I Can’t Believe I Read the Whole Thing: Supporting Each Other with Full-Manuscript Critiques

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.

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14 thoughts on “I Can’t Believe I Read the Whole Thing: Supporting Each Other with Full-Manuscript Critiques

  1. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I so agree. Especially since I wrote short stories first, and I had gotten very good at writing on the micro level: I knew how to write a scene. What I had trouble with was the arc of the whole novel: plotting, pacing, juggling subplots. And only a full-ms. critique can give you that.

    I also usually prefer critiquing whole novels (though there are exceptions). Largely because I hate to spend hours marking up, say, chapter 1, and then read the rest of the book and realize that my best suggestion is to delete chapter 1 altogether.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I really like the process of reading/critiquing pieces of a couple/few drafts and then doing the full-read. I feel like I know more about the characters & what the author’s shooting for at this point. But that luxury isn’t around, often, once the publication cycle starts. 🙂

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  2. Becky,
    This was an interesting post. Made me realize how far I am from that “full” read and how important it is. Smiled at what Jean said. SOmetimes those micro-comments are truly premature, but we don’t see the entire forest for all those trees that need trimming! (or seem to anyway)Carol

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    • beckylevine says:

      Those micro-comments are the reason I try hard not to revise from critique feedback until I (and my critiquers) have worked through a draft.

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  3. Lua says:

    I agree with you Becky- full manuscript critiques are vital. It is important for someone to read your novel; from beginning to the end and give you criticism as a whole. Sometimes we have a great chapter 1 and then a great chapter two but when you look at them together, they might not work so well…

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    • beckylevine says:

      Exactly. Readers will take on our books at a much quicker, more connected read than we can recreate with a few chapters every month. To see what they’re going to see, we need to do the fulls.

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  4. Spot-on advice, Becky. Those full-draft readers are so precious! I want to make their experience a good one, and not leave them shaking their heads in confusion or despair. So I don’t send them the first hot- off-the-press draft, but the revised (sometimes much revised) good-as-I-can-make-it draft.

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  5. Couldn’t agree more. Full-manuscript critiques are a huge commitment for critique partners, but they’re so necessary. If we, as writers, aren’t getting feedback on the effectiveness of our stories as a whole, we’re in trouble. Thank God for willing critters!

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  6. I love full ms critiques the most off all critiquing, Becky. Especially when I have a fresh set of eyes on it. I certainly don’t give as many small comments when I do these though which is where the smaller ones come in handy.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I’m just starting to play with full critiques from new readers, versus just those who have read it many times before. But it’s basically what I do in my client critiques, and I do like that a lot!

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