On Editing: When Critiquing a Friend’s Novel

For December, Kris and I decided to swap manuscripts and edit each other’s work. We both have first drafts completed, but that’s about it. Neither one of us knows where to go from there on our current WIPs.

We’ve read each other’s work before and we’re also part of a writer’s group where we give and take feedback. Yet, whenever I look at someone’s writing, someone I know and I’m close to, I always find it harder to critique.

Don’t ask why, I can’t explain it, but that’s just how I feel.

With that being said, here’s what you should do when editing a friend’s novel.

On Editing: When Critiquing a Novel for a Friend

Editing is editing, but editing your own novel is quite different than editing a friend’s. When a friend asks you to look over their work, they’re trusting you with their babies, they’re blood, sweat, and tears. They’re allowing you to take a trip through their imaginative mind, peek into their fictional world and play with their characters.

What to do when a friend asks you to edit their novel

IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO

Before I get into all the details about what you should do if you agree to critique their novel, I thought I’d mention that it’s okay to say no.

You have your own writing to focus on. You have your own life to live. If taking on a whole novel to critique would be too much, then say so. Your friend will understand and maybe you can take a peek at their work some other time.

You don’t want to agree to critique their novel and then let it sit for months on end, do you? That wouldn’t help the writer and it would add on more stress for you.

GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE

Speaking of letting the manuscript sit for months… If you agree to critique their work, work out a deadline with the writer. Tell them you’ll have their novel back to them within a month or two months or whatever works best for the two of you.

Having a deadline will allow both of you to plan accordingly. The writer can anticipate the feedback and prepare for their next round of edits while you can get into a routine as well as save your own writing time and help a friend.

ASK THE WRITER SPECIFICS

You want me to critique your novel? Okay, well what do you want me to look for?

Does the writer want your opinion on the character development throughout the story? Is there a point in the novel where the plot feels stuck and they don’t know how to fix it? Maybe they just want your opinion on the overall story.

Give your honest feedback, but be sure to answer specific questions from the writer. You don’t want them e-mailing you later saying, “Thanks, but what did you think about this…?”

Editing is hard, but editing for a friend is harder.

Remember, this is not your story.

You might have had the protagonist kill the villain at the end as opposed to letting him go. However, your friend created this world, the conflict, the resolution, the characters, and everything in between. You have no idea what other plans the author has in mind for their novel.

YOUR FRIEND CAN CHOOSE WHETHER OR NOT TO LISTEN TO YOUR FEEDBACK

You didn’t write the story, it wasn’t your idea to begin with, so don’t compare it to your own writing and rewrite it. Make suggestions, dish out new ideas, but don’t be offended if the author decides not to use them.

Everything you say, positive or negative feedback, will be taken with a grain of salt. If anything, the writer is seeing how a potential reader will take on the moral of the story. Maybe their point wasn’t clear enough or maybe it was spot on.

The power of Suggestion

With that being said, when you write your feedback you need to keep in mind that the writer may or may not listen to it. Be sure to word your feedback in a nice way that it’s just your opinion.

It doesn’t help to say, “This is good, but I would have done it like this…”

Instead say, “This part just isn’t working out for me because [give reason]. Have you thought about doing this…?”

Or, you can stop at, “This part just isn’t working out for me because [give reason].”

The writer may or may not want your suggestion, but they’ll listen to what’s not working with the story. If it didn’t work for one audience member, it might not work with everyone else.

If you don’t know what to pin-point in the story, check out this list of 35 critiquing questions. You don’t have to answer them all, but it’s definitely a good starting point and will help the writer out a lot.

Positive and Negative feedback

When critiquing a novel, you always want to find things that work well and things that don’t work well.

The negative feedback helps them improve. The positive feedback give them some reassurance that their writing isn’t terrible, something that all writers believe about their stories.

So, feel free to find something negative about the story even if you loved it. It may not be a problem for you, but other readers may not get it. Or, it could be something as simple as them constantly spelling defiantly definitely” wrong.

If the story wasn’t your cup of coffee, find at least one or two positive things to say about the story. The story can’t all be awful. Maybe you enjoyed one of the secondary characters or there was a scene that was pretty funny and worked really well with the plot.

Reassurance

Most authors ask for feedback because they don’t know where to go next. They’ve read and reread their story, but there’s always something that needs changing. It’s hard for them to quit editing with each new draft because, let’s face it, we all search for perfection within our novels.

As the editor, it’s your job to reassure the writer their novel is up to par. It may not be its best yet, but you have to cheer them on and give them the willpower to keep going.

That’s where the positive and negative feedback comes in. That’s where your suggestions come in handy.

You’re allowing the writer to give someone to talk to about the ups and downs of their novel whether it’s the novel itself or the journey. By being an editor or beta-reader, you’re being a good friend.

Have you ever critiqued a friend’s novel before? How did you guys handle it? Let me know in the comments below!

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35 Questions to Ask When Critiquing a Novel

Are you beginning the editing stage of your novel? Did someone ask you to critique their novel or are you asking someone else to critique yours?

Here are 35 questions to ask yourself to dig deeper into that story.

Editing Checklist: 35 Questions to ask when Critiquing a Novel

1. Does the opening of the story hook you? Do you want to read more? Why or why not?
2. What are the conflicts (internal and external) in the story? Is a conflict known right away? What do you see as the central conflict of the story? (Thanks, Thomas Weaver!)
3. Are there too many conflicts happening in the book at once? Or is there not enough?
4. Are all the conflicts important to the story and help drive the plot forward?
5. Is the plot clear and believable from the beginning?
6. Is the plot interesting? Will the readers be able to relate to points in the book?
7. Is the plot resolved at the end of the book? Is the reader satisfied at the end?
8. Does the author create a believable setting?
9. Is the setting vividly described? Are there too many details or not enough?
10. Is the setting, time and date period, all consistent throughout the book?
11. Are there enough locations in the book or not enough?
12. Is the protagonist clearly introduced as the main focus of the story?
13. How do you feel about the protagonist? Do you sympathize with him, care about what happens to him, and do you share his emotions? Does the character feel alive?
14. Does each character have a background, hobbies, etc.?
15. Are the secondary characters helpful and push the story forward? Do they each have a purpose?
16. Does each character grow by the end of the book?
17. Can you see the characters? Are they described well or not enough?
18. Are there too many characters or not enough?
19. Does each character have a unique voice and personality?
20. Can you hear the dialogue? Is there too much dialogue or not enough?
21. What is the point of view in the story? Is it consistent throughout the novel? Do you think the POV was a good choice for this particular story?
22. How is the pacing of the story? Does the story drag at some points? Do some parts happen too fast?
23. Is each scene easy to read and flow well right into the next?
24. Are there scenes in the book that don’t drive the plot forward?
25. Does the author show instead of tell?
26. Does the overall tone work well for the story?
27. Was the book too long or too short?
28. Did the first and last chapters work?
29. Does the title fit the plot?
30. Is the book appropriate for the targeted audience?
31. What do you think the moral of the story is? What message is the author trying to get across to their readers?
32. What’s one line that you loved for whatever reason?
33. What is the strongest part of the novel?
34. What is the weakest part of the novel?
35. What is your overall impression of the story?

Have any other questions you would ask? Let me know in the comments below and I may add them to the list!

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