Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Species of Critter

This week I'm to tackle the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question from Laura, who asked:

"How do you approach critiquing someone’s manuscript? And once it’s out there, do you ever regret sending off a critique...?"

Laura probably hit most of the important points I consider (click here to read her post), but I confess, I'm far less organized!

I wanted to mention two things I've learned about giving critiques:

1) Find out what the writer is expecting. Line edits? Overall flow? Pacing? Everything? Just praise and nothing but?
When expectations and critique content don't match up, it can be hairy.

2) I am painfully strict about logic. Did you ever see the Youtube video of how the Lord of the Rings should have ended? With Frodo having the Eagles very politely fly him over Mount Doom so he can drop in the Ring of Power, easy-as-pie?

Yeah. So, if you have a loose ends in your story, I will find them like a screwy-logic seeking missile. I am also good at spazzing out over deus ex machinas. They drive me a little batty, too.

As for Laura's last question, do I ever regret sending off my crits?

Yes.

Every single one. I second guess every opinion I give out. My biggest fear it that it will make someone stop writing. I hate hurting people, and all crits are painful. But if that's what the writer asked for, that's what I'll give, and we'll just both have to suffer for the sake of making us both better writers! So yeah, I regret them, but usually not in the long term.

Keep an eye out for next week's post by Sarah Fine then Deb Salibury's post the last week in Feb!

53 comments:

Liza said...

You sound like a kind and objective critic.

Sarah said...

I often worry about the writer as well and usually email to check in if I haven't heard back. I also go back over my crits after I've sent them and sometimes follow-up. Great post, Lydia!

Porky said...

The two things learned and the penultimate paragraph are essential reading.

Laura Pauling said...

I always ask what draft number it is. Someone who feels like they have really polished their work probably won't change too much of their story. If it's a first draft, I'll comment more on plot, character, tension. And I'll ask what they are looking for.

Angela Felsted said...

I love this post! Insight into the emotional struggle of a writer critiquing another writer. And you're right about Lord of the Rings and Frodo. Why hadn't I picked up on that?

DL Hammons said...

A Screwy-Logic Seeking Missle! I like that description and its also the thing I do best when giving critiques. I guess its because I write mysteries and faulty logic can be the death-knoll for a story there. :)

Colene Murphy said...

You sound like the prefect critiquer. Kind, sincere, but thoughtful and intelligent!

Meredith said...

I always second guess my critiques, too, but this advice is super helpful!

Ciara said...

I always worry after sending a critique. I never want to squash anyone's dreams. Yet, I want to help. I wouldn't want someone giving me a useless crit with lots of smileys unless it was that good. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I sometimes worry about critiques I send, too. But I always tell people that I'm going to comment on everything I see that takes me away from the story. Then I let the writer decide how much of it they want to address. On some things, I try to tell them why something doesn't work. I love that you spot logic problems. One of my CP's does, too, and for me it's essential because I often make illogical leaps.

Matthew Rush said...

"Just praise and nothing but?" LOL. That's not a critique, that's smoke being blown up someone's ...

I've seen that youtube video about the Eagles and I hate it. I hate it because I love LOTR, Middle Earth and all things Tolkien, and I can't stand having to admit the logic hole is there. I mean there are surely several explanations as to why Mithrandir couldn't call on the Eagles on a whim, but they're never laid out, never even touched upon.

But I don't care. I will go to my grave pretending I never saw that video.

Tracy said...

I think everyone needs a screwy-logic seeking missle! I really do. Especially, because sometimes in our own editing process we take out something without recalling how that little bit affects the rest of the story.

Oh yeah, a fellow crusader I already know! I don't have to try so hard to get to know you. :D

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

Lol, the Eagle-to-the-volcano plot would have meant less singing and no Tom Bombadil too! I've had a few occasions where someone wants a critique/review of something and when I tell them it turns out they were actually just looking for blind praise. I feel kind of bad, but then they shouldn't have asked for honesty.
On a similar note, I regret every critical review I write on my blog. It's happened that I've given a book a bad review and the author has contacted me asking to meet up for a discussion of why their novel is bad (which then gave me images of said author kidnapping me and torturing me into giving my blogger password so they could alter the review, but you know). I'm glad that I take crits rather well, even when it's “start again from scratch” which happened to me a few weeks back.

Paul S said...

I would be no good at giving critiques because I've been a Tolkien fan since childhood and I'd never even noticed that huge plot hole.
I think I'll take Matthews advice and avoid that youtube video :)

Jess said...

Thanks for this--I'm struggling with critiquing too. I feel like I need to justify every sentence of my comments with, "but I'm no expert, this is just my opinion and it's probably wrong, so just don't worry about it."

I've got to get over that :)

Janet Johnson said...

