An aspiring author recently asked me to help him figure out what to say to his friends before he gave them his novel to read. He wants them to read critically, give him honest feedback, but he's afraid they'll just phone it in because they like him.
When you hand your friend a novel you've written, he or she knows you've slaved over it for months, maybe years, and how much it means to you, and how devastating it would be if he told you "Oops, it's terrible." He doesn't want to be critical, or hurt your feelings, which is why the most common response from a friend who critiques you is something along the lines of "It's good!" or "Good job!" Hearing "I liked it" presented as a critique is not helpful to you at all. But how can you get your friend to be honest when she only wants to make you feel good?
Here are ten questions to ask that will not put your friend in a tough spot, but will still give you some useful input on your novel:
1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”
Your friend is probably still going to tell you, "It was good!" However, if you can ask any specific questions, and read between the lines, you can still get some helpful information out of even the most well-meaning reader.