Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Critique


In my WIP my MC took some M&M's from her friend. The line should've read something like: "I happily popped the candy..."

I'd read at least a dozen times, never realizing that what it actually said was:

"I happily pooped the candy."

All I can say--is thank goodness I caught it, because my critique group would've had a field day with that!

On some of my loops there have been discussions about critique groups-do you need one--and if so what kind and how do you get it? What do you expect from them, how do you politely critique someone else's work, how do you handle the criticism... ?

First off--Do you need one--and if so what kind?

Apparently not everyone feels they need a critique group, and that's fine, but I do think a fresh set of eyes never hurt anyone. So for the purpose of this blog, my advice is--if you are asking if you need one, then the answer is probably yes. The people I know who don't use critique groups are already established, have a clear and confident voice, and quite frankly write way too fast for a group to be useful. They have short-fuse deadlines. So if that's you--what are you doing reading this blog--get back to work!

Okay--still here? So what kind of critique group do you need/want?

Well a lot of people do well with one-on-one critiques. This is a great plan if you and your CP are both in the same boat--you both have agents and are on subs, you both have a debut novel coming out, etc... Or if you're very lucky--your CP is a mentor--someone older/wiser/a NYT bestseller. Personally I think even if you have a critique group, you should also have one or more one-on-one people. These are invaluable and usually will be able to give you faster reads and such because you're going to do the same for them. This is your crunch-time person, your go-to-guy or gal--so this person has to be someone you trust and respect. Where do you get one? Well, time and patience and lots of emails. These are genuine friendships and therefore take more than a "hey, I've seen you on my loop--will you take a look at my wip?" They are developed.

The next level is the online group--personally I think these should be small--like 6 people or less. And the make up of the group can be more mixed--agented, pubbed, unpubbed but serious (JMO but anyone who is not serious about getting published shouldn't be in a critique group unless it is with other non-serious people--the reason being it takes time and effort to crit for people and quite frankly most of us have enough to read without adding material that someone is messing with for fun or hobby). This type of critique group serves as not only a great resource for line edits, big picture edits, & plot brainstorming, but also serves as a focus group--does more than one person think the same way? Maybe you should take the advice a little more seriously. Etc.. This is also an amazing source of support both personally and professionally.

How do you get one? Join YA writing groups (online or local)--post that you are looking, get to know people at conferences and express interest. There will be some trial and error as far as fit goes, so be prepared that it may not be a sisterhood-of-the-travelling-pants kind of thing.

Another similar group would be an in-person critique group. I've never had one of these, but would imagine it is very much the same as the online version--but with more coffee and probably more drama.

Speaking of drama...how do you politely critique someone else's work, how do you handle the criticism?

I think stating upfront exactly what you are expecting from a crit group will help with figuring out how you will be critting the work. Do you just want proofreading or do you want more?

Some people are extremely sensitive--and if you have someone like that in your group or if you are someone who is--maybe you aren't going to get the full benefit of the crit group. You will just end up sugar-coating everything and potentially sending a lamb out to the lions.

IMO-if in your crit group--the only comments are: LOL, This is great--love this! Hee hee--then maybe you don't have a crit group at all--maybe what you really have is a mutual admiration society. Which is fine--we all need those too. Personally, I have my mother for that.

Another pitfall is the ego-ridden critter--Are they re-writing everything? Word-smithing you? Preaching to the choir on the basics or otherwise sounding condescending? Not taking what they dish out?

On the other side of the coin--just because you get some harsh crits, don't immediately cry fowl. Unless the person is truly over-the-top or mean, expect that what you're getting is simple un-sweetened honesty. Sweetening and soft-selling criticism takes extra time--time we don't all have, so just because you don't get the soft-sell, don't assume the intent is to be harsh.

Also--just because it is soft-balled doesn't mean it doesn't need to be seriously considered. Everything that someone comments on needs to be critically evaluated by you the author and only then can you say--eh--they don't know what they're talking about.

When I crit something for someone I'm going to point out everything that snags my attention--not because I think I'm so much more brilliant of a writer--but because--IT SNAGGED MY ATTENTION. When I crit, I'm not a writer, I'm a reader--I have no writing ego. I'm never trying to re-write someone else's work or change their voice. Yes, I may have a few writer's rules stuck in my head, but for the most part it is all about the read. And when I read a crit, I assume the comments are inspired by the same--so I don't take offense. I take it all very seriously--I expect that my CP's will not let me send dreck to my agent, just like my agent wouldn't let me send dreck to my editor.

And for all of those tender, thinned skinned writers out there--your harsh CP's have nothing on your agent or editor. Nothing.

Speaking of harsh crits--one thing I noticed that my agent does (and I'm not even sure if she is aware that she does this) is that she always praises the author and criticizes the work.

For instance:

"Your strengths are XYZ"

"The manuscript's weaknesses are XYZ"

I can't say I'm as good about following the rule, but I do think it is a great way to go.

Also be sure to check out my agent's blog: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/ on synopsis writing--some great tips!

1 comment:

TruBlu93 said...

"I happily pooped the candy"
haha. That would have definitely been a kodak moment.