Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Learning from Critiquing a Novel

by ANDREA MACK on MAY 28, 2010

Every week, I critique a few chapters or sections of stories, but recently one of my critique buddies and I did a full novel exchange. Although I try to keep the full novel in mind when I critique chapters (if possible), a full novel critique is very different. You want to focus on the big picture, rather than line by line details. What I discovered:

1. If you read through as though you’re reading a regular book, you can give a “first impression” of the book as a whole, e.g. loved it, hated it, something in between.

2. You can think about the overall strengths of the story. What parts (scenes or chapters) are really good? Does the story hold your interest all the way through?

3. Characters make overall impressions too. Try thinking about the question: Which characters did you like and why? I liked being able to see how characters fit into the whole story.

4. Pacing: It’s easier to get a handle on the pacing—which parts are moving too slow or too fast? Where does my mind wander? Would I skip over this section, impatient to get to the end?

5. Does the ending work? It’s a lot easier to judge whether the story has a satisfying and believable ending when you’ve just read the rest of the novel.

6. Small things sometimes stick out. In an individual chapter, a detail may seem unimportant, but when you read the story as a whole, you can see where the puzzle fits together. On the other hand, if something small happens consistently, like an oft-repeated word or phrase, a scene too reminiscent of a scene earlier in the story, it stands out.

One downside of doing a full novel critique is the time it takes. But the feedback makes it worth it. Plus, it gave me a new perspective on critiquing.

– Andrea

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Fall 05.28.10 at 6:39 am

It takes a really, really long time to critique a whole novel! When I’ve done it, I’ve kept a log of possible revision points in front of me. Then if things change, I can cross them off my list. Like if I have a revision point like “It’s chapter 4 and I haven’t met your main character’s father yet,” the reason for that might clear up later in the book. Maybe I’m never supposed to meet him, or maybe it is something the author can move up to earlier in the book. By the time I’m done with the novel, I have a few notes on the father relationship. I’m sure other people have tips on how to critique a whole novel. I seem to be dreadfully slow at it.

Andrea 05.30.10 at 1:55 pm

Kate, I like your idea of taking notes of possible points and crossing them out (or adding to them) as you go along. I’ll have to try that next time!

Christina 05.31.10 at 2:21 am

I like doing both novel critiques and individual chapters. Chapter critiques you can get down to the details.

But a novel critique is more big picture stuff. It is a lot of work to read a full book, but I like to get the full flow of how things are put together and I also feel like it stretches me as an author too.

I found doing our swap so fun! I love, love reading a good book.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.