As authors we’re never going to be completely objective about our stories. We’re too emotionally involved, too attached to our characters, too excited about our plot twists, too tickled by our snarky dialogue—so much so that we can lose sight of the big picture. Often, when we begin writing a story, our ideas are hazy, and the final shape of the story is only a dim outline in the mist. Add to that the fact that the story we put on the page will never be a perfect representation of the story in our imagination, and it’s little wonder we aren’t always aware of precisely where our stories aren’t achieving all we want them to.
But here’s a little trick to help narrow the gap between your idealization of your story and its printed reality: Write yourself the “perfect” review.
If you could have a professional reviewer read your book and totally get it—completely understand everything you were trying to say with your characters, plot, dialogue, and themes—what would he write about your story? Close your eyes for a moment, emotionally distance yourself from your story, and pretend you’re that reviewer.
In her fantastic book Nail Your Novel, novelist and professional critiquer Roz Morris suggests:
Write a few paragraphs that state
- what you intend the audience to feel about the characters
- the experience you want them to get from the story
- which scenes should ideally be powerful and the effect you want them to have.
This may take some time. Summarising the goals of a big sprawling manuscript is not easy.
Keep the following suggestions in mind, in order to plumb the review for as much depth as possible:
- Be specific. Don’t just let the reviewer say he loved the story. Make him tell you why he loved it. What parts are the best? What makes this piece really shine?
- Be thorough. Cover every aspect of story you can think of: plot (including arc, pacing, and originality), characters (including personalities, arc, and development), dialogue, themes, and climax.
- Be extravagant. Praise your story to the skies. Layer on the adjectives of adulation. After all, you’re writing from the perspective of a reader who understood and loved your story just as much as you did. So have fun!
When you’re finished, you’ll have an explicit goal toward which you can strive in molding your story, no matter where you’re at in the outlining, drafting, or revising process.
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