Saturday, June 18, 2011

Screamin' at the Screen

I have been lucky enough to be blessed with five amazing critique partners, but not all critique partners are such a good fit.

In my creative writing class we each have to post two short stories on the class webpage for the professor and the other nineteen people in class to critique. Critiquing everyone else's stories is a part of the grade, so you have to get every story regardless of personal preference. In theory this is great. It give us experience with lost of different styles and subjects, and then of course there's the overall experienced gained by doing 40 five to ten page critiques. However, sometimes the results of having everyone critique everything regardless of personal preference are disappointing.

I got one such critique from a classmate yesterday, and it was definitely an eye opener. Like I said I got lucky. We have at least a few things in common in terms of writing, and we know what each other trying to accomplish and are dedicated to helping them perfect their story. Apparently, not all matches are this good say for instance the ones that come from a creative writing class with twenty very different people in it.

Sometimes a situation like that results in critiques like the one I got yesterday. Their overall comments started out something like this "I'm not interested in reading more than 3 pages. Is the rest of the story really necessary? Could you just do another page on the soldier's view of the world instead?" Okay, good to know. Something about page three is apparently turning them off, or is it? It's kind of hard to tell since their comments in the margin are all along the lines of "terrific" and "love this" right up until midway through page 2 when someone gets kicked in the kidney's and the commenter decides that's where the story should end, tells me that, and stops reading.

Her parting comments left me staring at the screen with raised eyebrows half laughing with frustration. I can imply a lot from seeing her reaction to the story like I nailed the theme of "the inhumanity of war," but I need to throw out a few more bread crumbs on page two to keep the reader interested. However, her actual comments weren't very helpful at all. She loved it right up until she stopped reading, and I'm left waving my hands and shouting at the screen if you'd just waited for half a damn page you would have realized that nobody gives a damn if they make it home. Not even me!

But still I learned two very important things. 1) Not all critique partners are a good fit. 2) I can learn a lot even from a vague possibly negative but not quite critique.

- Aaron


Shallee said...

The right critique partners are hard to find, because reading and writing are so personal. I've been lucky to find some great ones, but I've had unhelpful ones like you too.

And way to go on JuNo, looks like you're still making progress, even when life gets busy.

Steve Finegan said...

Hey, thanks for following on Twitter. Thought I'd check out your blog. Love your font ... On the subject of critique groups, partners: I've never had much luck with them. No patience for vague generalities, huge egos, and endless digression. I use 10-20 beta readers and a paid editor. But my favorite editing technique is ... acting. If you perform your manuscript in front of a live mic, recording it in, say, Garageband, most of the problems with narration and dialogue will jump out at you. At the end of this process, you end up with a tighter narrative and a podcast. Really, it works. I recently finished recording my novel INTO THE MIST: SILVER HAND for podcast on my site (check it out) and made so many changes in the process that I had to send it back to my editor for another proofing pass. Best of luck to you!

The Blogger Girlz said...

Thanks for the tip. I've use Audacity to record several chapters, and I've got to agree that hearing it really helped me with editing.