There are a few rules I follow when I send out my manuscripts for critique:
1. Send it to writer friends whose work I respect and whom I trust to tell me the bad as well as the good.
2. If I send it to others with less experience writing or reading, give them some specific areas to focus on (where am I confusing, where do you lose interest, who do you hate?)
3. Really consider their opinion--after all, I trusted them enough to ask, right?
I've had a few times where I have disregarded a critiquer's advice, but often, they are right on target. This happened last month with Neeta Lyffe. One of my writing friends wrote me that, long story short, the first chapter didn't work. Neeta came off as old, whiny and weak, and neither he nor his wife or daughter wanted to read anymore.
The great thing about Walt is that he doesn't pull his punches, and he can zero right in on the problem. He was right: Neeta is whiny and indecisive, and she feels much older than her 29 years. However, she has reasons: in the first book, she had to behead someone under her instruction in order to keep him from returning a zombie. That's haunting her, as is the fear that someday, she might have to do the same thing to Ted, her partner in the extermination business whom she's in love with. Ted sometimes operates on a different frequency from the rest of the world, and can come off as flakey or even insensitive, which leaves her confused about where they stand romantically. So she's dealing with a lot of anxiety, and it's making her insecure and indecisive.
I thought I was showing that in her behaviors, and while I was, I also didn't give the reader enough clues into the reasons behind her behaviors. Like my husband likes to say, "It's not my job as a reader to understand; it's the writer's job to be understood."
Fortunately, it wasn't a difficult fix. I added some nightmares, a psychiatrist, the determination to wean herself from her pills, and she went from whiny to troubled, and Walt was able to sympathize with her rather than dismiss her.
Something else happened, too: I realized an important subtext hadn't been developed because I skipped over this important part of her situation. I went through the rest of the manuscript, adding and even changing some things. We get a little more insight into Ted's motives, too. The entire book is a little richer.
Critiques can be hard to hear, especially when the manuscript really doesn't work. However, taking the time to consider the comments and work the manuscript pays off.
I should be getting more critiques later this month. I'm looking forward to them!