(Or, What is the Character Feeling?)
I meant to get this post up so much earlier than this until my non-writerly life took over my day. Oy. But I'm so excited about this interview.
There are many reasons you’ll like Sara Kendall after reading her interview, but I’m going to tell you three of them now. (1) She’s got a 30-page critique up for auction tomorrow (5/17) to benefit the Crits for Water campaign, (2) she loves young adult and middle grade fiction (huzzah!), and (3) she’s a firm believer in critique groups.
Her awesome self is here today to share a few thoughts on critiquing and revising.
Sara Kendall is a junior associate at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation.
She loves YA, dark MG, and fantasy. Follow her on Twitter!
NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?
SK: Great question! We know that looking at an in-depth critique can be daunting. Where do you start? Where does the revision process end?
So. First things first. Read the notes/critique carefully--twice. And then sit on it for a day. Weirdly, that's sometimes the hardest part. Maybe you're excited about the notes and want to dive right back in! Woohoo! Great! But I don't want you to get halfway through revising before you realize you actually don't quite understand how to implement the revision notes through the whole novel. On the other hand, maybe revisions overwhelm you, and you can immediately think of forty questions for things you need clarified. Also great! Also woohoo! We love questions! But you want to make sure you're asking the right ones so that, again, you don't reach the halfway point and hit a block. So sit on the notes for a day. Read them again. Then figure out what it is you really need to know to not only start, but finish, the revision process. Come up with a game plan. Make sure you and the agent/editor/etc. are on the same page, and have the same vision.
Then! Email your trusty beta-partner/crit group. (If you don't have one, I can't recommend them enough--the growth I've seen in writers pre- vs. post-crit group is astounding). Share your game plan with them, and tell them what you're trying to accomplish. They'll be on the lookout for it, and can help make sure that the notes you got are applied throughout the novel.
(Susan Dennard is actually doing an awesome series of posts on approaching the revision process over at Let The Words Flow--check it out here!)
NAE: Great tip about Susan Dennard’s posts. Thanks, Sara. I have an interview coming up with Susan this month.
What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?
SK: If you're suggesting the writer make a change to the work, always explain why. Your instincts might be telling you, "This paragraph isn't working," but if you just say, "Cut this paragraph; it isn't working," that's not going to help the writer be a better writer, and it won't help you be a better critiquer. What's not working? Is the pacing off? Is the voice missing? Is the paragraph just in the wrong place?
I also think a great way to give better critiques is get critiques yourself. Someone may say about one of your sentences, "This really cuts the tension--we don't need the info in it right now. Focus on the scene/fact/character at hand." And you will say, "Ah-HA! It cuts the tension. That's exactly what's wrong with this scene in X Manuscript!" Hopefully.
NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?
SK: I always read once before editing. I can't give notes as effectively if I don't know where the story is going or where your characters end up. Usually, we go through a couple rounds of edits, starting with the bigger picture stuff (plot lines, characters development, etc.) and working our way down to line-edits.
NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?
SK: I find myself saying, "What is the character *feeling* here?" all the time. With "What is the character thinking here?" a close second. I want to be close to the characters I'm reading. And feeling emotionally invested in/connected to characters right from the opening page is what moves readers from looking at a book on a shelf to bringing it to the cash register.
Plot is another big one for me. So are characters. World-building too, actually. Um. So maybe there is not one thing I particularly gravitate toward. Ha, all the pieces have to work for me to be invested.
Thanks so much, Sara, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I love how you suggested that a person should explain why they’ve made a particular critiquerly comment, a step that helps both the writer and the critiquer to develop.
Remember to look for Sara’s Crits for Water 30-page critique auction tomorrow here. The winner of the auction gets a fabulous critique and gets to help provide clean water to people who struggle for such a basic need every day. Also? Literary agent Joanna Volpe has a critique up for auction on Thursday (5/19). I'm just going to say it: Nancy Coffey's staff and authors rock.
It's a busy week. Watch for my next Crits for Water interview with author Roni Loren coming tomorrow.