As a professional, you can take critique and do many things with it, but here are several ways to interpret notes you receive from your beta readers, alpha readers, or editors:
- I can make that better
- I see what they mean, but I don’t need to change that
- I can change that
- I see why they don’t like that, but that’s what I want them to feel
I can make that better
Sometimes, we receive critique that implies what we wanted to express or show isn’t translating to the reader. But to you, your scene or chapter reads how it should. You know what it’s saying, so the reader should, too, right?
If you wrote a scene about someone holding a knife, and the scene mentions being able to vaguely make out the person’s face, your critic might come back with a comment that says, “That’s not realistic. It’s dark. You can’t see anything.”
Your thought might be, “Wrong. You can see. It’s just not that dark. Comment ignored.” That’s the wrong thought. To you, this scene is realistic because you know there’s a little bit of light in there. But think about what your reader is saying. They say it’s too dark. You say otherwise. So why don’t they see what you do?
The point of critique is to shine a light on the things you can’t find yourself. If you have a reader who points out the lack of light in the room, look through the scene and find where you point out where the light is coming from. Is it obvious that the ray of moonlight casts a soft light on the person in the room, or did the single ray seem vaguely placed?
How a reader interprets your image will not always match your goals with said image. Where this is an issue, address it.
I see what they mean, but I don’t need to change that
Not every change suggested will be a change you want to make. Now, this doesn’t mean your critic was wrong in giving you a particular suggestion, but it does mean that their perspective, while helpful, might simply make you more sure of your direction.
This does not mean that you should shut down someone’s comment simply because you (1) don’t like it, (2) don’t want to go through the effort of making that change, or (3) don’t like how they worded what they said.
Always, always interpret your critic’s comments in the most objective way you can. If they sound rude, try to filter that out and find their point. If they were vague, ask for clarification in a polite way. If they talk about a direction that doesn’t match yours, see if there is another point they’re trying to make that may benefit you. If not, move on. Respectfully.
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If you think critically, you may find that you can make a change and improve your prose. Be humble about this, and be aware of what you want for your book. Any advice or feedback you receive should be considered carefully, but only make a change if you truly believe you will improve your story by doing so.
If it seems hard, talk about it. Bounce ideas. Try things. Part of the revision process is to grow as a writer, and if you think you can make a change, find that it’s hard, and give up, you’ll lose the chance at becoming a stronger writer.
I see why they don’t like that, but that’s what I want them to feel
You will receive feedback that doesn’t match your vision for a character or subplot or even the direction of the story.
You know for a fact that something wasn’t your intention, so when you receive a suggestion that recommends a change, and this change will mess with your idea in a negative way (according to you), simply let it go. If there isn’t anything you can take from the suggestion that may help, it’s okay to let it go. It’s okay to explain why you won’t make a particular change.
In the end, you decide how you respond to critique, but don’t disregard a comment because it isn’t worded well or because it’s not what you want to hear or deal with. Try to get to the root of every comment before making a change or rejecting the opinion. You don’t want to take it as scripture, but you also don’t want to ignore something that may help your story improve.
Cayce Berryman is the senior editor for Kingsman Editing Services and a goat mama. She specializes in crime, mystery, fantasy, and romance, along with pretending to know how to play guitar. Cayce has a BA in creative writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and an editing certificate from the University of Chicago. Request a sample edit through her website or connect with her on social media.