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Bad manuscripts, softening the blow

It happens, either you decide to be nice and read someone’s draft, or worst yet, a family member who you ‘lub’ has asked you to look at it. It’s the next Game of Thrones, right? Only if that throne was a toilet. But how do you convey that this, you friend’s life’s work, is pretty…poop-ridden? How do you give good enough feedback to help him/her polish that turd? And why the hell did you even agree in the first place!? Firstly, calm down. There’s good news: you are NOT responsible for this draft, no matter what you tell yourself. You are responsible for ONE thing and one thing only, being honest.

IT’S JUST A DRAFT

He’s the next thing you should remember, it’s a draft. It’s just a draft, and ALL (seriously, all) drafts are AWFUL. Some will make you want to tear out your eyes, gargle with bleech and jump into shark ridden waters. IN THAT ORDER. But it’s okay. Because it’s just a draft and all drafts, SUCK.

THE WRITER WANTS FEEDBACK, NOT FLATTERY

Yes, of course we all want to hear how great it is, but ultimately, that’s not what the author is after. He/She just wants to hear what you think. HONESTLY think. For many, this is the first step in the editing process so be honest; it’s important.

DON’T FORCE YOURSELF TO GET THROUGH IT

Don’t. Just…don’t. It’s not worth it for either you or the writer. Ultimately, you will end up hating it (and the writer for forcing you to read it) and you will refuse to read a second or third draft, which is VERY important for the writing process. Usually you can tell a piece is total and utter cosmic crap by the first line (or paragraph) THAT’S OKAY. So you can just stop at any time, but you just have to give feedback as to why.

DON’T RUN AWAY AND HIDE LIKE A B*TCH

It’s hard crushing someone’s dreams of stardom and JK Rowlings money. But seriously, running away and avoiding that writer is NOT a viable option. When you make excuses, that poor idiot actually BELIEVES you. When you avoid (and sometimes with ninja-like precision), that jackass actually fears you’re ill. DON’T RUN. You’re wasting time and forming a rift and a deep seeded hate that’s never going to get better for EITHER of you. And more importantly, you’re missing out on the rewrite which is VERY important. Go as far as you can, and stop.

WRITE A CRITIQUE

Now this is the part that matters the most. Most adult bipeds can take criticism, if it’s presented well. You can rub their faces in guano and call it a mud-mask and generally get away with it, if you dress it up well enough. So how do you do that? How do you say something honestly yet politely? Here are some key phrases that I’ve reverse-translated from critiques done on my own work. I implore you to use them now.

This sh*t’s boring
– The story didn’t hold my interest well.
– It wound down.
– The pace was a bit sluggish.
– There was no ‘hook’ to carry me along (something that would make me want to read it again and again).
– I wasn’t sure about the focus.
– The plot was a bit weak and it lost me part way.

OMG, so many data dumps!
– There was a lot of exposition that bogged down the writing.
– The backstories came too early for my liking.
– Is this information necessary now?
– Is there any way to spread this out over the course of the chapter (story)?
– What’s the significance of this information?
– This information, although good and important (if it really is), isn’t all that effective. Is there any way it can be put in little by little?

This MMC/FMC (male main character/ female main character) makes me want to choke a b*tch
– Your characters are a bit flat.
– I couldn’t relate to their personalities (because…) (it’s okay to omit the ‘why’ but the why does help)
– It’s okay if the MC is confused, but he doesn’t have a realistic amount of knowledge.
– His/Her personality is a bit over the top.
– His/Her personality is hard to sympathize with.
– The character reactions don’t seem to match the situation or mood.
– I’m not sure this is how a real person would react.
– Is this reaction foreshadowing for something else later?
– The character doesn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities, is that intentional?

Who the hell wrote this dialogue, a third grader?
– The dialogue falls a bit flat.
– The dialogue doesn’t match the time period.
– The dialogue doesn’t come across as real and it threw me out of the story.
– The dialogue was a bit stiff.
– I’m not sure this is how a 10-year old/50-year-old would talk.
– He’s coming across a bit rude, is that intentional?
– She’s coming off a bit mean, is that intentional?
Talking heads! Talking heads! These bare dialogues got NO dialogue tags. TALKING HEADS!
– Talking heads.
– Who’s saying this?
– Can these get combined with dialogue?

So many characters, this book’s like a f*cking clown car.
– There are a lot of people to keep track of. Have you considered combining them?
– Would the piece suffer if you focused on only two or three characters and gave the rest their own books or stories?
– I lost track of everyone.
– I’d rather see the MC as the focal point.

This things’ all over the place. I can’t make heads or tails of it!
– I wasn’t sure what the story was about.
– I wasn’t sure what the plot was about.
– There were a lot of topics in one spot. How do they connect?
– This chapter (book) lacks focus. Is there a main theme or conflict that the characters are trying to overcome?

WTF?
– I’m confused.
THIS MAKES NO SENSE
– This might be inconsistent since you said (xyz) earlier and now that’s changed suddenly.

SERIOUSLY, WTF?
– I’m a bit lost here.
Say what now? Huh?
– This area could benefit from a rewrite, as I’m not sure what it’s trying to say.
Whoa, where the hell did that come from?
– This might need some foreshadowing.
– This is contrary to what I’d expected.
– I find this hard to believe. Is there some hint of it earlier?
WOW, that was a pretty bad love scene
– I’d take another look at the chapter. I wasn’t able to follow it well.
– The love scene didn’t work for me because (xyz…)
The characters had no chemistry
– The characters didn’t seem to have much chemistry.
– Personally, I wanted to see more tension.
– Personally, I couldn’t get into the idea of them as a couple.
– Personally, it didn’t work for me because of (xyz…)
Why the hell are we hearing this now?
– Why is this information necessary?
– This makes me think it’s very important for future chapters, am I correct?

IN CONCLUSION

I’m not saying this is an end-all or that it’s perfect. But I will say that even if an author is not happy with your shining critique, they will ultimately benefit from it. And for many (nearly all), knowing that their stuff is read is really enough. So when someone asks you to read their work, don’t shy away, read it, especially if you are an author yourself. You can learn a LOT from critiquing the works of others. If nothing else, you will learn to appreciate feedback, all feedback. And you might encounter more than just one great story that surprises the hell out of you. Don’t cheat yourself!

Good luck. And more importantly, give that second draft a gander. You might be pretty shocked to see the strides an author can make with a bit of feedback.