Fiction Writing

CRITIQUES: Taking Them on the Chin

As agonising as critiques can be, they are a vital part of our development as writers.  If we don't take feedback on the chin, we will never learn to master the craft.

Another day, another critique.

Recently I received feedback on one of my short stories and was still enjoying the exuberant high that followed when another critique plopped into my inbox.

This time, it was feedback on the first chapter of my labour of love, my first attempt at a novel.

You know the critique isn’t going to be great when the reviewer starts off…

‘While there is definitely a lot to recommend about your chapter…’  

You kind of know that what follows will be a list of things that don’t.

During the last three and a half years I have written at least six versions of Chapter One introducing my MC, Lisa Grant.  Her ups, but mostly downs at that particular stage of her life and how she plans to extract herself from the unsatisfactory situation she finds herself in.

 ‘…too much telling and summing up and not enough showing and keeping us in Lisa’s present moment.’

The current Chapter One includes everything I thought was relevant and would hook a reader in, but… I was wrong, I am doing too much telling and summing up.

A pretty basic writing blunder that, as I became so intent getting Lisa Grant’s predicament across, I failed to see it.  A pair of fresh eyes had to do that for me.

As agonising as critiques can be, they are a vital part of our development as writers.  If we don’t take feedback on the chin, we will never learn to master the craft.

My labour of love has been a learning curve and I am very grateful to everybody who has taken time out to provide feedback to date.

Three and a half years of writing through the day and often through the night, editing and revising, making sure the middle didn’t sag and the ending didn’t fizzle out like a damp squib.

There is so much to think about before you embark on the torturous process of precising 93,000 words into a coherent synopsis.

Out of all the chapters, Chapter One is the one I’ve revised and rewritten the most but still failed to nail. @ they remind me that the 7 key elements to include when writing an opening chapter are:

  1. A great opening paragraph
  2. A compelling character
  3. A Strong Voice     ‘… Lisa’s voice is pretty well developed but does still need work.’
  4. A Well Chosen Starting Point.     ‘… We just feel that you need to think about how and when you start the story, as this doesn’t feel like the right place.’
  5. An Authentic Sense of Place
  6. A Burgeoning Conflict
  7. A Hook for Your Intended Readership.    ‘In publishing today, opening chapters to novels need a strong hook to pull the reader into the world you are creating.’

As I start restructuring Chapter One, with the above list firmly entrenched in my mind, I take away the positives from this last critique.

‘Lisa is an engaging character and stories of dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships are always popular so you have a great base to build on.’ 

‘Your prose style is confident and engaging.’  

It should get me off to a good start.



  1. You mention that you have revised and revised the first chapter. I don’t know if this means you have written more chapters or not, but if you haven’t done so yet, I would advise writing another 4-5 chapters and then revise Chap. 1. It’s much easier IMO to see how the first chapter should be–what stays, what goes, what’s missing–when you have more chapters or even the entire first draft.

    1. Hi Amy… Thanks for taking the time to comment. I currently have 54 chapters after about fourteen edits and have 6 different versions of Chapter One. Re-reading the current Chapter One, I can see I am giving away more than I need to, i.e. ‘a bit too much telling and summing up.’

Thank you very much for visiting my niche-less blog! If you have time before you leave, would love you to tell us what you think. All the best, Tessa Barrie

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