Great question! I am with you. I always wonder if I shouldn't have said some of what I did. But I try to spice my critiques with good things I saw so it's a little more digestible. Critiques are hard! But I'm glad when people tell me the truth so I can improve. So I try to do the same.

Bossy Betty said...

I feel the need to be honest, but I try to coat the bitter with a little sugar too.

Laurel Garver said...

#1 is so true, and sometimes I'll send a follow up with expectation questions to a CP before I dive in. I have a nasty habit of wanting to copy edit everything, and no one needs that on early drafts.

LOL on the screwy logic. Snow White drives me crazy because of this. I can't believe the evil stepmother would take ugly potion so she could win the fairest game. Makes no sense at all. Why not just force feed Snowy some ugly potion and let it rest there?

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Your kind heart shows in this post. But how can we grow if friends do not point out our mistakes? Have a great Wednesday, Roland

sarahmullengilbert said...

Definitely find out what the writer is expecting and focus your reading accordingly. It's helpful to know if you're reading for big picture or if you need to pay attention to grammer and spelling.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I too regret most of the critiques I have done. But I keep the larger image in mind, that I need to help the writer with her weak spots and see the blemishes in her manuscript.

Melissa said...

I recently just started working with critiquer's and I worry about everything I send them. Especially because so far I've actually really enjoyed everything they've sent me. I just want it to be the best it can be. I'm afraid to hurt anyone but not so afraid I won't be honest!

Charli Mac said...

I found my CP in a Yahoo group. We are seriously writing soul mates. We really make our work shine. We are brutally honest and laugh all the time.

We recently met at a RWA conference. Had the best time.

However, when we first exchanged critiques it was awkward. I could tell she was holding back and she was stunned I did not.

It's a dance and when you find the right partner, it's one hell of a routine.

JEM said...

Nice post. I'm beginning to suspect that no one could ever be as severe a critiquer of my work than my own self, so I don't fear critiques like I used to. In fact, I revel in someone giving me something to do!

Heather said...

Great advice! #1 is so important. But it's just as important for the writer to understand exactly what they're looking for as it is the critiquer. I had a bad experience where a writer said they were looking for an honest, no holds bared critique and it turned out they weren't.

Talli Roland said...

You sound like a great CP, Lydia! Crits are so hard. I think you need to find someone who 'gets' your kind of writing, and the way you respond to it. I have a wonderful CP and we get each other's humour, so we don't need to pussy-foot around things. She tells me like it is and vice versa. I don't need no sugar coatin'! :)

Ann said...

It seems to me building a relationship of trust is the first important step for critique partners. If you trust the critiques are in the best interest of the writing. You sound like a wonderful Critiquer. I am useless! I like a story or I don't. If I wander I don't, if I stay with it I do. I would rather have a critique partner like you, than one like me!!! Oh and Go Packers!

Nas Dean said...

Hi Lydia,

Thanks for the great post. It's something to think about. What is expected while I'm going through a CP's work...and what do I expect her to do for me.

Carol Riggs said...

Like you, I fuss about how writers will take a critique, especially if it's the first time I've critiqued for them. Knowing what they want beforehand is SO crucial. However, there are the people who think they are tough and can handle a shredding, and really mostly what they want is validation or support or praise. Ouch!

Holly Ruggiero said...

It’s interesting that giving crits are as difficult as receiving them.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I always try to remember how it feels to be on the receiving end of a critique. I'm not going to ignore flaws, but I'm not going to tell you are a bunch of junk and your writing sucks too. There's a fine balance between constructive and destructive. It sounds like you've got a pretty good grip on it.

Jen Chandler said...

Hi Lydia!

Sorry it's been so long since last I stopped by.

Crits are hard. You know the people want to get feedback but at the same time, how do you politely tell them the story needs a LOT of work without hurting them too badly?

It guess that's where really knowing the people you're critiquing. I know that's not always possible, but it helps.

raisingmarshmallows said...

Critiques are painful to give and painful to receive. If you want your writing to improve though, you have to suck it up and remember it's only one oppinion.

Nikki

Cheeseboy said...

Oh, the life of an editor. Definitely not for me. Wondering how many writers want just praise and nothing else.

Catherine Ensley said...

Hello fellow crusader, you have an interesting blog in that you can combine medical knowledge + writing = unique insights. Cool!

M Pax said...

Critique can be tough.

But it's a tough profession.

I try to assess what it is the writer is really asking of me.

The Words Crafter said...

I learned a new word: infodump. Cool!

You sound very conscientious about critiques. I'm sure anyone would appreciate anything you said because they'd know it came from the most sincere place possible.

I actually prefer someone to be straight up honest, but kind about it. You know?

The Red Angel said...

