Lois Winson (http://www.loiswinston.com) talked to the Virginia Romance Writers on Saturday. She had some good advice for anyone who volunteers to be a judge in a contest, or offers to critique another writer’s book. Here’s what I took away from it:
Be kind and go into the job looking for something good to read rather than looking for problems. When problems are found, be constructive rather than destructive.
Remember that–in many cases–rules are meant to be stretched or broken. Of course a writer should never send an erotic romance to Steeple Hill, but if a hero and heroine do not meet in the first three pages of a manuscript? No big deal if we’re reading a 400 page saga rather than a Harlequin novella. If you’re going to critique or judge a particular genre, you need to know the conventions of that particular genre. All genres are different.
You’d better know all the rules regarding POV and GMC before giving advice on them.
Don’t correct every little thing. Look for trends and point them out, so that an author can then go back through the story and make his own corrections. If you do everything for him, he’ll never learn how to do it for himself. [Or herself :-)]
Do not assume to know all the research on a particular topic, especially if you’re basing your knowledge on a TV show. If you question whether or not something actually happened, or wonder if a certain word is appropriate for the time, ask the writer to take another look at the topic/word in question. Suggest that she not use Wikipedia.
Be honest with yourself about your biases. If you don’t like to read Westerns, don’t offer to critique one.
Don’t be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, but remember to be kind. Point out the good in a story, while also pointing out what needs work. Be honest, in a kind way.
Be flexible and open. Not everyone has to write a story as you would write it.
Remember: it’s all about good writing. Lois asked us which types of books we didn’t like. But when I thought about it, I agreed with her that it doesn’t really matter what the story is about. What matters is whether or not it’s written well.
Lois went on to tell us what makes a story well-written, but that can be another blog for another day. Better yet, contact Lois and get the information straight from her.
Author of Love Trumps Logic