On writing

January 4, 2011

Right now I’m involved in a rather interesting discussion on my Facebook page about the nature of the critique partner relationship.

Now for those of you who aren’t writers by trade, a critique partner is another writer – usually in your genre – who reads your work and tells you what kind of adjustments you want to make. Perhaps something isn’t clear or a character isn’t coming off well (too weak, too strong). Maybe your pacing is off or you’re not explaining something.

Or in my case this week, I’ve been mud wrestling with a chapter in The Monster MASH, this new book I’m writing for St. Martin’s Press. The story is coming along really well, but this one chapter has been giving me fits. Something wasn’t on the page quite right and I had no idea what was wrong or how to fix it. Just that “something” didn’t work.

Rather than force it, I decided to talk it over with my critique partner, Jess. I thought I had a decent idea of what to do, but I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I’d sent her a few earlier chapters to look over – chapters I knew were solid – and that’s how she caught me. Jess called and said, “why did you give away the farm in chapter three? You need to keep the reader guessing longer. That’s why chapter 6 isn’t working. You killed your tension.” I looked and she was right.

Ha – I love it when she’s right. But how did she know? Other than the fact that it’s always easier to see the overall picture when it’s not your book, I also think it’s because Jess and I don’t write the same. She’s a plotter and I’m more organic. She writes structure-driven stories. I write character-driven stories. She writes dark, angsty sci-fi. I write quirky books demon slayers and supernatural doctors.

And we think so differently that we can look at each other’s work and dissect it. You don’t have to approach your work the same way in order to be compatible. It’s not about being in the same boat. It’s about being able to look at the other person’s boat and give them advice on how to paddle.

I think my biggest piece of advice to unpublished writers would be to find a critique partner who isn’t like you. Search for the ying to your yang. I’m sure glad I found mine.

So thanks for the advice, Jess. You’re quite good at paddling. And I’ll send the readers after you when they complain they were up too late reading because they just had to see what happens next.

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