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  • Writer's pictureJanette Johnson Melson

Constructive Critiques Lead to Better Novels

Do you know what’s scarier, as a writer, than allowing complete strangers to critique your writing? I can tell you—it’s letting friends and family do it! Having anyone read your writing is a scary proposition. It’s kind of like handing your baby over to someone. If a complete stranger tells you that your baby’s ugly, that hurts. But having a friend or family member you love and trust tell you the same thing hurts on a whole ’nother level.

I have an author friend, whom I’ll call Norma, who asked a close friend of hers to read over the first novel she wrote. Even though this woman was a trusted friend, her critique of Norma’s novel left my friend devastated and doubting her ability as a writer. Brothers and sisters, if you are ever asked to read or critique a friend’s work, you should be honest, but you don’t have to be brutal—especially as a Christian. Luckily, even though it took Norma about a year to recover enough to begin writing again, she did recover, and I met her at an ACFW conference where she was taking the next step to get her work published.

Fortunately, I have not had that experience, and I am grateful. It has been intimidating every time I’ve let someone read my first chapter; but every time, I have come away with either new insights, good advice on possible changes, or affirmation that the ideas I’m trying to get across are actually coming across the way I want. Because of these multitude of benefits that can come from having others read your writing, critique groups are an important aspect of honing your craft and making your novel the best that it can be. According to Google, a critique is “a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.” Therefore, a writers’ critique group involves authors reading each other’s works and offering constructive criticism.

I am involved in three forms of critique, in addition to those aforementioned family and friends who have read my first chapter.

  1. Contest Critiques – I talked in detail about the ACFW First Impressions Contest two blogs ago. One of the many things I love about this particular contest is that you not only receive the judges’ scores but also their critiques of why you received those scores. It was invaluable to me as I was beginning this novel-writing process.

  2. Paid Critique – At last year’s conference, I paid for a published author to read the first 15 pages of my novel and critique them. Again, this feedback was so helpful.

  3. Peer Critique Group – Through my regional ACFW-Northwest Georgia group, I am part of a small, peer critique group. We email each other our works in progress, usually a chapter at a time, and then send each other our opinions on how to improve them. I have learned so much this way. As the least experienced in my group, I feel I am receiving more than I am giving, but I hope that the other members are finding my feedback helpful.

As I stated earlier, it can be intimidating to allow anyone to read your first attempts at writing a novel. But since the ultimate goal is to have hundreds, thousands or, dare I say, millions of people reading the final product, we need to get used to allowing people to read it. We may not always agree with our readers, and it’s okay to not follow every single piece of advice we are given. After all, it is our baby—the product of our God-given talent, inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and our own life experiences and ideas. However, to get any benefit at all from a critique, we need to be willing to accept constructive criticism and run with it when we agree with it. In my opinion, change just for the sake of change is seldom beneficial; but when change results in improvement, now that sounds an awful lot like wisdom. And according to Proverbs 19:20, you should “listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Receiving criticism of any kind, constructive or not, is often difficult, but if it can make my novel better, more readable, more marketable, more publishable, then I’m willing to suffer through it. I, for one, want to be counted among the wise.

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