Working (And Laughing) With A Critique Partner

This post is for anyone who loves languarge–readers and writers alike. It’s also for anyone who’s jumped from the frying pan into the fire.  This  past year, I decided to stretch my wings with a completely new project. In addition to writing the proverbial “book of my heart” aka BOMH,  I started working with a critique partner. I’ve written fourteen books for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical, but I’ve always worked alone.

I thought I was an experienced writer.

I thought I knew how to plot a story.

I thought I had a good ear for language.

Oh. My. Goodness. When I finished the first draft of the BOMH, I shared a chapter with my best friend, an award winning author who really knows her stuff.  She had a few ideas.  Actually, more than a few. Every one of those ideas–from word choice to plot shifts–proved to be valuable.

I didn’t realize it, but I’d fallen into a rut. Mentally I had incorporated every writing rule I’ve ever read, and that obedience had limited my voice. As we worked on that first chapter, I realized that my sentences lacked variety, and my diction wasn’t as precise as I thought.  Adverbs? Nope. G.O.N.E.. But there were places were an adverb would have been stunningly useful. Use a semi-colon?  Maybe, but aren’t they considered distracting?  Not always. Sometimes they’re the perfect link between two ideas. (I used one somewhere in the blog. Can you find it?)

My CP and I have a lot of fun when we do a phone edit.  She’s big on strong verbs.  So am I, but my writing style is simpler. We had a good time playing with synonyms for “to walk.” This verb is particularly synonym-challenged. How many ways can you describe a person walking?  Here’s where my mind went in a moment of hair-pulling insanity:

            Annoyed, he walked to the sliding glass door and looked out.

            Annoyed, he scampered to the sliding glass door and looked out.

            Annoyed, he marched to the sliding glass door…

            Annoyed, he did the cha-cha to the sliding glass door . . .

            Annoyed, he sidled to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he crawled to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he bunny-hopped to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he kicked like a Rockette to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he said, “Forget it! I’m not getting off the couch!

My hero told me in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to walk, he’d walk. No way would he march, pace, amble, shamble, shuffle, waddle, toddle or kick like a Rockette.  He did consent to stride, but only after I convinced him I hadn’t used that word in the past two chapters.  At least he got off the couch! Now on to that happy ending . . .

 

Brides of the West is currently available at Amazon

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Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

27 thoughts on “Working (And Laughing) With A Critique Partner”

  1. Vicki,

    Sounds like you’re having a good time and finding your second wind. It’s always good to shake things up from time to time.

    I think my cowboy heroes would go on strike and never speak to me again if I had them “kicking like a Rockette” anywhere, anytime. :o)

    Can’t wait to read the book of your heart someday.

    –Kirsten

  2. Hello Connie! By the time I got to this particular scene, I was totally burned out on body language–that’s always been hard for me. My characters tend to sit around and talk until I get them up and moving . . . even Rockette style 🙂

  3. That Rockette kick sure brought a smile to my face this morning… then the image of a group of cowboys being Rockettes at the Rodeo came to mind…. jeans, chaps, boots…

  4. Great blog, Vicki. Much food for thought. I’ve never worked with a critique partner–don’t know if I could but you’ve opened my mind. You’re so lucky to have found a good, compatible CP.
    My real-life hero is a widely published outdoor writer. We know better than to try critiquing each other’s work. It’s hopeless because each of us thinks everything the other one writes is wonderful.
    🙂

  5. This book sounds great and love the cover. I love these books because the have love and western flair both. Who says you can’t have both. ha ha Please check out a letter I hope I can post to everyone here concerning a public library I run in our rural area and about the promo table I have set up for authors’ items. sue Leech garysue@dejazzd.com

  6. Hi Elizabeth, I worked with a couple of CPs about 10 years ago and it wasn’t good. We were just too different. One of them added words, words, words; and the other wasn’t into romance. My current CP is so amazing because she gets everything about being a writer–love of language, differences in voice, bossy characters, mixed metaphors. We think alike, but not too much!

  7. Hi Susan, Libraries are like my second home. I wouldn’t be an author without them–both for fiction and nonfiction. We once lived in a rural area, and the little library was a true blessing.