This is a great post, Lydia. I can be pretty harsh and objective when it comes to editing...and I almost never second-guess my crits. Sometimes, though, I do wonder if I am a little too intense when it comes to the "slash-and-burn" of the red pen...

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Jayne said...

That's it. Tell it like it is! I'd be happy working with you. ;)

Melissa Gill said...

It drives me crazy when I find illogical plots too, and you do see them in some of the most popular books.

I agree, it's important to know what the person your critiquing is expecting. I made the mistake of agreeing to citique someone's work via e-mail one time. It was a disaster.

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Lovely post. I actually just posted a couple of days ago about how fortunate I feel to have had the chance to critique sometimes. . . seeing awesome manuscripts before the rest of the world is wonderful. But I do get nervous when I send my feedback, not because it's harsh or snarky becasue I believe entirely in only constructive, positive criticism, but because I know how nervous I get when I get feedback. New follower, glad I found your blog:)

Susan Fields said...

I never thought of that about the eagles flying Frodo over Mount Doom, but yeah, makes perfect sense. You sound like an awesome critiquer, though I'd be nervous to see what loose ends you'd come up with if you read my story!

lbdiamond said...

Nice post! I like your points--very apropos.

I, too, worry about how a writer will take my comments...I'm scared they'll stop writing too. On the other hand, that's their choice, whether or not to pony up, reject my thoughts, or work on improving their writing. Each choice is equally valid and depends on where the person is at with their craft.

Kelly said...

Good critiques are vital to helping someone's story, so I try my best. But I also tell the writer what I love about the story as well.
I actually love when someone is blunt with suggestions about my work. I know they care enough to want to help me! But everyone wants to hear a few good things in the mix too.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Oh, I hear you on that one. It's always hard when you give an honest critique. I really like the comments here, too, especially the one about asking which draft it is. As a writer, I truly appreciate an honest, and insightful critique. I want to know what doesn't work. However, tough love works best if there's also praise. Don't forget to add positive comments about what does work. Great blog! I'm going to use this advice!

Chris Phillips said...

My creative writing teacher says there isn't good or bad writing, just effective and ineffective, so I try to tone my crit that way. I just know that 90% of agents will be less nice than me so I let er' rip.

Olga said...

I think that critique - in any profession, but especially in a creative one - is a very delicate matter. However, it is also essential for growth.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi,

Very insightful post!

I used to belong to a writers & readers group, and despite two published authors and a retired editor (aboard our happy little literary tug-boat) the best critiques came from the readers: and that straight from the ex-editors mouth!

Writers, no matter how hard they try to critique without bias, they can't help but let their own "voice" enter play and in so doing compel them to change a ms to suit there own style of writing.

The readers at all times critiqued as readers, their input succinct, constructive and above all more thorough in aspects of reader-friendly factor, grammar etc., plot structure, dialogue and overall flow. Most often their critiques resembled the editor's. Whereas the writers were too bogged down by rules and believed regulations relating to the editing process. ;) See, that's why I'm not too keen on doing critiques: I fear Karma.

Book reviews: another thing entirely, for a "good" book reviewer won't ever slam a novel for being crappy even when it is! Only a sh*te reviewer will do that. Seriously, a "good" reviewer will adopt real-estate agent language: vague references to glorious aspect ect. :o

best
F

Phoenix said...

LOL about the alternate LOTR ending. Yikes... that DOES make sense. Hrmmmm, maybe the eagles were busy?

If I copy-edit, I'm fine. But any other type of editing or critiquing and I'm so worried that I offended someone or hurt their feelings! So I just try to stay away in general from giving notes (other than super supportive, cheerleader type notes.)

As for your beef with Deus Ex Machina... heh. I'm guessing you don't like the Harry Potter series very much, then, eh? It's all Deus Ex Machina :)

Lynda Young said...

critiquing can be difficult in more ways than one. But it can also be rewarding. :)

Walt Mussell said...

When I critique, I ask what the person is looking for. However, I also add my two cents in a stream-of-consciousness way. I think is beneficial for me to tell a writer what their scene makes me think of.

Granted, this may be why my CP and I get along so well.

Tony Benson said...

Interesting! I just joined a crit group and it's early days for me in giving a crit. I'm soaking up any advice I can get on the subject. I'm glad you reminded me to make sure I know what they're expecting. It's way to easy to assume they want what I would naturally say about thier work, and that's just not necessarily true.

Lisa said...

I second guess critiques all the time, too. Mostly, because what I'm telling people is just my opinion and I worry they'll make big changes based on something I said and that it will be wrongwrongwrong and ruin their lives.

Okay, that's pretty melodramatic, but I'd hate for someone to put loads of effort into making changes just based on little ol' me.

 
ALL CONTENT © 2012 THE WORD IS MY OYSTER / BLOG DESIGN © 2012 SMITTEN BLOG DESIGNS