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  • Writer's pictureSheri McGuinn

Use Critique effectively

Recently, I got some excellent critique from a professional editor who is familiar with current trends. This was on the opening of a novel that had already been critiqued and revised multiple times and had achieved final approval from writers I respect.

The story is about a group of friends and takes place over decades, so it is important to establish the depth of that friendship immediately, but the professional editor pointed out that the current preference of publishers is to focus on action and dialogue because, in a world of instant information, readers have little patience for lengthy narration.

Other elements of her feedback were spot on, so when she suggested a narrator to work in backstory, my first impulse was to try and decide what character could act as a narrator. Then I got home and revisited the manuscript. I decided there were two problems with the input:

  • The examples she gave of books using a narrator were science fiction, and my book most definitely is not.

  • My book will most likely draw older adults as readers - many of whom don't participate in media that gives bites of information and they may prefer an older style of writing with more narration.

So, I'm compiling a list of books written in the last 5-10 years that use a narrator. I'll read them and note how it's handled and whether any are in this book's genre. Then I'll decide if I really want to have a narrator. I will of course also look at popular books in this genre that have been published recently - looking at writing style and hopefully finding some comps.

However, the feedback was spurred by the writing - the editor felt the opening was too slow due to too much backstory in narration, so I'll also go through the opening chapters to make some decisions about backstory:

  • Does the reader ever need to know this? If not, cut it completely.

  • When do they need to know it? If it can wait, cut and work it into the story later.

  • If it can be worked into dialogue in a natural exchange, do it.

The final word? To use critique effectively, it's important to listen for the reasons suggestions are being given, to know your genre and audience, and to be ready to use the critique to improve your writing accordingly. Writers revise.

Sheri McGuinn: I write. Award-winning stories and novels. Screenplays and more.

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