Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crit Partners- Making it bleed...

You are looking at the picture and the subject line and wondering how the effervescent cast of Friends has anything to do with making anything bleed... not to mention what either of these things have to do with crit partners, aren't you? Okay, strap yourselves in and I shall explain.


Like so many in my generation, (*waves cane at the whippersnappers that aren't in my generation and didn't know who those people were* In my day we watched Friends! And we still do! The reruns are still hilarious!!) the cast of Friends spoke for us far better than most sitcoms. Most of us could name what Friends character we were most like (I'm a Phoebe but with a Rachel variety love-life...) and probably a few of us tuned in for that final episode. But the thing that made these characters really stand out when I was thinking of the crit partners blog is that they weren't afraid to point out both the positives and the negatives to each other. Each had a field that they were good at and their strengths made up for the others weaknesses...

A happy balance

This is what you should look for when finding a crit partner. My best friends dad is amazing. I look up to both her parents in ways too innumerable to list on this blog. But what he reads and what I write are two very different things. So even if I nail my genre and am doing things that will make the ones that read it squeal with delight, he is going to be bored to tears. This makes him a less than perfect beta reader for me. Equally unhelpful in a crit partner is someone who only flatters your work and isn't willing to look at it with the red pen of death. If you are so dazed by how wonderful it is, can you see the glaring errors that the author made? Nope. So to find someone who makes a good crit partner, you seek that balance...


It is okay (even great), if you have a few different crit partners that you know are good at certain specialized things. For instance, your friend with the handy dandy English degree? They probably excel at finding comma splices and dangling participles. They can tell you if you misused that colon and where to properly put the quotation marks. However they may not be the best person to tell you that your flow sucks in chapter three. You need a reader (more on this in a second) for that. If you have a friend who either researched forensics for a project extensively or is a mortician, they might be a great beta for your murder mystery. Call your friend who is a cop and ask them procedural questions and listen to the way they talk... Medical questions can be fielded to your buddies who work in the medical field. It doesn't make you a bad writer if you don't know everything... It means you are willing to do the legwork, research your project and make sure that when someone reads it, flawless and seamless work is what they see... Not all the background checking you did to make sure that you knew what a body would look like on day three of decomposition in the hot desert sun.

What is a reader? Isn't anyone who reads a reader?

No. A reader is someone who reads your work like a person buying your book would. Who sees that your hero looks like an ass when he walks away from your heroine in the pouring rain in chapter five. If you didn't intend for him to look like an ass, this is priceless information. A reader sees that you had turned off the light two paragraphs up and yet your character is now reading a book in the dark. I once had a character in the shower, cold from a rainy day and she was blow drying her hair till it crackled. In one sentence. I had reread this piece a dozen times at this point and in my head, these were two separate items... shower then blow drying. But on the page I had it in the same sentence thereby electrocuting my character near the beginning of the book. A reader found it for me. Because the movie, as it played in her head while she was reading, didn't make sense. This is the magic of readers. They are priceless and when you find them, keep them if you can.

Define crit partner for me...

I want you to pick up the item nearest you and hold it to your face. It can be a book, a remote... whatever. If you hold it to your nose, you can't see it anymore. It becomes blurry and unclear. That is you and your book. You have written it, edited it and bathed in this world for however long it took you to accomplish the monumental task of writing it. You can no longer see it clearly. Now, a crit partner... Hold the item about a foot away... can see the item. They are distanced from it, just now dipping their toes into your world.

A crit partner is someone who:

1. Can find errors you made but can't see.
2. Can be a reader and see where you went wrong.
3. Can be critical and point out helpful things to adjust.
4. Can point out what you did well.
5. Knows something about a topic that you might not be an expert in.

A crit partner is not:

1. Someone who sees no value or entertainment in your work. (This will not help you.)
2. Someone who is so blinded by the good they can't see errors. (Although fun for the ego...)
3. Someone who will lie to you so you don't get mad or hurt. (This won't help you either.)
4. Someone who knows nothing about anything you wrote about.
5. Someone mean who just wants to hurt you. (Over critical won't help either...Balance.)

And worst comes to worst, think of how Chandler would tell Joey that he messed up. He wouldn't say something just to hurt Joey because he could... His goal was never just to hurt his friend. His goal was to help him. So even when delivering bad news, a crit partner will do so with grace.

Hope this helps!
Happy writing!


  1. hey virg,
    great description of how crit partners should work. one more thing i'd suggest, try to find crit partners that will match your output. it's annoying getting critiques back long after you've amended the chapter and moved on.

  2. Excellent point, Nora! Thanks for adding it :)