Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Being critiqued - you're the boss

Wow! I'm shocked at how long it's been since my last post. Real life is drowning me this month, mostly with end-of-school-year activities, but also doing some reading and relaxing too.

Plus pushing Tiamat's Nest through the queue on CC, critiquing, and being critiqued.

Oh, look! Back on topic!

In this mini-series on being critiqued, I've talked about the pain of hearing things you don't want to hear, some tips for recognizing comments worth paying attention to, and some cautionary tales about comments best set aside.

I want to wrap this theme up with some final thoughts.

When you put up a story for feedback in a good forum, the good news is that you'll get lots of impassioned feedback. The bad news is ... you'll get lots of impassioned feedback, and you'll have a hard time deciding what to do about it.

The hardest part of receiving critiques is developing your own judgment about what advice to accept, and what to set aside.

Regardless of all the tips and techniques for sorting the wheat from the chaff, there is one fact that you need to engrave in granite and hang on the wall above your writing space, tattoo on the back of your hand, and scribe on a large sheet of paper in mirror writing and staple to your forehead so you see it every time you gaze in the mirror wondering if it's really all worth it.

This is your manuscript, 
and regardless of all the critiquing, 
the end result is up to you.

Don't ever forget it.

Some folks will tell you that you have to kill adverbs, make the MC more likeable, cut the description, throw in a love interest, rewrite the whole chapter... You must, must, must follow their advice because otherwise your manuscript sucks and they know best because you asked them for your opinion, didn't you?

Yes, you asked them their opinion, and what they gave you is exactly that - their opinion. Not law. Not inviolable edicts that you are bound - on pain of testicular separation - to follow to the letter. They gave you an opinion, which it is up to you to decide what to do with.

That doesn't mean simply ignore any advice you don't like. After all, some comments will hurt like heck but may be just what your manuscript needs.

It means exercise judgment and discretion and make a choice.

Easy to say. So hard to do well.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being critiqued - treading the minefield

Being critiqued can be overwhelming. I've talked about the need to pay attention to things that you might not want to hear, and not disregard painful advice out of hand. Now, I'm cautioning against the other extreme - trying to pay heed to everything.

There is a skill to scanning a critique and picking out things to take action on. An equally important skill is deciding what to ignore.

Not all advice is equal. Not all advice is good. Even good advice is not always applicable.

Here are some reasons to be cautious, and things to watch out for...

The compulsive rules junkie: This is the critiquer who likes to wave the rule book at every opportunity. Some "rules" seem to acquire inviolate tablet-of-stone status. No adverbs. No passive voice. No telling. I'm sorry, but adverbs and passive voice have their place. If I see someone embarking on a relentless mission of adverb annihilation then I can see that actual critical thought - the point of a critique - has flown the nest.

Inaccurate advice: More insidious than the blatant rules junkie is the "wrong rules junkie" - the critiquer who insists on some rule that simply isn't true. I once had someone tell me that every piece of dialogue absolutely had to start on a new line. He'd clearly misunderstood the actual rule where someone new is speaking, but was most insistent. He then went through my MS pointing out every single instance of my "error". The trouble is, that was the sum total of his critique.

Plain old unhelpful: "Boring" or "this sucks" is simply not helpful. If you make no effort to explain why something is not doing it for you, I'll probably make no effort to listen.

Personal taste: Some advice amounts to little more than personal preference. That doesn't necessarily mean it's worthless - it is a genuine reaction from a reader, after all - but neither is it gospel.

Trying to rewrite your story: Personal taste taken to extreme can lead the critiquer to try to rewrite your story how they would have written it. This is far more dangerous. Write your own darned story and leave me to get on with mine!

Wrong audience/just doesn't get it: Personal taste is especially dangerous if the critiquer is clearly far removed from your target audience. There's no problem critiquing outside your comfort zone, you can give a fresh perspective as well as general writing comments, but if you don't "get" the specific conventions of the genre then be wary. If this is a hard military sci-fi story, don't bleat about the technology or the lack of a mushy love triangle.

Wrong advice for your story: This is very hard to detect, and needs great confidence and judgment to stick to your guns. Sometimes none of the above is true, and the advice might even be good in its own way, just not right for you.

Conflicting advice: In my previous post I mentioned looking out for things several critiquers agree on. The converse is also something to watch out for. If different critiquers are leading you in conflicting directions then it's a sign you're in territory where there's no clear right answer. This is bad news if you are looking for definite advice, because you're on your own. The good news is, you're on your own. If you aren't doing anything clearly wrong, then you are free to carve your own path.

Cheerleading: It's always good to be told nice things about your story. The trouble is that if the critiquer is overly complimentary then you probably aren't getting any worthwhile advice. I am more inclined to pay attention to odd bits of praise if the critiquer has also shown no qualms about shredding bits that needed shredding. Then I know it's genuine, and not just empty cheerleading.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...