Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Critique Group (And Critique) Love

Last night was another example of why I love my critique group. And it wasn't just that we all were a little slap-happy, running off on tangents and giggling about Vampire Eric.

We critiqued two great submissions last night. The submissions are always great, which is another reason I love this group. I always look forward to doing the critiques, because I know I'm going to enjoy what I'm reading. Ali gave us another installment of her (literally) kick-ass book with the smart-ass voice. Way too much fun, and having to wait until September for the next installment is heartbreaking. Jenny's first installment of the novel she thought would be her under-the-bed book sets up what promises to be a creepily fun ride through a fictional Colorado county.

And as great as the submissions were, we all had a few problems with each of them. No surprise. Even in published works by my favorite authors I can find things that I think would work better a different way. Or I find typos that weren't caught by any of the edits. Something.

Here's the difference between this group and others I've been part of: these two excellent writers accepted the feedback and asked for more. There may have been explanations of "This is what I trying to say," but those were quickly followed by "Obviously, I need to clarify." At one point, Jenny pleaded, "Just tell me what to do!" This doesn't mean that they'll be writing something different from what they set out to write. It means that the changes will help them tell the story they wanted to in a way that readers will get it.

One of my earliest critiques of a short story went fairly well. But the climactic scene was of a man with terminal cancer being told by his family that it was okay for him to let go and die. Just about everyone in the room commented on whether they agreed with euthanasia or not. One person even called it the euthanasia story (I had submitted two that night). When it came around to a friend of mine, he defended it, saying that HE understood what was going on and that I shouldn't change a thing. Of course, I left that night secure in the fact that if this person got it and if I respected this person's opinion (which I do) and thought he was a good writer and editor (which I do) then I didn't need to change anything in my story. But by the time I got home, I realized that I wasn't writing the story for just him or people like him. That if only one person in twenty understood what I was going for, then I failed and failed miserably. I needed to rewrite the story so that it was clearer.

You may not agree with all of the critiques you get. You may get contradictory feedback--even in CWC we don't always agree and that's a good thing. You may think the negative feedback is dead wrong. But don't discount it completely. Think about WHY you are getting the feedback you are. "He just didn't get it." Okay. So why didn't he? Were you unclear? Were your facts wrong? Have you set up a character in such a way that she would never ever do what you've just had her do? That can work, but you have to show the reader a really great reason for her to act against her character. Have you not done enough world building? Sci-fi and Fantasy are not the only genres that require you build the set for your characters to act on. Are those characters realistic whether they are aliens or zombies or lawyers?

None of us write perfect first drafts. Well, some of my colleagues come close and I hate them a little for that. Shhh. Don't tell them. Even they have to revise, though. Everyone revises. At least, the really good ones do. Edittorrent addresses this on her blog as well. [Hyperlink supplied to further impress Oliver]

Embrace the critique! Embrace the revision! I'm learning to. It's not always easy. But you'll be glad you did.

No comments: