Guest Post: Why My Critique Partners Are Smarter Than Me

— November 01, 2011 (11 comments)
Susan Kaye Quinn is a regular here at Author's Echo and one of my critique partners. She writes, she blogs, she mothers, and I understand she once politicked and rocket scienced (it's a word now -- shut up). Her new novel Open Minds, which I talked about yesterday, is out now, and to celebrate, Susan wrote like a billion blog posts.

Her book is awesome because it's about a world of mind readers and hidden mindjackers (who control minds). This guest post is cool because it talks about how smart I am. You should probably read both.

Oh, also, she's giving away prizes as part of her virtual book launch party. Information after Susan's post.

This title probably sounds like I'm kissing up to my critique partners. And while they are awesome and deserve all the praise I can give them (especially the ones that critiqued Open Minds), that's not quite what I mean.

Robert McKee, in his screenwriting book Story, talks about how the collective IQ of the audience goes up 25 points as the lights dim down. Every sense is tuned to the visual, verbal, and musical cues on the screen. Years of storytelling in the form of movies, books, and TV have trained the audience's intuition. They know the tropes by instinct, and while they probably couldn't tell you why, they just KNOW that the creepy character in the first act is going to come back and be the villain in the end.

Have you ever watched a movie where you "totally saw that coming"? Yeah, me too.

Writing a story that can keep that hyper-attuned audience in the dark until just the right reveal is an extremely difficult task. The writer has to plant just enough clues, but not too many. Provide just the right mood, but not sloppily slurp into cliché-land. Give just enough romance and meaning and depth to move the audience and not so much that it makes them cringe.

Critique partners are the movie-preview audience of the novel world.

When I was writing Open Minds, I went through round after round of critiques from different sets of writer friends who were generous enough to add their expertise to help make the story better. If you read the acknowledgements page, you'll see what I mean. A LOT of writers helped craft this story into its final form and each contributed an important insight into the story. Any reader can give feedback about whether a story "works" for them, but writer-readers are extra helpful in that they can help pinpoint how to fix it as well.

When I return the favor of a critique, I try to give feedback to my writer friend about how the story would be received by a hyper-tuned reader. But I also try to make suggestions for improvements. Sometimes I leave it vague ("more emotional connection needed here" or "I'm not really liking this character—is that the reaction you want me to have?"); sometimes I get more specific ("Reorder this scene to put the high impact point last" or "We need a kiss here"). When I'm very lucky, a crit partner will ask me to help show how to reword or rewrite a small scene. Somehow these scenes always seem to be kissing related, and I joked with a critique friend that I was changing my business card from "Author and Rocket Scientist" to "Author, Rocket Scientist, and Kissing Consultant." (Note: Yes, there are kisses in Open Minds, but nowhere as many as Life, Liberty, and Pursuit—that was a love story after all.)

I relish these times that I can pay back a small bit of the help I get from my brilliant critique partners.

When my critique partners read my MS, they are hyper-attuned like the readers that I hope will someday read the book. Those readers, as soon as they crack open my book or switch on their e-readers, will become savvy, impossibly smart story consumers. Don't underestimate them. They will see your plot twists coming. They will want to be surprised, moved to tears, made to laugh out loud. If you want to deliver a great reading experience for them, if you want to light up their imagination in a way that will rival two hours in a dark theatre, make sure you pretest your novel with critique partners. They will help you find the sluggish plot points, the stereotyped characters, and implausible action sequences before your readers do.

And if they suggest a kiss, let me know if you need a consultant. :)


When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available in e-book (Amazon US (also UK, France and Germany), Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) and print (Amazon, Createspace, also autographed copies available from the author).

The Story of Open Minds (linked posts)
Ch 1: Where Ideas Come From: A Mind Reading World
Ch 2: A Study in Voice, or Silencing Your Inner Critic
Ch 3: I'm finished! Oh wait. Maybe not.
Ch 4: Write First, Then Outline - Wait, That's Backwards?
Ch 5: Why My Critique Partners Are Smarter Than Me
Ch 6: Facing Revisions When It Feels Like Being on the Rack
Ch 7: How to Know When to Query
Ch 8: A Writer’s Journey - Deciding to Self-Publish Open Minds (Part One)
Ch 9: Owning the Writerly Path - Deciding to Self-Publish Open Minds (Part Two)
Epilogue: Finding Time to Write the Sequel



Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.)

Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):

1) Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post

2) Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)
  • Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA avail NOW
  • Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW
3) Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)
  • Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds prizes!

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  1. I am totally using "I scienced today" in a sentence. Soon.

    Party Hosts are totally mesh. Thanks so much for being part of the launch of Open Minds!

  2. I think I like that word "scienced" as well. Take that Webster's Dictionary.

    This post is very true. Critique partners are the best. It's good to have a reminder of that sometimes.

  3. I agree that critique partners are wonderful. My writing would be lacking without them.

  4. I have on wonderful internet critique partner and a local well published author, but I know I need more!

  5. Why am I not surprised that you're a kissing expert? Bet your husband likes that title :)

  6. This quote:
    "Those readers, as soon as they crack open my book or switch on their e-readers, will become savvy, impossibly smart story consumers. Don't underestimate them" really says it all. I'm going to cut this out and paste it to my computer!

  7. What a treat to be one of Sue's critique partners. My own CP's are solid gold. Their whip-cracking perspectives keep my writing accountable.

  8. I rely on the honesty my CPs give me on my WiPs. If it wasn't for their hard work, I wouldn't be published. Some people may consider me a harsh critter; but most I share with respect me because I honestly believe in the story I'm reading, and the author who wrote it.

    The writing process can be an amazing experience when shared.

    Su your novel sounds intriguing. I don't usually read YA, but I might like this one. Congrats on the launch :)

    Hello Adam; hope you're having a good week :)

    Oh, and I did the FB post; copy pasted your blurb. It worked well :)


  9. And by the way, Sue, your suggestion to speed up the pacing at the end of my 2nd act WORKED GREAT. Hee hee. Thanks for all your help.

  10. Oh Susan! I hope you know I love you. It's funny that you mention kissing too, because LTM just finally got past the first kiss in my book, and she's the first girl who has. She said she liked it a lot, but had a few small notes for me, that I haven't read yet. I'm sure she'll help me fix it.

    Love your film audience analogy too!

  11. Great post Susan!
    There's nothing like getting feedback from other authors. I'm not going to complain if a beta readers asks me to add a kiss or two :-)