Sunday, 10 January 2010

What to do with critiques - part three

Alright, the moment is finally here! We've amassed our panel of readers, sent off the manuscript, and it's come back, spattered with red comments and notes.

So what do we do with it now?

Simple. We make a spreadsheet.

"What?" you cry in horrified disbelief. "Make a spreadsheet? I'm a writer, not an IT technician!"

Nonetheless - make a spreadsheet.

Consider: you have umpteen scenes in your book - one or more per chapter. In the example I'm using, there are twenty-seven chapters, and a total of one hundred scenes. When I'm rewriting the book, I can either open up my copy of a scene, then refer to what Fred said, and what Bert said, and Mary, and Ethel, and ...; or I can open up the spreadsheet and refer to that instead.

In the left-hand column, I have the chapter and scene number - e.g. Chapter 21, scene 3 (21-3). In the next columns I have what my reviewers (or critiquers if you prefer) said about that scene, one column per reader. I simply go through their critiques, cutting and pasting their comments about various bits into the appropriate cell.

A couple of technical terms here:

  • Their comments won't fit easily into a cell on a spreadsheet, so format all the comment cells as 'Text' and turn Word wrap on.
  • You can record a macro to format each cell as you enter content - so font size, orientation, alignment and so on are consistent - if you feel comfortable doing that.
  • Or simply wait until you've finished with each reviewer and format that column when you've come to the end of their critique.
  • Have a few rows at the end for their general comments.
Now, I can see at a glance what each of my readers said about each scene. It's very easy to find out if they said the same sort of thing, or if they differed, or if they had no comment about the scene at all.

As you can see from my example, at least in the section I chose, there was no general agreement. So I read each comment and decide whether, on considered reflection, I agree with it. If I do, I rewrite that scene accordingly. If I don't agree, I leave things unchanged.

Obviously, if all, or most of, the readers say the same sort of thing about a scene, it would be wise to change it, even if you may not agree with their comments.

Using a spreadsheet like this is much easier than going through each critique, constantly referring back and forth to the others and to the original.

By the way, at this point, I'd like to thank the readers who helped me on this book - Gwen, Renee, Wendy and Tj. Most of the improvements in the work are down to your keen eyes and good judgement. Any clunky bits left are entirely of my own making.

The general comments are also massively helpful. There was unanimous agreement that the first ten chapters were too slow. A deeper exploration of character was needed. Less tell, more show. More action. Helpfully, there was also a consensus that the work was too short. So I can add bits into those chapters without having to struggle with over-large word counts.

OK, it does mean practically rewriting those chapters from scratch, but I happen to agree with the comments. You cannot afford, any longer, to start slow and build. You have to start with a bang and get louder.

In the few next posts, I'm going to be dealing with the actual editing process.

Until the next time - enjoy!