Three of my readers gave me what-for and what not on my novel. I’ll introduce them and then share their comments.
Linda, my sister-in-law, has, I think, read everything I’ve written. We share a love of Mary Stewart, a British romance novelist who had her heyday in the sixties. Linda isn’t a writer, but she is a reader and she’s a lot of other things as well. A mother of nine, a nurse, a therapist, a return missionary (of two missions.) I’m a big fan of Linda and am flattered that she reads (and supposedly enjoys) my work. Here’s a bit of what she said. Just read your novel and as usual I liked reading it. In fact I read it in just a couple of evenings. I found that like a lot of your stories the beginning seems to be a little slow, hard to understand where everything and everyone is coming from but then the story begins to unfold and the excitement of reading it draws you in and the momentum is like a train that starts slow and gains speed, faster and faster until the end when it comes to a gradual slowing down and you've reached your destination.
Because of Linda’s comments, I reworked the first chapter and deleted the prologue. It really didn’t work, but because I liked it, I hated throwing it away. I solved that problem by tucking a portion of the really good parts into the fire scene near the end.
Melanie is my writing partner. We meet on Monday afternoons and Melanie is an amazingly good sport about having her children twirl around us. We take turns reading 10 pages out loud and then opine (cool word, just had to use it, I hope the context is correct.) Melanie, besides being a gifted writer, is a former English teacher and English major. Look for her book The List, in bookstores near you this March. Melanie sprinkled comments and red marks all over my manuscript, but here’s what she said about the ending, the part causing me the most angst. I really did not think you were going to be able to pull off an ending that worked, but this totally did it. Very good! Melanie suggested more internal conflict when Petra (minor spoiler alert) returns home (come on, everyone saw that coming, right?) I agree.
Melanie and Wendy, my niece, both had problems with the swimming scene. This is what Melanie said: Why wouldn't she have gotten dressed after getting out of the water? I'd been assuming that's what she did all along, and if she didn't, I want a good reason about why she didn't. The swimming scene is important. I had intended to spill Emory’s complete history at that point, and yet, when I reached it, I decided to hold back. There are at least two more Petra books in my head and I decided not to share my secrets all at once. But, because I consider it a pivotal scene, I want it to be pitch perfect.
Wendy is an English major and avid reader. She’s also number nine in a family of ten children. The Strong (yes, that’s really their name) girls are a rare and magical mix of beauty and brains. Wendy caught all sorts of grammatical blunders. I hope to hire her to edit my next book. She caught the teaser at the end and told me it didn’t work. She’s right, darn her. It needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the bitter end, the last thing I want to do is fiddle with the last sentence. I’ll have to take care of it when I’m not so jaded. Wendy sprinkled my manuscript with giggles and goosebumps. I looked for those two words; they were ego soothing after Melanie’s repeated word choice and awkward.
But, a good critique isn’t about applause and back slapping. It’s about whistle blowing on stupidity, boring bits, and character deviations. It’s about catching run-ons, spicing up talking head scenes, and killing redundancy.
Although, a little applause is nice, because, after all, I just finished writing an eighty thousand word novel. And that’s a lot of words.