Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Darned critters...

Lately, I've been doing a bit of reciprocal critiquing for some twitter friends while I polish Hellfire to a magnificent shine. I say 'critiquing' (or 'critting', if you wanna be down with the kids, yo) rather than 'beta reading', because I'm a pedant and they're slightly different things.

'Beta reading' - in my brainspace, at least - is where a person checks through an edited manuscript to check for any pesky mistakes: typos, continuity problems, incorrect wording and so on. These are the Red Pen Bandits, and generally a writer's last call before that final spit'n'polish prior to querying agents.

A critter, on the other hand, is a reader who analyses a manuscript more thoroughly, looking at the themes, characterisation, overall plot, whether it's audience-appropriate etc. These are the writers of copious notes and the friends you wait to hear from whilst biting your nails down to nubs.

Having said that they're different things, that doesn't mean one person can't be both... and that's what I try to do when critting a friend's manuscript. I was asked recently not to make those tiny corrections it's so easy to miss as you scan your own writing (like the extra 'the' in a sentence, missing commas, 'thought' where you meant to type 'though', etc.) and I have to say, it's like being locked in a box full of spiders and told not to move. I do not like it.

But at the same time, it frees me to read the manuscript more quickly, and avoid missing my gut reaction to what I'm reading. It still feels weird not to mark up the odd typos I spot as I'm reading. Yes, I'm a Red Pen Tyrant. Still, I'm going with it.

I think the most important thing about critting, though - whether you're giving or receiving the criticism - is to be clear beforehand about what's expected. If it's not a critique style you or your critter are comfortable with, this allows for backing out gracefully and avoiding gnarled tempers and hurt feelings. (Yes, I am aware that I sound like I'm setting the ground rules for a swingers' party. Get your mind out of the gutter.)

But it's actually one of the most necessary processes of writing for publication. If you're reluctant to have a friend or critique partner check and analyse your writing, how are you going to cope with thousands of eagle-eyed readers doing it?

So, them's my thoughts on critting and critters in general. As always, comments are welcome.

Kat out x


  1. You're a sweetheart to tolerate my crazy whims. ;)

  2. I -promise- when I'm about to ship it off to an agent, I'll let you comb through it. :)

  3. I am of the Red Pen Pals. I say Pals because only a real Pal cares enough about your manuscript to help you perfect it for the publishers who won't ever want to be your Pal. I have tried the 'read through' sort of like a drive through where you see the trees flashing by but miss the exquisteness of the veins on the back of the hands of all those leaves, each one unigue because like words, each one has it's own story to tell. Really who has ever seen a maple leaf on a palm tree. It just doesn't fit:} and if someone doesn't point out those leaves then the essence of your story is lost to the fast car people who don't read books for their content but only for their ego count. You're the best Kat. I have a red pen with a feather on the top of it, you know, so I will know when something in a story tickles my fancy( may be used for other pursuits when necessary:}

  4. I always ask a client if there's anything specific they want me to examine, something they're not sure of themselves like pacing etc.

    I agree with the box of spiders! I was asked not to bother with spelling on a first draft revision... it was as difficult as my Dad parking over the white line in a completely empty care park. We just can't do it.

    It is essential to have beta readers I agree but you have to pick and choose them I find.


Commenting is for winners.