While writing a book and rewriting trouble spots, I rely on critique partners. When I finish the penultimate draft, I recruit people who read but don’t write mysteries. I give them the manuscript with ten questions and suggest they look at the questions before and after they read. Some answer all questions; some write comments on the manuscript; some write a book report. If possible, I take my beta readers to dinner to discuss the book.
The questions serve two purposes:
They cover the general and a few specific things I need to know;
They guide insecure readers and assure them they can give helpful comments.
The questions below, written for Show Me the Murder, follow my typical pattern, touching on such key questions as when the reader identified the killer and such specific ones as whether romantic encounters ring true. The questions never give away the plot.
- Was what happened clear? Did you need more explanation of who did it or what Boom had done? Did the plot seem credible as you read it?
- Were any of the characters unbelievable or inconsistent?
- When did you know who did it? Whom did you suspect as you were reading?
- Did any part of the book seem slow? Would you have put it down if you’d taken it from the library? Did the book seem long?
- Did Phoenix’s scenes with Neil and Stuart ring true?
- Could you visualize the settings of the major scenes?
- Did you expect to find out who shot Phoenix in Istanbul?
- Were the three main characters appealing and believable throughout? How did you like their relationship?
- Were there any characters you couldn’t keep straight?
- What did you like the most? The least?