Friday, November 07, 2003

On critiquing

Yes, another writing entry.

Critiques are an invaluable resource for a writer. Often we're so close to our own story that we don't even see the words that are actually on the page anymore because we're so caught up in the images we see in our heads. (you say nutcase, I say writer...)

But, we need to remember that not all critiques are created equal and not all critiquers (hereafter referred to as critters) are going to have comments that are useful for you or constructive for your story. This is what we have to remember as writers. That we ARE the writers and that we're writing a story that only we can write. We are not bound to change something in a story we love because another person thinks it might be better their way. (Unless that person is your editor and they want to pay you for the book, in which case, negotiation is the way to go.)

All of us have preferences. Some people like everything spelled out for them -- they like to see all the workings behind stage, see all the world-building elements flash through because it makes the story richer and more involved for them. They don't want teases and flirts with the world, they want to KNOW. Other people could care less about things like the monetary system or the art history of your made up people/country because all they want is the story -- what happens, who it happens to, why it's happening in the first place, and most of all, how the hell the characters are going to survive the next twist. For these readers you can drop tidbits along the way, fleshing out the world as you go and that's A-okay.

Either way, someone's going to have an issue with your style.

So what can we get from these crits if half the comments are going to lead us down the winding path to misery? How do you know which comments to listen to and which to dismiss. And I mean dismiss as not helpful to the story you are trying to tell, not dismiss as meaningless. If you made all the changes a critter suggested, THAT reader would be ecstatically happy with your revisions, but you might not be. And guess who has to finish the damn book? Here's a hint-- not the critter.

What this means is that you have to have a strong sense of what you want from your story. You need to know what your central themes are. You need to know what your character motivations are. You need to know everything you can about your story. AND you have to have the confidence to stay true to that vision.

Some of the comments you get, you won't like. For instance, maybe you love a certain scene and can't bring yourself to cut it, but after reading five crits about how it throws off the pace and flow... well, you could keep it, but maybe you'll realize that the critters are right and it does need to go. ("But I love it." "But it doesn't work." "But I love it." "But you know it has to go."... so goes the mental conversation)

Some comments will be pompous and frankly so far off of your vision that you will just have to sit back and stare, jaw on the desktop, because the critter seems to have been reading a different story than the one you thought you posted...

And maybe I'm weird (Hah! MAYBE?) but the whole long disclaimer about how the critter doesn't really know anything, they're so uneducated, but they'll do their best to make you a better writer and possibly that much more fit for publication... PISS ME OFF. Now I don't have a problem with "hey, this is my opinion, take it or leave it" but I don't need the self-effacing BS seasoned with the implication that you actually do know what you're talking about but would never be so rude as to say that outright.

As a counter to this trend, I think I will add "this is the word of the Lord, as channeled through my glorious self" before every crit I do... At least it would keep ME entertained. The hell with y'all.

edit: It occurs to me that it might not be obvious that I meant the last paragraph entirely tongue in cheek... just wanted to clarify.

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