Sunday, November 1, 2015

Introduction to the Critique Survival Guide

I’m posting the draft introduction to the Critique Survival Guide.

This is all new to me, so I’m happy to hear your views on what works and what doesn’t. Yes, I will be putting this through the full critiquing wringer, but right now I’m interested in your gut reactions.

My first attempts felt dry and “preachy” so I’ve tried adding in a few sections of dialogue to help get some of the points across. The introduction starts off with dialogue then slips into exposition. My questions to you are: (1) Do you think this approach works? (2) Any suggestions for how to convey the switch to and from dialogue, especially for people viewing in an e-reader? I’m used to laying out things like this with careful use of fonts and formatting to help, but these things need to be kept to a bare minimum in an e-book.

The Critique Survival Guide

“I’ve done it!” Ernest Hummingbird hopped excitedly on his perch. “I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I’ve done it.”

His old friend and mentor, Sage, cocked a beady eye, twitched his tail feathers, and settled his spectacles more comfortably on his beak. “Done what?”

“Finished, of course.”

“You mean ...”

“Written those two magic words, ‘The End.’ ”


Ernest gave Sage a sharp peck. “Didn’t you hear me? I said, I’ve finished.”

“What? Oh, yes. You’ve finished the first draft of your novel. Yes, well done. An admirable achievement, something indeed to be proud of. Let me see, it was a tale of love and betrayal in a Parisian boulangerie. What was it called again?”

The Bun Almost Rises.” Ernest gave Sage a suspicious look. “You don’t seem all that impressed.”

“As I said, my hopeful young friend, completing the draft of a novel is a big step. Something most people, even those who set out as writers, never accomplish.” Sage squinted at Ernest, who clung to one end of the perch, gazing out the window up and down the street. He hooted softly to gain his friend’s attention. “So, what happens now?”

Ernest sidled to the other end of his perch, where hung a faded photo of a hammock slung between two palm trees overlooking a sun-drenched expanse of white sand and cerulean seas. His eyes took on a faraway look. “Well, it gets published, of course. I can retire from my job at the nectar factory and spend my days writing. In between book signing events and writing conventions, of course.” His gaze flickered from the window to the telephone. “And maybe the occasional speaking engagement. I’m sure I’ll be too busy for many of those, though.”

“Soohoo,” Sage hooted, “do you have a publisher then?”

“I let all the big publishers know I was about to finish.” Ernest glanced uneasily out the window once more. “They should be here any moment with advances and contracts.”

Sage sighed. “Ernest, my ambitious young friend, I think you and I need a little chat.”

Popular myth versus reality

The popular media has a lot to answer for. There’s a deeply-ingrained stereotype of writers, bolstered by numerous TV and movie portrayals, where rich and successful authors spend all their time doing anything but actual writing, where writer’s block is seen as a glamorous rite of passage. These shows skip the tedious bits between ‘The End’ and actual publication, the bits that in real life represent ninety percent of the effort, because they don’t make good viewing.

As a result, many writers start off, and a significant number continue, blissfully unaware that this thing we call ‘critiquing’ even exists. They may have a vague recollection of this mysterious thing called ‘editing’, that presumably happens in a back room somewhere once they’ve graciously deigned to sign up with one of the publishers tripping over each other to ply them with offers.

The reality is that writing sometimes feels like the labors of Hercules. Just when you think you’ve reached the finish line and you’re over the worst, new obstacles loom, each more intimidating than the last.

You slog through the swamps of the first draft. You write those magical words ‘The End’ and breathe a happy sigh, thinking you’ve finally mastered this writing lark.

Yes, ‘The End’ is a tremendous landmark, especially first time around, but then reality sets in and you realize you have to face the critiquing and editing jungle. You plough through it, or maybe are tempted to skirt around it, until your way is barred by the precipitous cliffs of publication. These cliffs you scale, through blood, sweat, and shredded fingernails, and finally launch yourself into the airless interplanetary void of promotion.

Out in those cold wastelands you realize it’s true. Nobody can hear you scream.

There are plenty of books and articles out there on the craft of writing, the mechanics of publication, and the arcana of promotion. Backing up to that critiquing and editing jungle, there’s endless advice on editing techniques. It’s even easy to find advice on critiquing, but mostly how to give critiques. Not so much on how to receive them and make them useful to you.

That’s where this booklet fits in.


  1. I think it's a great start. I like the opening part. It's engaging. The second half didn't come off preachy at all.

  2. I like it, and I also don't find it preachy. I do wish I could write "The End" to something and actually have it be the end instead of the beginning of endless self doubts and revisions.

  3. Thanks, Alex, that's good to hear.

    Stephen, so many people assume 'The End' means just that. Not helped by the media. It's taken me a long time to accept the vast amount of work that follows those two misleading words :)

  4. It's a cute opening....I think as a reader I would skip the beginning and launch into the second section. Of course, again, as a reader, I tend to skip through all sorts of verbose rambling and descriptions to get back to the meat of the story or the value of the instruction. I'm probably not typical. Not preachy at all.

  5. Delores, in this case I have no problem with someone skipping through to the meaty parts. It's meant to be used more as a reference anyway, and at least it means they're reading it. The opening is hopefully meant to entice others in - particularly new authors - by telling a story that might resonate.

  6. Hey, you use verbs. You're already ahead of me.

  7. LOL! (I'm laughing at Al's comment.) I think it's a great intro. And what a brilliant idea! You make me want to host a critique workshop at my local library...except who has time for that?

  8. But Al, you have a way with pictures that I'm deeply envious of :)

    Crystal, if it inspires at least the thought then I think that's a good start :D

  9. Hi Ian - well done on bringing some humour in ... I can see these ideas will really help people adjust to the news in the critiques they receive. The End ... is just The Beginning ... love Al's and Crystal's comments ... cheers Hilary

  10. Hilary, I felt it needed a little something to lift it up from
    *drone drone drone blah blah* :)


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