A while ago, when I was asking for post ideas on Facebook, Kristin O”Donnell Tubb suggested I write about full-manuscript critiques. I was sure I’d talked about that somewhere, but I have hunted around on my blog and it’s not showing up. Maybe it was on the old blog?
Anyway, it’s definitely a topic worth discussing, I think, especially because I’m often surprised to talk to writers whose groups don’t do full reads, or who think they can’t even ask their group to do one for their project.
I think full-manuscript reads are critical.
Yes, they take time–don’t try to read a whole book in the usual two weeks you give to a chapter or three, and try to arrange things so you’re not getting hit with a ton of other submissions at the same time. But the trade-off, the one that every member of the group will benefit from–is completely worth the juggling and the scheduling.
When you read an author’s full manuscript, you are giving them the gift of reading for continuity. You’re watching tension build (or not build) across the whole story and finding the specific places where that tension drops off. You will catch the moments when the hero or other character behave, well…out of character. You will be able to make suggestions for places the author can cut and trim, where the pacing slows down or rushes.
Yes, we can do all these things when we’re reading chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I don’t think, though, that we can do it as well. Obviously, you’re not going to sit down with the whole manuscript, when it’s handed to you, and not leave the couch until you’ve penned your notes on the last page. You will, however, read the book much more quickly than you can when you’re getting it piecemeal every couple of weeks. You will hold the story and the characters and the details closer to the surface of your brain, and–even when you’re not reading–you’ll be mulling and musing and coming up with ideas.
Does this mean that, when the author has finished the first draft, this is the time for her to hand the whole thing over and ask for the full-read. Nope. Not yet. I really think the full-read comes when the group has read through several drafts, in chunks, and the author has revised and revised (and revised…). When the author and the group feel like the book is getting close, really close, to that magical “done” that we can’t ever really define. That’s when the full-read happens.
Stock up on the right tea or coffee. Build up your stash of chocolate and buy a few more of your favorite pens. Get out the notepad. Then take the time and the thought to read through those 2-300 pages of story, with thought and care.
You’ll get it all back, when the pendulum swings back to your side of the critique table.