The 3 Laws of Critiques

Often I'll have doubts about some section of a story, but I'll send it out for critique anyway. I hope it's good enough and nobody will say anything. The First Law of Critiques tells us why this doesn't work.

#1: If you think a story has a problem, others will too.

Other times I send out work too soon because I secretly want my critiquers to do my work for me. Just tell me all the problems -- those I know and those I don't -- and I'll fix them. But no critiquer can identify ALL the problems of a manuscript. In a story plagued with bad characterization, a critiquer won't notice subtle plot holes, and they'll completely ignore line-edits (that will likely be rewritten anyway). Thus we have the Second Law of Critiques.

#2: A single critique can only tell you about the most glaring problems.

So a critique comes back with problems you knew about. You just fix them and send it back asking for more, right? Well, no. You already know that when you've worked on a story for too long, you become blind to what's wrong with it. The same thing happens to critiquers who are asked to read the same story over and over.

#3: A critiquer's usefulness decreases with each revision they look at.

This is why it's a good idea to have multiple critique rounds, with different critiquers each round. But there are only so many people in the world willing and able to critique your stuff, which leads us to the point of this post.

Corollary: If you fix all the problems you can BEFORE sending out your work, the critique will improve your story and your craft beyond what you are able to do alone.

If you don't, you're wasting both your time and your critiquer's.

* NOTE: Professional editors and agents are capable of reducing the effects of the Second and Third Laws. Though, I would argue they are still subject to them, in the same way space shuttles are subject to gravity.


fairyhedgehog said...

Such a very, very good point. I know I'm not much use at doing a second critique on anyone's work.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Awesome post, and so true. It took me a while to figure out #3. Plus some critters are better at finding plot holes, and some are better at pointing out craft flaws.

The best crits are the ones that inspire you to reach deeper than you had thought possible before. They're rare and precious when they come (and have sorta the opposite effect of gravity). :)

Myrna Foster said...

I agree with you, but I think it would be great to have one CP who critiques it more than once (though not even every other draft), someone who's watching it progress with you.

Adam Heine said...

That's true, Myrna. It can definitely be helpful to be able to ask someone, "Do you think fixes that thing we were talking about?" So long as you keep the Third Law in mind :-)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Ah yes. The law of diminishing returns. The easy fix? Write a perfect query the first time around. What's so tough about that? ;o)

Adam Heine said...

"Write a perfect query the first time around. What's so tough about that? ;o)"

Well there's the 3 Laws of First Drafts...