Friday, January 30, 2009

Finishing Up Critique Week

Tip of the Day: Some people think message boards are a waste of time. I've met some great people through them and it's how I've found critique partners at various times. Get to know people who write work similar to yours and you may find someone you can exchange work with!

I have a lot of experience critiquing. I’ve been in and out of formal groups for the past seven years plus I did some critiques at the Oregon SCBWI conference last year. I’m not in a formal group now as I just don’t have the time. Instead I have a few trusted writing friends I can go to when I need some feedback, and they know they can come to me as well.

I think as a critiquer, my job is really to just get the writer thinking, as well as to give some concrete ways to improve the manuscript if suggestions come to me. I think it can be a fine line because sometimes we might tell a story a different way, or even tell a different story, but DIFFERENT doesn’t necessarily mean BETTER.

When a story clearly isn’t working for me, I mostly try to ask questions to get the writer thinking. Things like - “Is there a way to make this more believable?” or “Do you think she would really say this?” If an idea comes to me on how to change something, I’ll suggest it, because I like it when critiquers do that for me. Suggestions get the writer thinking, even if she doesn’t use that exact one, it can lead to something else, which I think is helpful.

Anyway, here is a short summary of how I approach a critique:

First – I read through and make comments about what I’m reading as I go along. These might be language suggestions, question marks if something isn’t clear, spelling/grammatical issues, and notes about things I love or places where I laugh. I think it’s just as important to point out the brilliant places as it is to point out the places that need some work. It can be disheartening getting a critique back that doesn’t have anything positive in it.

Next – If a certain chapter or scene leaves me with some thoughts or questions, I’ll make some longer comments at the end of it.

Last – When I’m done reading, I do an overall summary of what I thought, what I think needs the most work, and why. And of course I make sure to tell her what I loved too.

I’m big on caring about the main character, believability, pacing, and realistic dialogue. I’m perhaps not as strong on plot (ironing out troubled spots ) and how much detail is enough. I also lean toward being more of a cheerleader than a critical eye. I think maybe I’m simply a more forgiving reader, and some things don’t bother me the way they bother other people. This doesn't mean I don't try to find the troubled spots and point them out, because I do. But when something is already good, it's often hard for me to figure out how to make it great. I guess that means I probably wouldn't be a very good editor.

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career


DeenaML said...

I'm not so good at coming up with immediate "improvement" suggestions either -- until I'm with my CPs and we start brainstorming. Those sessions go great and leave me energized when they are about my work or someone else's. It's like, "Oh yeah! There are so many options on how to fix this problem!"

Kate Fall said...

I'm so glad to hear y'all say you like critiques with brainstorming ideas on them! I write down ideas when I critique other people, but I'm often afraid the person I'm critiquing will read them and think "Give my MC a frying pan? She's insane, why did she write this half-baked idea on my manuscript?" :)

After all, I don't know what's going to happen next so I don't know why a frying pan (or whatever) won't work. But maybe in all my half-baked suggestions there's a nugget of something helpful somewhere. I'm just glad to hear people like to get ideas!

Emily Marshall said...

Lisa this is a great overview on critiquing. I think we do ours really similar.

And I agree that offering ideas is the most helpful. Because it could spark something with the author that's a much better idea than I could have come up with.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read how others accomplish a like goal. I find multiple reads the best for me--with a long wait in between. I come back to it so much fresher.