As an aspiring author, you may not recognize when you’re receiving bad writing advice during a Romance novel critique.
Not all “Beta Readers” are created equal—and that includes the published ones, who’ve landed a book contract with a Legacy Publisher. (See my earlier post, How to Choose the Right Beta Reader.)
To save yourself time (and grief,) I recommend that you hunt for Beta Readers who clearly understand the difference between personal prejudice and constructive criticism. You want to submit your manuscript to a reader, who can evaluate writing fundamentals, such as characterization and novel structure.
So now you’re probably wondering, “But how do I recognize bad writing advice?”
Let’s look at some examples. Each of these comments was overhead during live critique sessions, conducted by Romance writers.
“This idea has been written before.”
No idea is new. Even Shakespeare was penning ideas that originated with the Celts. Keep in mind that some readers actually want to immerse themselves in the same archetypal story over and over again. For this reason, the Western, the Thriller, and the Romance novel still thrive.
“Editors hate prologues.”
Who started this urban myth?
While an occasional book editor may be anti-prologue, hundreds of novels, containing prologues, get published each year.
My fourth and fifth Romance novels, Scoundrel for Hire and His Wicked Dream, both open with prologues. Those prologues didn’t stop my books from becoming national bestsellers or winning awards.
“One-sentence paragraphs are grammatically incorrect and should never be used.”
Although this criticism sounds valid, it’s a myth. One-sentence paragraphs are completely acceptable in fiction, especially in dialogue passages.
Furthermore, one-sentence paragraphs are a stylistic device, used by fiction writers to add emphasis to an idea that might otherwise get buried in long passages of narration.
One-sentence paragraphs can pick up the pace, heighten suspense, and add humor.
“I don’t like to wait for character information to be revealed. I want you to write important traits, like hair color and age, as soon as you introduce that character.”
While there are exceptions to every rule, savvy Romance writers understand that character traits should be revealed bit by bit to keep the reader interested. A complete “background dump” of a character’s physical attributes on the first page of your book can be distracting—and make your Romance novel read like a police report.
“I don’t like the word scarlet. Why can’t you just say what you mean, and use the word, red?”
This example represents any suggestion in which a literary crusader wants to argue word-choice to death.
Give it a rest!
Scarlet is a perfectly acceptable word in the English language. So are crimson, ruby, Titian, and vermilion. The literary crusader is wasting everyone’s time—unless:
- The word is used to the point of overkill;
- The word is inconsistent with the tone of the writing; or
- The word is inappropriate for the novel’s historical setting.
“I hate (talking animals) (tree-huggers) (suicide bombers) (New Age rhetoric) etc. Delete that nonsense from your book.”
Arguing with boors is not going to improve the caliber of their feedback. If your Beta Readers can’t offer constructive commentary for the book that you want to write, exercise your inalienable right to quit the session.
“Your writing is too purple.”
Ah, the greatest insult in Writerdom. Some niche readers may not realize that evocative prose is acceptable—even expected—in the Romance genre. It’s one way to engage reader emotion.
Keep in mind, however, that the complaint may be legitimate if your writing style slows the pace or detracts from the reader’s understanding.
“You’ll never get this story published.”
However, if your Beta Reader rubs elbows with literary agents and book editors, faithfully reads Publishers Weekly, or accesses some other conduit that legitimizes her “insider knowledge,” her tactless commentary may have merit. You may need to accept that your story may not become your first (or next) book-length sale.
Fortunately, publishing is a cyclical business. The type of story you’re telling may become “hot” again. For example, in 1990, Regency Romance was considered a dying subgenre. In the following decade, publishers couldn’t buy Regency Romances fast enough.