As fiction writers, the worlds and characters we have created are precious to us, built from our hearts and souls. Why would we ever want to pay someone to analyze it and potentially tear it apart, shattering our hopes and dreams of our beloved baby becoming the next bestseller? Getting a story critiqued is a scary thought, but if you have the means to pay a professional to do it, you should.
The number one reason to keep in mind is that no one else can see the story from your point of view. The story came from your head; everyone else is going to interpret the story differently from you, and differently from each other. You might think you have perfectly described your character’s appearance and were detailed with your settings, but what seems clear to you might not actually be so. The story flow might feel perfect and smooth to an author, but a reader might stumble. A second pair of eyes (at least) is invaluable for catching possible issues.
A couple years ago I finished a novel, which I was very proud of, and I was very attached to the story. However, I knew that I needed to develop things as the length was short, so I sent it off for a professional critique. What I got back was not what I expected.
The reader felt that my main character was vastly underdeveloped. They couldn’t connect with her, stating that by the end they didn’t know her any better than they did at the beginning. There was no story arc, things were repetitive, and they felt the setting was not quite believable. I was heartbroken. I had put so much love into this character and her story, and this professional just ripped it to shreds.
After I had a mini-meltdown, I reread the critique. I pondered everything that was said, compared it to the story, and came to an important conclusion: This reader was 100% correct.
Looking at your own story from the outside is extremely difficult, but once someone else does it for you, you can then step back and see it through their eyes. I saw the main character much differently; I saw all the flaws, and even questioned who she really was as a person. I looked at the timeline and locations throughout the story and realized how ridiculous it all was. My eyes—and mind—were opened.
Critiques are not entirely negative. A good critique will include positive insights and suggestions on how to build on the good things you have written. My reader connected with a secondary character, going so far as to suggest I make him the protagonist. He was developed, he was unique, and he had a story of his own to tell. Changing a main character and storyline is huge! Why would I want to dismantle the entire thing and rebuild from scratch?
This reader put possibilities in my head, and my writer brain took those ideas and put them together, building up a brand new story. A story with life. Without someone telling me what they saw as a reader, I never would have considered changing anything at all. Writers need to be receptive to feedback and use it as a tool to make the story the best it can be.
One last note: perhaps you are thinking of asking a friend or family member to be a “beta reader” because they might do it for free. DON’T DO IT. If you want truly objective and insightful feedback, give it to someone you don’t know and spend the money to do so. I didn’t even know the name of the person who read my story, or if they were male or female. It’s better that way. I have no regrets and will do it again.