I admit, I was a bit nervous, much as I was when I brought the first chapter. First and last chapters are important. A novel is kind of like a sandwich in that way. Even if there are great things in the middle, whatever is on both ends (the bread-chapters) must hold it together in a satisfying way. So there I was, with my ending slice of bread—and the pickle on the side, which is how I now think of an epilogue—anxiously hoping it wouldn’t all fall apart.
To my great relief, everyone was happy with the conclusion. Since then, I’ve been thinking of how much I have learned from the process of having a novel critiqued from start to finish. Even though I’m the creator and writer of said novel, I realized that sometimes I don’t know it or the characters as well as I thought. Sometimes I brought a chapter that I felt was a little weak, only to hear that it was solid and served an important purpose in furthering the story. On other occasions, I brought a chapter that felt like a homerun, only to have the group’s astute questions and observations point out the shortcomings of my imagined brilliance.
And my characters, who have taken out long-term leases inside my head…I’m more familiar with them than anyone, and yet there were numerous occasions when a critique group member would say, “I don’t think s/he would do/say that. It seems…“ (You know what’s coming, right?) “Out of character.” More often than not it was the right call, and I would wonder why I didn’t see it. I suppose the reason is that we all have blind spots where our writing is concerned, much as we do with our children. (Except mine, which are perfect.) When a fellow writer can point them out in a kind and constructive way, it is exceptionally helpful. A few tasty snacks don't hurt, either.
If you’re in a critique group, how has it helped you?