The CP Test

June 22, 2012

I have written about critique partners before, here, on my personal blog, on Twitter. Many others have discussed this as well. I’m not sure I’m breaking any new ground here, but I thought I’d share my personal criteria for a great critique partner (CP) since when I started looking for one I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for. I also use some specific examples from my AMAZING CP, Elley.

After working with my CP for over a year, and having the first novel I worked on with my CP published, I have found there are a few things that should absolutely happen in the CP relationship.

The most important is honesty. You and your CP have to be honest. If you’re worried about hurting feelings, you miss out on opportunities to truly help each other. If your feelings are getting hurt and you can’t move beyond it, you’re not ready for this.

That being said over the course of working with a CP, you should experience at least ONE of the following:

1. Your CP tells you your heroine or hero is not likable (AND why).

Maybe this is because I tend to write prickly people, but I get this feedback on occasion, and it’s really important feedback because as writers we tend to know our characters, we love them, and we know how they will redeem themselves, so we at times overlook what readers might see at first.

Let me give you an example of something Elley recently sent me regarding my WIP hero: ” I don’t like him, Nicole. I can’t find anything to like at this point. He’s not funny. He’s almost rude.” That’s honesty, folks, and necessary. Sure, I love my hero, but I know him AND the man he becomes, your reader won’t. So, I had to go back and work on showing glimpses of the man who has hero potential.

2. Your CP tells you a scene doesn’t work.

Not every scene you write will work, especially if you’re working on a first draft. Sometimes, we have these ideas we really want to happen, but by the time we write them out they don’t work with the story.

A CP isn’t afraid to ask, what IS this? Why is this here? This doesn’t make sense! Why is your hero/heroine acting that way when they did a,b, or c earlier? And trust me, the minute you read their explanation of why a scene didn’t work, you will cringe, because you will know they’re right, you were forcing things, trying to move the story along in a way that doesn’t add up.

Here’s another example from my CP: “My biggest issue is with Grace’s reaction to their conversation. She seemed almost irrational in her anger with them.” And then Elley went on to explain why it seemed irrational. And, yes, I cringed because it WAS irrational, but once I saw that, I also knew how to fix it.

3. Your CP asks a question that makes everything click.

A lot of times I will send off a chapter thinking it is fine. I might wonder why it’s a little short, or why I’m not feeling that little thrill of excitement at knowing I’ve written something really good, but it’s not something I can articulate. And then Elley will casually come along and ask a question and BAM I have a thousand new words to add because, duh, why didn’t I answer that all along?

The CP partnership isn’t about someone telling you what to do. It’s about someone pointing out when something is confusing, doesn’t work, needs fixing, etc. So, Elley didn’t answer this question for me, she posed a question I needed to answer, and it helped me see the chapter in a whole new light.

Example: “What would be stopping them from getting together then? I think I know, but I shouldn’t be guessing. So answer that question, and then make sure you are interjecting that answer in various ways throughout the beginning chapters of Kyle’s POV so that it’s established early on and eliminates the guess work.”

She doesn’t articulate what she thinks she knows, she leaves that up to me. And the minute I read that, I had some ideas on what to add to that chapter to make it stronger.

4. Your CP tells you when something is good.

It’s not all gloom and doom. Honesty isn’t about being mean or seeking out the bad, it’s about, you know, being honest. Your CP should tell you when something makes them laugh, when they’re breathless for the next chapter, when you 100% hit the mark.

Example: “I really liked this chapter. The banter between the siblings is marvelous. I was sucked in by the sexual tension, and I love, love Grace. (I know I’ve said it before.) Funny thing, I liked Kyle a lot here too…” Specifics too. Not just “good chapter.” A good CP doesn’t just tear you down, they make you feel good about yourself too.

What this all boils down to is something I wrote on Twitter the other day. If you don’t think your CP is a genius every week or so (or multiple times during a WIP), you need a new CP.



4 Responses to “The CP Test”

  1. I’d have to say “ditto” on all the above, and I’d like to add a couple things too. Nicole hasn’t just helped my writing get better, she’s helped my goals become clearer. A good CP relationship goes beyond the page. Nicole and I talk about career goals, project direction, juggling family and writing. We vent. We pep talk. We tease one another on Twitter. 🙂 I’d be lost without her.

    Thanks for the kind words, Nicole. I think you’re amazing too.


  2. I am nodding along to all of that. I would be lost without my CP’s. I am fortunate that I have a few, and all of them are quick to pick up on things, and always honest. My work is much stronger for it!

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