Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Never Dismiss Your Critique Partners Suggestions Out Of Hand

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Seven years ago, I hooked up with my very first critique partner. Her name is Sheryl Hart, and I met her through a critique partner match-up sponsored by Janice Hardy, who runs the Fiction University website. (An excellent source for writers, BTW!) Back then, my only story was my Hogwarts fanfiction, and it took me months to gather the nerve to ask a stranger to critique my fan fiction (as opposed to a “real” story). But she loved Harry Potter and was more than willing to read over the stuff I sent her, even though my writing was awful and I didn’t have a clue how to write fiction yet. 

She’s since moved on to other pursuits, but we exchanged a lot of chapters over those first couple of years, and my writing is much the better for it. And if you happened to have read the third chapter of my story (which I recently uploaded to Wattpad), you have Sheryl to thank for it. 

You see, that chapter was meant to be a scene where the reader learned some of the main character’s backstory, including hints as to why he’s afraid to return to Hogwarts. In the original version, he was just sitting on a bench at King’s Cross station, waiting for the Hogwarts Express, and thinking about all this stuff. Important information to be sure, but delivered in a rather mundane way. 

When I received the critique of this chapter from Sheryl, she’d highlighted one of my sentences, which read something like: He’d gone to St Mungo’s several times before, but after much poking and prodding, the healers had sent him home, saying there was nothing wrong with him. Her comment was simply: “I want to see this!” In other words, she wanted to see that scene played out instead of me simply telling the reader what had happened. 

My first response was to ignore her advice. Although I could see the entertainment value in such a scene, I thought the story setup was already running too long, and I was loath to make it even longer. Fortunately, I didn’t dismiss the idea entirely, and after a few days of mulling the idea over, it occurred to me that the required backstory could be delivered just as easily at St. Mungo’s as it had been in the train station. And with the added bonus of more conflict. So if you liked that chapter, Sheryl is the one to thank. 

The lesson is: never immediately dismiss any suggestion your critique partners give you. Even if it doesn’t seem right for your story, consider the idea with an open mind. It might just lead you to something even better.

Hogwarts and the New Headmaster


  1. She gave you a prod and it led to a much better delivery of the information.
    I've usually had three critique partners for each work, which helps balance out the suggestions. If it's just one, I think about it, but if it's two or all three, I know I have to do something.

  2. That was good advice! Sounds like it would result in a fun scene.

  3. Great advice, because the chapter turned out brilliantly!

    Yeah, I used to get stuck on turning exposition into scene, but a lot of the time it's worth it.

  4. I have one beta reader who doesn't always explain what he's thinking very well. It can be easy to dismiss his critiques, but if I ask enough questions I start to understand what he's really trying to say. Sometimes it turns out to be just a matter of taste, and I think I'm okay dismissing that, but other times it really is something important that needs fixing.

  5. I usually do whatever my critique partners suggest, unless it's going to send my story off in the wrong direction. Suggestions like this one are usually the type I listen to. It's one of those things we might not see in our own work as writers, but others notice them.