Inside the Critiquing Process: Feedback on opening

Yesterday I posted an opening to a manuscript. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can check it out here. Working title – My Fair Concubine.

To be fair, my sister read the entire manuscript before commenting on the opening. So she’s working in not just whether this scene works or not, but what can be done with it in the larger context of the entire story.

Little Sis’ critique

When Yan Ling first meets Fei Long at the tea house–can you combine this to be the same tea house/inn that Fei Long finds his sister at and kicks out? I want Yan Ling more active from the start. It’s cute that her feet are tired, but if it’s combined, then all the servers will already know the scandalous story and she can be gossiping with them (this also colors the environment more. right now a little flat overall)–so she can be a little more sympathetic to his plight, admiring of the first noble that she’s seen, admiring of his bearing and manners, ect, until he throws out that line about needing a woman (then sparks fly and she dumps tea on him–so much for all her sympathy! he’s just one of those sleazy nobles, ect).  However, when he explains the plan, she can already be partially on his side, not just because of the money, but because she sympathizes and has thought, “Well if I were Pearl, I wouldn’t throw away such an opportunity…”  Because she has been described more than once as practical–show how she is practical.

On a tangent (sorry, my mind’s not as organized), Dao has a backstory where Yan Ling does not. That also makes Dao more of an interesting character. That’s why these first opening chapters can do a lot more. As well as having Yan Ling more active, having her talk to the other servers, having more of her thoughts, and her interacting will also give you a chance to build her character and her background. Why is she so much more practical? Why is she at the tea house? Has she no family?

Jeannie’s commentary on the critique

Whenever someone gives me feedback, the comments need to garner a sense of trust before I’ll accept them. With my sister, we already have an established critiquing relationship, but even if we didn’t, there are certain things about her feedback which make me trust it.

First of all, feedback doesn’t mean that the scene I wrote is all wrong. I’m wary if someone comes in and immediately says something like “the book starts in the wrong place” or suggests that I re-write the scene without sufficient backup. Sure, rewrites like that are sometimes needed, but if the feedback shows that the commenter understands what I was trying to do with the story, rather than just rejecting my work outright, then it builds that trust.

Sis discusses Yan Ling’s character development in a way that tells me she gets what I was trying to do. At least she appreciated the cute detail with Yan Ling’s aching feet. Sometimes when I get feedback, I’m not sure whether the reader just didn’t pay attention or whether I really failed in what I tried to do. Because I’m not sure and the trust has not been established, I’m not sure whether I should fix something. Little Sis has demonstrated an understanding of my opening and what I wanted to do with the characters. She does this by echoing back specific details — I did want to highlight Yan Ling’s practical, no-nonsense nature. I wanted her opening to be sort of cute. I wanted her to show a bit of a temper, but not be completely temperamental or feisty.

Sis also points out a fundamental weakness that became more evident as the book progresses — namely that Yan Ling doesn’t have enough backstory from the beginning. We’re dropped into the story here where she’s presented as a servant and very quickly embarks upon the story adventure which takes her away from that life. Dao is another character introduced later that Sis thought was overshadowing Yan Ling in terms of having more intriguing backstory and characterization — which would be a bad thing since Yan Lin is my heroine and Dao is a secondary.

Most importantly, Sis earns my trust by giving me some very specific and usable suggestions. Instead of saying — “Include more of the five senses” or “I want to get a better sense of the tea house” or “I feel like your heroine isn’t active enough”, her suggestions about making the tea house the same location as the inn and showing Yan Ling interacting more vividly with the other servants are both changes that I could visualize and see myself executing to the story’s advantage. She also explained her thought process behind the suggestions and what purpose they would serve. So if it was the case that I didn’t like the suggestion, I could still address the underlying gaps that she’s identified. Immediately, I could see how the pacing, tension, and characterization of the first two scenes could be vastly improved by these changes.

Tomorrow: I’ll post the updated opening based on Sis’ critique.

Want Little Sis and me to critique your first 30 pages? Bid at the Brenda Novak auction and get both of us cheap. 🙂


  1. Simone Kendrick
    May 02, 2011 @ 13:37:50

    That is a stroke of genius of making the tea house the same tea house. I wouldn’t have thought of that. I can’t wait to read the updated version!

  2. Jeannie Lin | Award-winning historical romance author
    May 02, 2011 @ 16:08:44

    […] Tomorrow I’ll post Little Sis’ comments with more discussion.(See feedback on opening.) […]

  3. Megan Kelly
    May 03, 2011 @ 13:50:14

    This is a totally different take on how I saw the scene, which is one of the things I love about feedback! Readers are so different. Would your hero hang around the SAME place he just threw his sister out of? Would he not walk away from the shame? I liked the idea that he chose a teahouse after such an ordeal, not a drinking or whoring place. To me, it showed him being a quiet, serious man who took time to think things out. I also envisioned the silent oppression of the teahouse at the end of day when she still can’t leave and the clink of the beads as the owner counted the money. It was very still, but I thought that added to her overall eagerness to go home. Having the heroine gossip with the others is a more lively idea and I like it too. I just was feeling her tiredness as they waited for him to leave. I’m sure with your re-writes you’ll still accomplish this. I may bid on you and Little Sis’s critique. There’s so much to learn.

  4. Jeannie Lin
    May 04, 2011 @ 00:38:21

    Megan – You totally described what I was going for. Quiet, tired, end of day winding down. 🙂

    Thanks for following the series. I think you were at the other table when I read the opening at CORE.

  5. Jeannie Lin | Award-winning historical romance author
    May 04, 2011 @ 10:31:21

    […] Feedback and Commentary […]

  6. Victoria Dixon
    May 07, 2011 @ 10:50:21

    I love critiques like this! When someone both gets what you’re doing and sees ways to improve it. I look forward to seeing more and will go check out the auction, though I have no money. 🙁

  7. RayDean
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 08:21:22

    I just found this entry… or rather ‘set’ of entries… lovely insight 😀