Inside the Writing Process: Critique Partners

I’ve written a few posts that deal with the behind-the-scenes of what goes on at Bethany House, but I know many of you are also interested in a sneak peek at the actual writing process. For that, I have to turn to my authors, and this month we have something extra-special: two critique partners with novels releasing the same month! I asked Roseanna White and Dina Sleiman to share a bit of their revising process with us.

That's Roseanna on the left, Dina on the right. Thanks so much for joining us, ladies!

That’s Roseanna on the left, Dina on the right. Thanks so much for joining us, ladies!

Amy: What does being a critique partner involve? How do you and Dina manage the process?

Roseanna: Critiquing is the process of giving advice on your partner’s work—sometimes feedback on the overall concept, brainstorming, what works and doesn’t, lines that are confusing, and so on. Our critiquing has varied over the years based on what we need at a given time. Recently, we’ve sent each other complete manuscripts; we then read and provide comments in the document, replying via email. Dina and I don’t critique every book for each other, but we’ve done quite a few together over the years.

Amy: When did you and Roseanna become critique partners, and how did that happen?

Dina: I didn’t get involved in writers’ circles until 2009, and I quickly discovered that many writers had these wonderful people in their lives called critique partners. For a while I kind of sat back and checked out a number of women in my European historical writers group. Roseanna was one of the writers who I admired and thought might be a good fit for me. Then in early 2010 we were both working on projects with Muslim characters, and we decided to try critiquing for each other. As I suspected, it was an awesome arrangement! And since Roseanna was a little further ahead in her writing journey than me, I learned so much just by studying how she did things.

Amy: Why would you say having a critique partner or group is valuable?

Roseanna: Oh my—sometimes we just need that step-removed perspective! Often we know something’s off in our story but can’t quite identify what. Other times we think it’s right on, but we want to make sure…and there’s usually something that doesn’t strike readers quite the way we hoped. Plus when you add in another writer’s take on everything from craft to plot to fine points of history, they always catch things you’ve missed or that you just didn’t know.

Dina: Critique partners catch so many problems that a writer just doesn’t have the perspective to see. For example, often a writer knows some pertinent information, but they don’t remember to put it down on the page or they don’t describe it in a way that is clear to the reader. I now have a variety of critiquers that have different fortes. Some are good at big picture elements, some are good at scene development, and some focus on details. And of course now I have my wonderful Bethany House editors as well.

CritiqueBooks

And their September releases, The Lost Heiress and Chivalrous.


Amy: Roseanna, what is one way that The Lost Heiress is stronger now than it was in earlier drafts?

This makes me laugh. This book has had so many drafts! The first from when I was 12 years old. (Dina didn’t critique that one. You’re welcome, Dina.) An earlier version of this book was actually the very first thing I had critiqued when I first formed a group, and when I decided to change the setting from the 1860s to the 1910s, my “critters” (as I lovingly call them) helped me brainstorm the changes and make sure I was still hitting the right balance in the characters’ personalities. Not every book I write gets as much input as this one has over the years, but I know it wouldn’t have been the rich, complex story it ended up being without all those layers of development.

Amy: And same question to you, Dina: what is one way that Chivalrous is stronger now than it was in earlier drafts?

Dina: I’ll give you two. In the first draft I rushed the ending. It is now expanded and much more satisfying. There is also a big fight scene between my main character and her father that changed a lot. It is an emotionally sensitive scene, so I definitely needed more eyes and opinions for that part. I didn’t want her to just seem like a teenage rebel or an antagonist. In the end, I think it came together well and with the perfect tone.

Amy: What is the biggest strength you see in the other author’s writing?

Roseanna: I love, love, love Dina’s lyrical voice. I always know her words are going to be beautiful. I also always appreciate that she digs down deep into the heart of matters and isn’t afraid to tackle hard subjects.

Dina: Roseanna is my favorite author, and at some point I appointed myself president of her fan club. I love the way she weaves history, philosophy, and even deep psychological elements into her stories. In addition, she includes wonderful spiritual themes. I always learn something from her books, but at the same time she has a fun sense of humor and she’s awesome at the romance and suspense elements. So if I had to name just one strength, it would be the way she weaves so many elements seamlessly into a book. I’ve been honored and delighted to have Roseanna both as a friend and as a partner in this writing journey.

Amy: What’s one thing about your early drafts that your critique partner usually has to remind you to change?

Roseanna: There have been several times when Dina has pulled my story out of a rut—times when all it takes is for her to say, “Get them out of the drawing room!” to make me realize that my action has lagged. Dina is awesome at big-picture feedback, which is fabulous, because I’m a detail girl. It’s so, so nice to work with someone whose strengths complement mine.

Dina: Roseanna is my detail-oriented critique partner. I love to send my manuscripts to her close to submission, because I know that once she is done with it, it will be very clean. I call her my “grammar guru.” She’s also awesome at history, and catches little inconsistencies for me. In some ways it has turned out that Roseanna and I are better cheerleaders for each other than critiquers just because our tastes, preferences, and writing styles are so similar. But I love all the encouraging little comments she sprinkles throughout my manuscripts.

All right, readers: what’s one “behind-the-scenes” question you have about the writing life that you’d love to ask an author? (I might use it for a future blog post!)

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