I have the fun/joy/honor/privilege of critiquing for not one but TWO amazing writers. And they both are amazing, knock your socks off writers! Man - I wish I could tell you their names. I wish I could tell you the names of the books I'm critiquing for them. But I can't. At least, not right now.
So here's the funny thing about the critiquing I do for them: I don't pay any attention to the spelling or punctuation errors. I don't get into the nits and grits of syntax and style. I might point out a word here or there that I think seriously detracts from what they are saying, but mainly I ply them with questions. Things like "why did the cactus hurt?" or "that doesn't sound like something that character would say."
See, they know they need to edit their own work. They know they have to comb through for all the conflicting tense and verb usage. They don't need me for that. They need me (I like to think) to challenge the story itself. To question and poke and prod and point out the bits that don't flow, don't sound true to the rest of the story and don't support the overall plot or character arch. They need me to say "add more here so I know what the character is feeling" or "wow, you over did the emotions/descriptions here and lost the momentum."
They need me to move from draft to final - same as I need them.
As writers, we mostly know when we have a good story. We know how to develop a character and set a scene, how to move the story along or slow it down. But we also can get a little near-sighted and assume our readers have the same point of reference as we do. And they don't. They can't. They aren't us. They haven't lived our lives, experienced what we've experienced or even known the people and places and events that we have experienced.
Many of our readers may come close to mirroring our scope of reference, but none of them will have an identical range of reference in their lives. And this live-long knowledge, this personal collection of experience colors how we read. It allows each of us to feel and visualize and savor a book, a poem, a short story or a photograph in a unique way.
As writers, we need to keep that in mind. We need to ensure our writing provides enough points of reference and sufficient detail to allow all of our readers to grasp the images we are striving to portray. It's a delicate balance - often a difficult one as well. We don't want to put too much detail in, as it can make the reading stilted and cumbersome. Sometimes it even insults the reader - I know I've read plenty of books where I've thought to myself "well duh, I knew that. Why does the author feel they need to explain this to me?"
I don't want to insult my readers - I don't want to leave them with a half-sketched image and I don't want to describe everything in such detail that I end up with a Mitchner-esque tomb. I rely on my CP's to help me keep the balance and keep the story enticing. I rely on them to keep me honest to the craft.
So, here's to my Critique Partners - I hope I'm asking the right questions (should that be "write" questions?) and making the right comments. Now, let's go find an editor!
Bonus Saturday Happiness: