So I’m revising a middle-grade manuscript and my critique group made some assumptions about my story based on my first chapter — that were completely incorrect.
While the corrections seemed like easy fixes, I wanted to make sure I had indeed fixed the problems. However, my crit buddies were no longer fresh readers. They now had information from subsequent chapters and our discussions that would sway their perceptions. So even if they reread my pages I wouldn’t REALLY know if I had fixed my opening chapter.
Enter my husband.
Now Mike isn’t much of a fiction reader. And he rarely reads kidlit. But I figured with his fresh eyes, I could conduct a little experiment PLUS see if my fixes had indeed worked.
So I had him read my first chapter. I told him not to edit it or change it in any way or ask me any questions. But I did tell him that when he finished to immediately turn the manuscript face down.Then I asked him the following questions.
1. Who is the main character? What’s his/her name? How old is he/she?
2. List 5 words that would describe the main character.
3. Now describe the main character in 3-5 sentences.
4. What is the time and place setting of the story? When was that absolutely clear?
5. Who are the most important secondary characters thus far? What are their names and ages?
6. For each secondary character named in 5 above, list 3 significant characteristics.
7. Does my main character have a problem yet? If so, what do you think it is?
8. Is there anything at all that’s frustrating you in an annoying way rather than a “I want to read on to figure this out” sort of way?
Once we went through the questions, I compared Mike’s answers to what I expected from my fresh reader. Did my expectations match his answers? Pretty much. But they left me with a little more work to do on setting.
Overall, it’s a quick exercise. Bonus: It’s pretty easy to ask anyone to do at any time. So after I make a few changes I’ll put it out there again. And see if I can finally get a perfect match.