Before submitting a freshly finished manuscript to my agent, I ask a few friends to read it. I include these instructions.
I am not the kind of writer who knows what he has written when it first rolls out of his printer. I’m too punch-drunk on the stuff to read it myself. I need a sober person to be my designated reader.
A passage I think is clear might be confusing. A character I think is likable may come off as a jerk. A section I think is fascinating might induce snoring. I need your help in uncovering such snags.
Here’s a manuscript of my latest novel, Second Nature. I’d like to hear from you what the story does to you. I’m not looking for you to tell me how to fix it, I just want your report of what it feels like to read the book.
Pretend you bought the book at the mall and read it. A friend asks, “How was it?” What would you tell her?
§ Were you bored at any points? If so, exactly where did you lose interest?
§ Did you like the main characters? Did you care about what happened to them? Did they hold your emotional interest? Did you feel like you knew them? Were they believable characters?
§ Did any of the characters seem overly stereotyped?
§ Notice any whopping plot cliches? Scenes where you knew damn well what the outcome would be from the start?
§ Notice any bloopers? (f.g., You can’t shoot a guy seven times with a sixshooter.)
§ Was there something you didn’t understand? A part you had to read twice?
§ Was there anything you didn’t believe? A point where you said, “Aw, come on!”
§ What do you think will happen next, beyond the end of the novel? Are there loose ends that seem to be dangling? Any tensions or questions that haven’t been resolved?
§ Anything you really wished had happened in the story that didn’t happen?
§ Anything that did happen that you wish hadn’t happened?
Thank you, wise reader. You are always right. You can’t be wrong, because you are reporting on your own experience of reading the novel. (How can you be wrong about your own experience?)
I owe you one,