There are many kinds of critiquers in the world but a working writer needs to have the following four types as beta readers:
1) The utterly clueless somewhat stupid person
2) The savvy skilled writer who doesn't quite get what you're aiming at and who may or may not agree with you
3) The savvy skilled writer who totally understands your work, agrees with your themes, and adores the ground you walk on.
4) The regular non-writing person who loves a good story and understands characters and motivations
The utterly clueless and somewhat ignorant person is needed because they will demand that everything be explained to them. This is a good thing because it will remind you to write down to folks and to make sure everything is immediately understood by a ten year old child.
The savvy skilled writer who may or may not agree or understand your work is useful because they help you to fight for your work, and by fighting for your work you see clearly what it is you're aiming for. This kind of writer friend can be a pain, most definitely. Especially if they don't like your religion or your politics. If one isn't careful, they can pretty much make you give up on a work of art. Why? you ask. Because they will fight you at the most unexpected times. A writer who thinks that the romance genre brainwashes little girls and is responsible for her bad relationships is not going to like your work if you write romance. A feminist who thinks anything written by a Christian should be analyzed for Christian judgmentalism is going to tear your work apart. This type of critter is often the hardest to reply to because if you tell someone who hates Christians that your character isn't judgmental, she (or he) will reply that you are being judgmental in judging her judgment of your character. But if one can survive such a writer, her comments can help you to learn to stand your ground and to make you clarify what it is you're aiming for....and might even help you do a story that even they will like.
The savvy skilled writer who totally gets you and adores the ground you walk on is great for the reader's soul. Because they understand what you're aiming for, and because they love you, they make you believe your work is important and the world is simply waiting for it.
The regular person who doesn't write is an honest reader who will not allow you to get away with bull or with silly writerly games. If a character fails, or a story moves into boring territory, this person will tell you. You can't get away with saying all sorts of writerly stuff.
The kind of critters you should not have anything at all to do with are
A) The writer who cannot (or refuses to) learn and who challenges you on the simplest thing. This goes doubly for the writer whose characters are stand-ins for her totally perfect self. It's stressing to deal with this kind of writer because every comment on her story hurts her in some terribly deep already-wounded place.
B) The selfish critter who will ask you to critique all of their chapters a zillion times but who always has an excuse for not critting yours. I'm not saying this because it's about tit for tat; I'm saying this because we all need help. And there is just so much time in a writer's life. One simply cannot spend a great deal of time helping someone who doesn't return the help -- when one also needs help.
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