more.”
She stares at me blankly expecting more, but I never know what else to say. I’ve never been good at editing, even for my own stories. The very first time I started editing I only looked for typos and such. It was hard for me to look at my plot more deeply, to see how well the characters developed through the story, if everything made sense, etc. I thought it would all kind of work it out in a way all on its own. Well, it actually doesn’t work that way.
It wasn’t until I joined my writing group that I got a deeper understanding of what it really means to edit your novel… and how to help others edit theirs.
So what do you do? What do you say? Certainly not this:
The picture explains what not to do: Snow White isn’t asking the right question (did you like it, yes or no?) and she’s already getting frustrated. Well, if she’s this fruatrated now then we know she’s not going to handle negative feedback very well which is essential to being a writer. Pinocchio knows this which is why he’s afraid to speak the truth and his nose is giving him away. If he didn’t like the story, what could he say?
When reading through a manuscript, whether it’s a close friend or someone else, you should always say something positive and something negative. The positive comments will help them see what readers like and what they do well in. The negative comments will help them improve certain areas.
Most of you may have heard of the feedback sandwich. It’d be good for Pinocchio to know that when critiquing, you should start off with a positive comment about the story, the bottom bun of the sandwich. Then go into some negatives; what needs improving, what didn’t seem to work with the story, etc. That’s the middle of the sandwich; hamburger, deli meat, what have you. Then top it off with another bun with more positives about it.
I find that to be the most effective way to do it. Ease in with good and ease out with good.
Let’s look at Snow White’s point of view. It’s never good to get angry with people who are trying to help you. With that being said, she shouldn’t be looking for bland answers to vague questions such as, “did you like my story?” They can say yes or they can say no, but they won’t tell you why.
You need to be specific.
When handing out your manuscript to others, it should always be after you’ve already done an edit. That way you have a good sense of what might need tweaking.
Is your main character taking a different path than intended? Ask your reader if they like the main character. Is he/she enjoyable to read about? Is he/she likable? Do you think the story works with that specific character in charge?
If there’s a plot hole in the story, see if they can find it. Ask them opinions on how to fix it. Is it a big hole or a small one? Can it be overlooked as a loophole? (Because let’s be honest; we all fudge it sometimes.)
In order to get the most out of your beta-readers, you need to tell them how to help you. Ask specific questions and when they read the story, they’ll hopefully have an answer for you.
Back to Pinocchio. What can you do or say when reading a friend’s manuscript? If the writer didn’t ask specific questions, what kind of aspects of the story can you touch upon?
–Does the opening of the story hook you?
–Is the plot clear and believable?
–Do you share the main character’s emotions and care about what happens to him/her?
–Can you “hear” the dialogue in the story?
–What is the strongest point in the story? What is the weakest?
There are so many aspects of a story that you can look deeper into. One can talk a lot about the main character of a story–both good points and bad about him/her. That could be an entire critique itself.
So, remember: don’t be like Snow White and Pinocchio. When reading and critiquing, remember to be kind and honest. When receiving the critique, have a cool head and remember that ultimately the last decision is yours to make; it’s your story.
Not exactly a writing prompt, but close enough… Take a deeper look at your current work in progress and think of some questions about the story that you feel might need tweaking. Try answering them yourself or tuck them away safely for your future beta-reader.