Monday, December 6, 2010

Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? (Or, Will You Critique My Story?)


Riding the roller coaster of emotions: the OMG, my story is awesome! and the Another rejection? My story sucks! does something to one's objectivity towards their own work.

So, employ the objectivity of someone else.

A Beta reader could be a friend or family member. But remember, they love you.

"Does this dress make me look fat?" Even if you seek an honest answer to the question, would they tell you? Remember, they won't want to hurt your feelings. Best find someone else, perhaps a member of one of the writer's forums you are a member of? Maybe someone with a cool screen name and avatar...

And since critiquing will only help you grow as a writer, how about swapping stories?

Okay, you've got the first 50 pages of your new crit partner's manuscript in your inbox. Eager to dive in and hopefully enjoy a good story whilst making suggestions for an awkward sentence here and there, you expect to be finished and have it sent back within the hour.

Uh oh. The dress really DOES make that person look fat. Do you say so? Or do you add a silk scarf, some bling, to draw the eye upwards?

What if the manuscript you are critiquing reads so much like a first draft from NaNo that you are on comment number 245 and it's only page 31?

"Sorry. The dress is really not right."

I opted to tell the writer where I, as a reader, was left feeling frustrated, confused and bored. I broke the critiquing golden rule of sandwiching a criticism in between two compliments (although I did comment positively in the parts I did enjoy), and although I tried to make my criticism constructive, I'm pretty sure I fell short. I do feel bad about that.

But should I feel guilty? Depends. If the writer was only looking for compliments on her dress, then I might. If she is truly looking to be published someday (aren't we all?) then I hope she'll accept my critique for what it is.


I don't pretend to know all about writing, but everyone who reads knows when a story doesn't "work".

I wished I'd got back an honest "Yes, the dress does make you look fat" from my partner. I hope she wasn't just being nice when she said how much she enjoyed the story and wanted to keep reading. How will I know?

Crit Links:

How to Critique a Bad Manuscript

How to Take a Critiquing and Keep on Ticking

Where to find Beta Reader:

Forward Motion Writers Community Forums (free membership required) Forums (Free membership required)


  1. I love that you tell people if the dress is bad! Tell me, I say! I love it. Anyway, I wish I had a beta reader like this. Very nice post.

    Have a good day. I'm pretty new, so check out my blog too.

    Draven Ames

  2. I think part of being a good writer is being able to take a critique. Good luck with the querying...I tried to follow your blog but it didn't work...I'll try again tomorrow :)

  3. Finally worked...I'm following you now...would you mind following me?

    Love the name of your blog btw.

  4. It is hard to find a good crit partner. I love it that you are honest. Everyone needs a good, critical pair of eyes to help find what we cannot see.