by Annette Lyon
My husband is a software engineer. This comes in handy for a writer spouse. When my computer crashes or I'm my usual techno-idiot self, I just call him. ("Honeeeeey! Come fiiiiix it!!!")
The other day, he mentioned an industry axiom:
If you wrote the code, you can't write the test.
In other words, the software engineer who wrote the code is incapable of testing it properly. He has a limited perspective on it, so his test would cover (of course) just the things that occur to him to test. It wouldn't be comprehensive, because someone else would think of testing in other ways. If the coder is the tester, all kind of weaknesses or bugs will probably be left behind.
A coder's test can't be comprehensive because he has blinders. He wrote the code.
It needs another perspective.
As a writer, you're too close to your "code," your manuscript, to test for problems, to find the holes. No matter how great of a writer you might be, you need someone else, a "tester," to look at it with a new, fresh perspective.
Writers need to learn how to do revision and self-editing, and I'd go so far as to suggest that those skills are crucial to being a successful writer. But they aren't enough. At some point, you need to step out of your isolated writer bubble and hand the pages off to someone else.
I've had critiquers point out plot holes that I never would have noticed (usually things I can fix easily . . . once I know they're there). They've caught motivation issues (sometimes those fixes are more complex, but they always make for a more believable story). Other times it's something as simple as an inconsistency, a confusing passage, or a pacing problem.
The story is perfect in your head, so when you read it, you miss things a good "tester" can catch. Having such a tester is the only way to make sure that what's in your head actually made it onto the page.
In the software industry, testers are trained in what they do. They understand computer languages and coding. An engineer wouldn't grab any old Joe from the street (or his mother or best friend) to test his code. Of course not.
The same concept applies to writing: you need qualified "testers."
While Grandma Sally will pat you on the head for writing such a great story, she probably can't help you improve it. She's blinded by her love for you, for starters, but she's also not qualified.
Pick testers who write and know writing. They need to be able to diagonose problems in a written work, tell you when you're telling and not showing, catch info dumps, and grasp things like characterization, conflict, exposition, and a plethora of other things.
A parallel axiom for the writing industry:
If you wrote the story, you can't critique it.