Without CPs and Betas, I’d Never Get Past the Slushpile

This morning I finished up revisions from my second round of readers and sent my work-in-progress off to a third round. I’m always amazed at the things I miss when I’m editing my own work, and I came to a definite conclusion.

If I didn’t use critique partners and beta readers, my manuscripts would never get past the slushpile.

How do I know? Because I tried that with my very first manuscript. Zero requests and that’s not surprising when I look back on that first effort. With each successive manuscript, I’ve received more requests, and I credit that to what I’ve learned from other writers. We all have our weaknesses, but here are a few of mine:

Without my CPs and beta readers, …

… my MS wouldn’t make any sense. The crazy leaps of logic make perfect sense to me, but that’s because I know all of the backstory I’ve been careful to sprinkle in sparingly. In my earlier manuscripts, I gave too much backstory, but lately I’ve tended the other way. The good news is, I often can fix this issue with a sentence thrown in here or there to explain how or why the character got from point A to point B. Or, in the case of this latest WIP, put a scene back in that I thought I could get away without. When my CP says, “I want to see that happen,” I know it was a bad idea to take it out :).

… my MS would start/end in the wrong place. While the opening hasn’t been as much of an issue with my current manuscript, I definitely started in the wrong place with my earlier efforts. With this WIP, I had more of an ending issue. There was this cliffhanger I really wanted, so I decided to run it past my first round of readers. I knew better. But that’s why I need them–they resoundingly confirm the gut feelings I ignore.

… I wouldn’t go deep enough with my characters. This is true on multiple levels. In my early drafts, I never go deep enough with the emotion, and I never make things hard enough on my main characters. I think it’s another one of those blinders we have in our own writing. I know what’s going on in the character’s head, what she’s feeling, but I have to get it down on the page so the reader gets it, too. As for going easy on them, even when I think I’ve really put the MC in an impossible situation, it’s never enough the first time around. Maybe I’ll figure that out someday!

… my descriptions wouldn’t be clear enough. I don’t know if this is a problem with everyone or if it’s just because of the premises I choose to write (a girl sucked into the music, twins seeing through each others’ eyes), but I often have to go back and explain what’s happening more clearly. I certainly don’t nail my descriptions on the first try. My CPs and betas help me figure out why those descriptions aren’t working so I know how to fix them.

… the stakes wouldn’t be high enough. This goes back a bit to not going deep enough with the characters, but I also tend to write antagonists that are more in the background orchestrating things than confronting the MCs directly. Added to that, I usually don’t make the antagonist’s reasons clear enough. If you don’t get what the antagonist wants from the MC, it’s hard to identify with why the MC has to go against them. It’s a definite blind spot for me. It happens with every manuscript, but fortunately I have people who point it out so I can fix it!

… the climax wouldn’t be as exciting. I often get to the climax and then let out a huge breath of relief. Yay! The MC won! Except usually I don’t make it big enough and get comments like “I wanted more.” So then I go back and expand it.

CupcakeOn the plus side, I learn with every new manuscript. My first drafts have gotten progressively better. I’ve even eliminated some of the comments I got on earlier manuscripts. I’m sure I won’t ever eliminate all of them as we all have our blind spots, but I do know that without my CPs and beta readers, my manuscripts just wouldn’t be enough. So thank you to everyone who’s read for me in the past or will in the future. You make me a better writer, and I’m so grateful. Have a cupcake on me!

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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2 Responses to Without CPs and Betas, I’d Never Get Past the Slushpile

  1. Gwen says:

    It’s really true. We are too wrapped up in our characters and their emotions, not to mention telling the story. We don’t truly know how it reads until we get an outside opinion. I know how you feel. I’d be lost without my writing friends.

  2. I always find it so interesting when someone finds a passage that I believed was clearly articulated and find out they “don’t get it” . The more eyes you can get on your manuscript the better. Great post!

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