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How delicate is your story?

Brooding about the whole critiquing phenomenon here.

Like most of us who write romance (don’t think it’s quite as widespread in other genre and non-genre writing), I have critiquers — CPs, in the vernacular.  They come in two varieties.  One is my weekly/biweekly critique group, of diverse genders and areas of interest.  Having a couple of men critique what I’m writing is definitely useful.  So is getting a non-romance writer take on the material.  We read chapters aloud to each other, and then everybody in the circle offers their comments.  This has taken a bit of adjustment on my part, since I’m not very good at taking in information by hearing it.  I like to see it in front of me.  But I must say the good part about it is that you can immediately tell when your writing sags — you can feel the loss of attention, and people start scribbling notes.

My other CP collection is the Lethaladies loop, from the KOD chapter.  I’ve been there as moderator for the last five years, I think.  (Now Veronica Alderson has taken over the main load, and I’m moderator emeritus, to fill in when she needs help.)  Only in the last couple of years have I been able to submit and critique, and although this is a bit of a jolt for many of the Lethaladies, I go ahead and submit my straight contemporaries, although obviously the loop (just look at the name!) is primarily concerned with romantic suspense or just plain suspense.  Occasionally I have someone ask wistfully when does the murder come along!  Right now, this is a big and active group — probably 20 or more of us, although typically you get only 5 or 6 critiques for each chapter.  Obviously some people are better at critiquing than others, and some are naturally on my wave length, when others are not.  Which, I think, is probably a fair cross section of readers in general.  Although one disadvantage of writers critiquing each other is that many of us have our own special hobby horses to ride: staying in one POV per scene is compulsory, you must have rising tension in every chapter, you have to have a hook at the end of every chapter — not saying that any of these are not valid, just that some of us grasp one or another writing “truth” to our bosoms and everything gets evaluated in terms of that “truth.”

But what interests me most is my reaction to critiques.  I find, somewhat to my dismay, that if I submit something that is very much still in the composition stage, a critique may strike me right to the heart and sometimes take the shiny excitement of writing right away from me.  Instead of seeing what’s still ahead with anticipation, all I can see are the flaws.  So far it’s never persuaded me not to continue writing, but it has brought me to wondering unhappily what the point is if it’s wrong already. (Note I’m not talking about unkind critiques here — just perfectly good crits that for one reason or another zing past all my defenses.)

And yet wouldn’t you think the critiquing would be the most use when you’re busy writing the manuscript, when the whole book is still malleable in your hands?  I don’t know, which is why I’m pondering the whole subject here, out loud.  How does it work for you?  Do you find crits more useful during the process of writing, or after writing but before revision?  Or when?


12 Responses

  1. I think mine is moderately delicate. I need criticism; I just sometimes don’t want to hear it.

    I have good critique partners, but even with the stuff I need to hear, I want my ego stroked a bit. A little smiley face here, a “good job” there. I can take most any critique as long as I feel there is some value for the reader, even a cp.

    And then there is what to keep and what to toss. Usually I have a gut instinct about what I need to toss or fix, but sometimes, I like it as it is. Authors have choice and their creation is THEIR creation, so it’s okay to keep something the way it is.

  2. Oh yes, Liz, I agree with you. I can take a lot more criticism if there’s some positive comment interlaced. A good thing to remember when I’m on the crit-giving end. I think with my peculiar little critique group, because we’ve come to know each other so well, it’s easy to slide over the strengths (which we take for granted) and concentrate on the weaknesses.

    And then of course the question of which crits change what I’ve written and which don’t — I guess if it makes sense, it’ll probably go in. I think some of almost every critique is “this is the way I would have done it if I’d written it.” Those I smile sweetly at (in person) or thank via email (on the loop) and ignore.

  3. It really depends on what I’m looking for in a crit. if I think my characters or plot are off then I find chapter by chapter super useful. If I’m going along fine, then I’ll wait until I’m done to grab a beta.

    As for the criticism itself, I take what I agree with and leave the rest.

