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Critiquing Advice | An Interview with Natalie Whipple of Between Fact and Fiction


Natalie Whipple is a YA writer and author of TRANSPARENT, which will be out Summer 2013 from HarperTeen. She writes great stuff over at Between Fact and Fiction, where she has a ton of useful advice and references for writers of all levels. I interviewed Natalie about her experience with critique partners and why she loves ’em.

 

Can you tell us 3 things that you look for in a good critique partner?

Honesty first. Mixed with a heavy helping of tact. Then sprinkled with encouragement.

 

Tell us a little about your Alpha readers. How do they differ to your Beta readers and why is it important to you to have both?

Not everyone needs or wants Alpha readers. I love them, because I need that extra encouragement while first drafting. My Alphas read as I draft. I send them my book chapter by chapter, and they mostly keep me going, but sometimes point out if I’m going off track as well. I like feeling as if I’m going in good directions, and I love that immediate response to my writing.

My Beta readers are for when I go into revision mode. I expect them to point out all the flaws and help me get the book in line. They aren’t so much there for cheerleading as they are for true, constructive criticism.

 

You have several critique partners that you mention frequently on your site. Why do you recommend having more than one, and what does each one bring to the table?

 

Having a difference of opinion helps narrow down the true problem. Sometimes what crit partners say is the problem isn’t, you know? Like, one will say it opens too fast, while the other says it’s too slow. Well, there must be something wrong, but they can’t both be right. So you look again and decide it’s really the characterization that is too slow, and adding to that gives tension, and thus makes it all feel more urgent! Tada! There was the real problem.

If it weren’t for those differing opinions, it’d be harder to root out the issues.

 

At what point do you feel your manuscript is ready to share with your beta critique partners?

 

I always let my book sit at least a month after finishing the first draft. That’s usually enough distance for me to really have a clear head about revisions. At that point I list all the things I want to fix, and I go at it. I usually go through it 2-3 times on my own before I feel like it’s beta ready.

 

I remember being petrified of receiving my very first critique! What advice do you have for newbies?

This probably sounds harsh, but chances are your first book is…not so great. It’s just the nature of the first book, especially the unedited first book. But this is where it gets tricky, because while you will certainly need crits and revision, it can be hard to find the right kind. Taking advice from another new writer? Well, they may not see as much as a seasoned veteran or agent or editor. That’s okay! We all have to start somewhere. Half the battle is finding someone who can give you a truly useful crit, one that does make you a little sick inside because you know you can do better.

I think the number one thing to remember is that stories are like gold—they are malleable. They can be stretched and melted and remolded over and over, but no matter what the final form is, they are still gold. Reforming your story is part of the game, and your story, if it’s a good one, will hold up to the changes.

 

Your critique partner Kiersten White just released her novel ‘Supernaturally’. How does it feel to see a book you know and love so well, and had a hand in shaping, hit the shelves?

 

Ha. It’s pretty awesome. I have loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at publishing before I go through it myself, and I am so glad to see my friends succeed. I’m not sure how much I shaped the book, but I am a great cheerleader (not the high school kind). My friends constantly encourage me to keep going, so I try to do the same.

What’s funny is that to me it feels like the book has been out forever, since I read it over a year ago. And I’ve already read the final in the trilogy (I know, I hate me, too.), so mostly I can’t wait until everyone else gets to gobble up all the awesome like I already have.

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