Okay, I’m a writer. Which means that when I read a book, I can’t help editing in my head as I go. That doesn’t affect how much I enjoy a story. I separate my editing brain from my reading pleasure, probably to the point that I don’t comment on things that bother me because I know how hard it is to write a book. I also know how subjective my tastes are. Things that other readers love don’t always hit me the same. So I err on the side of focusing on the positive. But then, that’s what I do in general anyway. It’s who I am.
I do often think about what would happen if the author I’m reading came to Scribes, my writing group, and read his manuscript there. Our group is eclectic. It has a Regency romance and fantasy writer, a YA fantasy/horror writer, a newspaper columnist, an ex-addict writing a memoir to unglamorize drugs, a retired cop/philosophy teacher who’s writing about his experiences, two thriller writers, two literary members who write plays and poetry, a children’s writer, and a humor writer, among others. And they’re the toughest critics I have. I get nervous every time it’s my turn to read, but I’m so lucky, because each of them focuses on something different.
The last time I read, I took the first chapter of a new mystery series I want to try. Not every member was there. We only have a few rules and attendance isn’t one of them. I really wanted feedback, and I got it. I can go around our table–in my mind–and remember what each person commented on, because I know what they look for, and they don’t miss much.
The YA fantasy writer: Where are the smells? The description? I want to be able to place myself in the setting, to see it. I want more internal dialogue to know how she feels about what’s happened.
The poet: You used too many general word choices instead of specific words. I liked the active verbs and this phrase… I liked the tone and voice, too.
The playwright: You introduced too many characters too soon. I had trouble keeping them straight. Maybe hold off to introduce a few of them later, but good job on the dialogue. It felt real.
The Regency writer: I got the romantic interest right away even though you kept it subtle, and I liked the interaction between the characters. You made the story’s big question clear. I know where the story’s going. This isn’t exactly a cozy, though? Won’t you have to appeal to a different market?
The ex-cop: You made the youngest brother a drug user. I know that’s going to be a plot complication later. The first chapter didn’t have the big hook, but I can see it coming.
The memoir writer: I like how all of the characters are close and care about each other. I can tell what happens to one of them will affect all of them.
The thriller writer: I didn’t get bored. It held my interest, but I like a big hook at the very beginning, something that grabs me. I can see that this might appeal to some readers, though. I hope pretty soon, you pick up the pace, give us something juicy. Nothing really happened in this chapter. It’s all set-up and hints.
The newspaper columnist: It flowed well. Nothing too abrupt. The transitions made the writing smooth, but I got confused with all the characters. Make them more distinct.
I’ll stop there. You get the idea. But I often hear their voices when I read someone else’s book. Or I’m writing my own:)