  8. Hi Vicki,
    Well you sure made me smile this morning with that Rockette kicking hero of yours. LOL I think that’s neat that you have a CP to talk things over with–I’ve never worked with a CP and I’m not sure I would be able to–especially with the BOMH! LOL This was a very interesting post. So many rules to remember and think about. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just WRITE and not worry about all that “stuff”?LOL Now I’m certainly going to have to buy that book and see how he DOES get to the sliding glass door.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  9. Loved this post and loved the story too. Folks definitely get Brides of the West!

    I just got together with a couple of writers as critique partners so we will see how that goes. They have similiar interests and make me laugh. So that is a good start. And they accept the fact I am a virgin fiction writer even though I have published in non-fiction.

    But my local arm of RWA used to assign people critique partners and they said it didn’t go well. Can’t imagine why. 😉 It definitely as to be something organic that draws you together.

    Peace, Julie

  10. Vicki, like you I didn’t have a critique partner until I started writing the anthologies. I discovered that I really needed one. Like you, I had gotten in a rut. It’s really neat how one changed word can propel your story in a whole different direction. I’d never consider writing anything now without my critique partner. She has the best eye for things and is always coming up with new suggestions for my stories.

    Wishing you lots of luck with your new anthology and your WIP.

  11. Hi Cheryl! About writing to the “rules” and all that stuff we hear–no adverbs, etc., it’s taken me months to shake out my brain. In a way, I had to learn to write all over again. It was great to get out of the box and let the characters run free–which they did 🙂

  12. Hi Julie — Organic. YES! That’s what I have with my CP. When we get going, the conversation just takes off like a rocket. She’s just amazing. What’s hilarious is how different we are. My writing style has gotten pretty stripped down over the years. I don’t waste a word if I don’t have to. My CP has never met an adjective she doesn’t like 🙂 We laugh a lot about those differences.

  13. Hi Linda! That’s it exactly! My CP sees things with fresh eyes. And I hear you on how changing up a word can make such a difference. Plus it’s just plain fun to work with another writer. Two heads really are better than one, at least sometimes!

  14. Vicki, loved your post. The Rockette bit made me laugh. I always stick a funny word or two in my ms just to get a rise out of my editor. I might use this in my next ms. Too bad the word won’t survive revisions.

  15. Great blog, Vicki. I love looking for synonyms, too but sometimes they really don’t sound like me. There’s something to be said for “walked” and, for that matter, “said” itself.

    I judged an unpubbed contest recently and one writer never had the characters “saying” anything.
    He “barked.” She “howled.” (these were people, not werewolves, mind you). Susan “blubbered.” Howard “snarked.” et al.

    I once failed a student for an essay that I was sure he didn’t write. It just wasn’t his voice. He was in tears; (semi-colon !!!–they do work if used sparingly.) he had written the essay but hit “synonym” and exchanged his regular style for bigger words to impress me. Of course he re-wrote it and he passed LOL.

  16. Hi Tanya! Interesting story about the student using “Synonym” and having his writing voice change. I can totally see that happening. There are words I just don’t use and they’d stand out. One of them is “however.” Everytime I use it, I end up changing it because it sounds formal to me. Kinda strange!

  17. Enjoyed your CP thoughts! I always enjoy hearing what writers go through to give us their fantastic books! Makes me appreciate them so much more! Thanks!

  18. Hi Vicki,

    I loved this post…..I have a critique partner, matter of fact several, and I would not know what to do without them….

    The cover of your book is beautiful….Read all of your stuff….

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  19. It must be a bit difficult at times to be or to have a critique partner. Everyone is hurt or upset by criticism. It is hard not to be. I guess the trick is to look at it as suggestions, not criticism. If you can clear your head and know that this person is trying to make you look at your work differently to see how you can make it even better, you will benefit greatly from the sessions. The trick is to improve while strengthening your voice without copying the critique partner’s voice.

    By the way, he didn’t have to walk, glide, hope, or slide to the doors, he just got up and went to them.

    I can see where it is hard to pick just the right word to keep it fresh, and try not to repeat yourself too often.

    Thanks for the post and have a great Memorial Weekend.

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