  4. Ah, Keri, the strong minded!

    You’ve given what I would agree with theoretically 100%. The problem is that I get excited about something and want to share — I guess what I have to learn is to step back and decide whether I honestly want to know what somebody else thinks or if I want someone to tell me how wonderful it is.

    If I want them to say it’s wonderful, I think I’m better off keeping it to myself, because it’s that sense that it IS wonderful that keeps me going — at least until I honestly need help. But there’s no doubt that it’s easier to take a fresh look at something early in the process, so probably what I really need to do is stiffen my spine and work without the illusion of wonderfulness!

  5. I’ve figured out if I don’t really need a suggestion to keep moving forward, I’ll stop progress while I wait on that opinion. So good rule of thumb: if I can’t keep writing forward, i probably need help!

  6. Good theory, Keri. I hadn’t thought of it that way — but it’s true. It’s when you’ve slowed to a stop that you are most likely to need an outside boost. And there’s no doubt about it for me — there have certainly been times when it’s been somebody else’s fresh take that aims me in a direction I might not have thought about before.

  7. I feel like I’m crashing the party here… 🙂

    My Little Sis and I were just having a conversation to this effect. It was about two very different writing personalities. Her hubby is a novelist and journalist. His style is to ponder over the words and make them to his liking and as polished as possible before letting anyone read it. Therefore, he expects it to be close to done when handing it over to a reader and expects little technical fixes.

    My style is to expect that the work can’t get good until it’s been vetted past readers — so I expect to cut quite deep into the writing after being critiqued. I expect structural fixes and don’t really look for technical issues or line edits from readers.

    My Little Sis happens to be a critiquer who goes quite deep, even if the work is polished, as she wants to find how it can be better. As a result, she and hubby deal with a lot of ruffled feathers while she’s one of my most trusted partners.

    I guess it comes down to writer, know thyself!

  8. I’m with Beppie. I find that chapter by chapter critique can really kill my momentum. Plus, I am a very seat of the pants writer. My first draft IS my outline, and by the time I finish there will be major changes necessary to the opening chapters to bring them up to speed with what I’ve learned about the story and characters since I started.

    I’ve done more chapter by chapter with my current book than any other, but only because I’m looking for very specific feedback that will affect how the rest of the story plays out. For example, I asked a person with PTSD to look at the opening because I want to be sure that my character’s reactions ring true in a scene that is a placesetter for future occurrences. If that scene was wrong, it could derail a major portion of the following story. Otherwise, I feel I’m wasting my beta reader’s time to have them read something that I already know will probably undergo massive changes.

  9. I too find critiques most helpful after the story is finished. I’m way too eager to please everyone and get stopped cold if I try it chapter by chapter. I’m still learning to trust my own instincts. 🙂

  10. I’m new to critiquing. I’ve found it most helpful in a final prep for submission. HOwever, I’m starting to find it distracting as I’m spending too much time at it. I’m sure I’ll setttle in and find my rhythm. Like Kari Lynn, I’m a pantser and for me, by the time I reach the end, something in the beginning often needs to be changed. The most interesting thing about the group dynamic of critiquing, is that you pretty quickly learn that not all critiquers are the same! so when one person is bothered by something that five others didn’t have a problem with, it gives me perspective. And like any group of strangers, we being to gravitate to those of like minds.

  11. I take my hat off to what Jeannie said — know thyself. So true! Yes, Kari Lynn and Kathy, I’m a pantser, too — more purely one on my current WIP than I usually am, where I start out with a loose brief outline that gets changed about every 4-5 chapters. This has been a weird spring for me and one of the symptoms/aggravations has been that I keep losing my current outline — forget which notebook it’s in and go on for a chapter or so without, then re-outline and eventually find the lost one. But hearing the reactions to the initial chapters when the final chapters aren’t written has rocked me more than critiques usually do. I think what I really have is what Kari Lynn described as a first draft that is an outline, and before I pay attention to what other people think about it, I need to get some second thoughts into it.

    Boy, do I appreciate getting a glimpse into all of your heads!

  12. And Melissa? You are speaking to my heart. I think I have exactly the same reaction. I’m learning to trust mine, too.

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