Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being critiqued - panning for gold

Okay, you've got a critique, preferably more than one, from people who can be trusted to be blunt and honest.

It hurt, but you got over that. Now, you need to glean some goodness out of all that commentary. After all, that's the whole point of the process, right?

I'm not going in to all the details of how to read a critique, but here are some pointers I use to help me decide what nuggets to pay attention to.

The blindingly obvious

Some things - obvious typos, for example - make me go, "Doh!" *Facepalm*

More subtle, but equally obvious, are those light bulb moments. The moment the critiquer says it, you wonder why you didn't think of it yourself. These can be anything from wording or sentence suggestions, to plot points or character development.

These are so obviously right, that you don't need to put much effort into accepting them, though what to do about them isn't always so clear.

Things you don't want to hear

But handling critiques isn't all plain sailing. Sometimes you need to hear hard truths, things that go against the grain, things you don't want to hear.

How to identify nuggets of gold that you are inherently resistant to seeing?

One thing I look out for is if more than one critiquer makes the same observation. That is always a good clue that there's something worth further consideration.

Another group of comments I pay close attention to is gut reader reactions. Things that are running through the critiquer's head as they read. These may appear as criticism, or a good critiquer may identify them as running observations, but either way they are worth looking at. Whether the reaction is what you wanted or not, it is a window into how your story is landing in someone else's mind. That kind of feedback is golden.

Similar, are comments that give you a new perspective on your work - I didn't see it could be read like that! Again, a window into another world. If a reader mis-reads your words, you don't get to beat them over the head and say, "That's not what I meant, dummy!" All you have to play with are the words you choose to put on the page, and it's useful to know if they are not conveying what you intended - whether you like it or not.

That doesn't necessarily mean you need to do anything about it. The reaction may be exactly what you want, or it may be clear that the reader is too far removed from your target audience, but discarding comments should be a reasoned choice on your part, not a gut reaction.

It's not all bad news

Not all critique comments need be bad news. Sometimes, they just make you think, maybe lead you to new ideas, new avenues to explore in your story.

And sometimes, you get to hear what people actually like. As long as you can trust this is genuine, and not the dutiful gushing of a doting relative, it's invaluable to know what is working for that reader.


  1. Like most things the more you do it the better you get at it and the good advice/suggestions become easier to spot. It's getting over the initial bruise to the ego that puts people off, but like most bruises it heals.


  2. "I didn't see it could be read like that." I am FOREVER getting into trouble because what I write can be read a different way. ( and saying things that can be heard a different way) It's enough to make a gal stop communicating altogether.

  3. Exactly, mood, practice helps a lot.

    Delores, isn't it amazing how that happens? Biggest peril is email - so easy to dash off a quick note and set off an unintended firestorm.

  4. It's a tricky thing- handling criticism but if your willing to take the good with the bad and ready to listen- like you were talking about, you can really get your writing done right. Good points!

  5. I like it when some bit of lazy writing I try to ignore--in the hopes that it won't *really* affect the story as a whole--gets weeded out and skewered by a critique group. It not only keeps me honest, but also bolsters the running suspicion I have going that readers are far smarter than I'd like to admit. :)

  6. Danette, that's the whole point, after all. You have to take personality out of it and treat it like a process.

    David, isn't it amazing how those things you hope will just slide by are the ones folks pick up on?

  7. So true. If there's a critique that goes against the grain, I tend to leave things as they are until someone else comments on the same thing.

  8. I didn't see it could be read like that! - that's a big one for me on the vauluable feedback list. One poorly conveyed detail can snowball into a huge misconseption that really creates a mess with the reader's view of the story.

    Lightbulb comments are also a big favorite for me. I love when CPs throw in commentary and suggestions as they read. Some big character and plot moments have blossomed from those.

  9. Misha, always good to look for a second opinion before doing anything drastic.

    Jean, I love those light bulb moments too.

  10. I prefer critiques that actually tell me what's wrong. Telling me you "just didn't like it" isn't enough. A good critique can be hella valuable!



  11. Valerie, that's exactly a point I will be making in my next post. Have you been hacking my laptop? :)


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