Feedback on a first draft

 A few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of a new novel. A first draft (or "zero draft," as I sometimes like to call it), is a discovery draft for me. I always imagine myself grabbing huge fistfuls of wet clay and flinging it onto a table, not knowing exactly what kind of sculpture I’ll eventually create. I’m just putting the raw materials out there, knowing I have many subsequent drafts to shape, smooth, and polish those materials into a meaningful shape.

As soon as I completed my draft, I made copies and gave them to my critique group, along with a list of questions I wanted them to consider as they read my fledgling novel. At this point in the process, I don’t want detailed, chapter-by-chapter  feedback. I want to know what shapes they see hiding in the lump of clay I just handed them, because the goal of my first revision will be to clarify those shapes and cut away any extraneous material that detracts from them.

Here, with a nod to Darcy Pattison, whose fabulous Novel Revision Retreat inspired many of these questions, is a sample of some of the questions I gave my critique group to consider as they read the first draft of my novel:

What do you see as being the "heart" of the novel? Another way to think about this: If I were going to change everything about the story except one thing, what should that one thing be?

What did you see as being the major theme of the novel? What other themes did you see?

Which elements of the novel did you feel supported the heart/theme(s)? 

Did any elements of the novel confuse or detract from the heart/theme(s)?

Did the structure of the novel work for you? 

Were you able to follow the plot? Did you find it believable? Were there any parts of the plot that confused you or that you found difficult to believe?

Could you identify with and feel empathy for the main character? 

Were there any characters you disliked or found less than believable/?

What did you like best about this draft?

What did you like least?

What would you like to see more of in the next draft?

What would you like to see less of?

In your opinion, what are the top three things I could do to strengthen the novel?

This Friday my group will meet to give me their feedback. Then it’s time to plunge my hands back into that mangled mass of clay.


2 Responses to “Feedback on a first draft”

  1. mguibord says:

    Yes these are the perfect questions. You exchange whole ms with your group? That’s a great help. Good luck on Friday 🙂

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