Monday, March 22, 2010

Putting On Our Big Girl Panties

Richard North Patterson wrote, "Writing is rewriting." He couldn't be more right.

I've been thinking about critiquing lately, and having someone critique my work. It's nervous-making (Thanks, Scott Westerfeld, for permanently infecting my brain with Pretty-Speak.), but it's always worth the chewed nails.

The main problem with trying to critique your own work (a valuable skill that I'll talk about another time) is that you know what you were talking about. That makes it easy to excuse confusing phrases, or overlook glaring omissions. You know your characters, you know their tone of voice when they issue a line of dialogue, but just like when you receive an e-mail from someone you don't know very well, you can't be sure if they intend to be humorous or just plain mean.

Having fresh eyes on your work will tell you many things--what works, what doesn't, what got a laugh, or was interpreted as funny when that wasn't your intention (this happens to me a lot). A good critique partner will see all the typos your eyes have glossed over ten times, call you to the carpet when your characters are acting strangely, and give you the oh-so-necessary "Huh?" when you're not making any sense.

So what do you do with all this third-party input?

Well, you start by putting on your big girl panties.

You don't have to agree with every suggestion a critique partner makes (although I would argue that some rules of grammar are immutable and you should probably take heed of any suggestions in that arena) but you should learn from everything they say.

Here's just a few of the things that run through my head when I get notes from a CP:

1. I agree, thank God you pointed that out, or I might have sent that glaring error out into the big wide world.

2. Oh really? I totally didn't see it that way. I guess you're right.

3. Are you sure? I'm going to run this by a couple other people and look for a consensus.

4. You totally missed the point, but that means I did a crappy job communicating it. Better fix that.

5. Um, no. I would never use the phrase "heaving bosoms" in a novel and I'm just going to pretend you didn't suggest that.**

6. Yay! You got the joke! I was so worried about that one.

7. Really? That's funny? Huh. Didn't mean for that to get a laugh. Bonus!

8. Okay, okay, you're right, that part sucks. I was hoping I'd be wrong about that.

9. Oops! Now I feel like an idiot. I can't believe I mixed up it's and its.

10. Whew! That wasn't so bad. I can crawl out from under the bed and get out of my fetal position.

** Heaving bosoms is a pet peeve of mine, and here serves as placeholder for any off the wall suggestions from a CP. This business really is subjective.

Writers: Any other startling revelations come to you from a crit partner or beta reader?

- Liz


Shadow said...

One of the biggest problems is the characters. At times you might see them waiver. As a Beata, I want to see the same strengths and weakness throughout the story. When they go back and forth, I want to tear my hair out. Do a critical analysis of each character. Do they stay with the traits you portray them as having? Do they grow as an individual? Do they regress any?

MBee said...

Mine does a really good job at finding repetitive words. "You have used 'she' 10 times in the last two paragraphs. You might want to switch it up".

Other things do surprise me though. Especially the whole "you should really only use 'said' in dialog and even then only on occasion". I look through what I read and see that doesn't seem to be so true, but I've heard it on more than one occasion.

I have only had one issue with a "joke" that she didn't know was appropriate, but I kind of love it & it makes me giggle so it's staying in until more people tell me to take it out.

You're not always going to agree with other peoples' ideas on your work, but it helps to have an open mind and be flexible to change things for the good of the story.

Liz Czukas said...

Shadow: Great point. There's nothing worse than an inconsistent character. Drives me crazy as a reader.

MBee: I'm torn on the "said" issue myself. I try to go without dialogue tags as much as possible, but sometimes people really do "shout" and "scream" things.

- Liz

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Liz

And I couldn't agree more about shying away from references to "heaving bosoms." ; )

jp said...

i think the most important thing about your critical reader is that you trust them and not only their taste, but their honesty in spite of their taste. like sam fuller said, when asked what makes a good story, the answer is, 'a good story.'

you also have to be ready to receive criticism and/or disagreement - but your reader has to be ready for yo to disagree with them. your story really can go anywhere you want it to as long as you support it. it might not be that good, but you can still send it on its way, so to say, provided you packed it a nutritious lunch.

Kristan said...

You read my mind. That's totally what I think during feedback too, haha.

Also, EW NO to the Pretty-Speak. It's my least fave part of the books. (There's just too much of it for me.) >P

Tiger Princess said...

I like to have a little variety. So I workshop my work in a Private Office at Zoetrope as well as having a couple of knowledgeable friends read over it.

Liz Czukas said...

You guys are great. I'm so glad to know such a mature group of writers who are really getting the work of writing done. Here's to publication for one and all!

- Liz

P.S. Kristan: I didn't say I was *happy* about my Pretty-Speak infection.

eleven said...

Is the counterpart to heaving bosoms a bulging member? LOL. They are a matched pair in my personal pet peeve library.

My most common reaction, especially for freshly written babies:

Hmmmmmmm... (really long hum). You might be right. I'm still too attached to see it objectively. I'll come back later and reassess when the emotional apron strings have been cut.

I think there needs to be a balance between my weird writerly self and what my fans (I know it's a leap of faith pluralizing that word) want. Often it comes down to a vote involving second and third opinions, but sometimes an author is wise in conceding. Sometimes.

Melissa said...

The "heaving bosoms" part made me laugh, as well as eleven's comment about the "bulging member"! Thanks!

I have a critique group of about 10 or so active readers. Some of them offer only the basic "I like this/don't like this" comments while others really deconstruct what I write. And I *love* that they are reading with such care they pick up on the slightest mistake and variation in plot/character. I consider everything they say.

Most recently, two of my readers commented on how a certain scene of mine was very sexual in nature, although I had NO intentions of it coming off that way. And the thing is . . . I like that idea and plan to cultivate it further.