If someone asks for a critique, or for you to go over their writing, should you? Would you be kind or let ‘er rip and tell them what’s not working for you? On the receiving end, how do you handle being Critiqued? Today, I read a manuscript from an acquaintance, then related what I felt worked and what didn’t. Instantly I became public enemy #1.
In nicer words than those here, I pointed out a lack of tension causing the story to flag and my interest to wane. I tried for constructive criticism— because I want very much for my fellow writers to keep working at it and not give up– applauded parts that flowed to the concept of the tale; but mentioned disconnects between actions of the characters and the reader trying to comprehend the flow of the story. The key here is, what I took in was what the writer conveyed in their manuscript.
The writer decided I am too much of a novice to critique them and could not see the picture they conveyed. Au contraire; I was picturing Giovanni Ribisi, one of my favorite actors, in the Protagonist role, and I tried to see scenes in full realization as they stuttered past in my mind, Giovanni looking for direction. I presented a few suggestions that might improve the MS, but the writer rejected any alterations, fearing tidier segues would change it too much; if they introduced more feeling of the place, tried to build a bit more on the characters, then it wouldn’t be their story anymore. Topping off the list of backpedaling the writer expressed they shouldn’t have to personally explain each scene for a reader to get it.
On the last gripe I agree. The writing itself should speak to me. Setting, conflict and resolution should convey to me, the Reader, what is happening in the story. Tension should keep me wanting to turn the pages to find out what happens next, and each scene should ease into the next instead of me flipping back and forth to find a connection; bringing to mind Giovanni: all apologetic, his character says, “I’m sorry, but can you point me to the nearest segue?”
I have come to the conclusion that some folks don’t really want a critique. They want you to read their work and tell them it has points so well-formed they stab you in the eye while perusing the brilliance of their DARLING bit of fluff, and now you must wear an eye patch and become a pirate, you are so blown by the wave of their stature.
Give me an effing break. Better still, don’t ask for a critique if you can’t take the heat.
Here is my take on how to handle a Beta Reader‘s POV: Welcome the harsher voices, the gulls of Criticism if you will; their opinion is as valuable, perhaps more so, than the sweet voiced variety of Critique.
The best Authors and Writers, or at least my favorites, are happy to have people read and share their thoughts of the characters and settings and how these work with each scene. Equally, they welcome the point where you fell asleep reading their tale. This is because they want to kill that bit of needless fluff to make it read better, and take their writing to the next level. They crave, I crave (!) to know what interferes with the flow of the story, where the bogs are that suck away the action, when it is too candy coated and needs added complexity, or where the story has too much description and wants a good conversation between the prime characters, or even the comic relief to ease darkness, just a little, see? A good Critique gives you possibilities.
The best thing about encouraging your friends and acquaintances to read your work, to critique it, is that they are your first audience! *applauds beloved Beta Readers* If you pay attention, really take their constructive criticisms to heart, you will discover that their eyes are invaluable, because they are not in your head. They are Joe Reader. If they get it, chances are your future audience will, too. If they are struggling to wrap their heads around a passage, perhaps you should revisit and make that concept clearer.
It is human nature to balk at criticism, but if we unplug from our initial negative reaction, we open ourselves to the Reader, gleaning that pearl of wisdom that makes our story have luster. So, leap into that boiling cauldron with a smile. Find some Readers to critique your work, then tell them to please, turn up the heat, you can take it. Your work will be better for it, and your naysayers will at the very least respect you for being able to swim in the deep end of the pool of magma.
Well folks, my manuscript calls…a great friend of mine red-inked the heck out of it…for which I thank her! I’ll take the advice and change what needs tending, toss the rest…that, too is valuable. 🙂
See You Around,
Do you start your story with all of your characters already written out? Do you know how they will act, what they might say?
I am a person who sucks at dialogue; but now, because I’m dabbling in character creation, I feel like I’m learning, or they are teaching me… it is as if the characters, once created are speaking for themselves, each with a distinct voice to suit his actions.
The fun part of writing is pushing the situations just little bit, or a whole shove from the norm, at the same time as trying to keep it real. The characters can help you along, or you can create a character grid, and make sure to follow closely. What might a character do? How far should you push them?
For Example, if I think a character is vain, I really get silly with that vanity, i.e., I try to take it way beyond what a normal person might do. I’ll have them missing conversation, irritating people, and losing weight because they are so engaged in their reflection in the dinner plates they forget to eat! If a person is clumsy, I have them tripping all over the place.
Are they an evildoer? They are going to take a shot at your baby sister’s baby bunnies, drag the key down the side of someone’s car, blow up pigeons for fun and chuckles, and generally wreak havoc.
Same goes for nice. Made of sugar, but sometimes spice is the answer there. As for the middling ones, it helps to shove them over either edge to see how they will handle the drop. Sometimes a character will grow if you push them, this is especially true if you shove each into the other! The characters will tell you what they will and won’t do along the way once you start getting them down on the page.
I like to take them to extremes because it makes the story better, even if I tone them down later. It’s just fun to have a character go beyond the bounds of what is the accepted “norm”. The lengths to which you can manipulate your characters into a twisted tale are endless, and even impossibilities are, well, possible if you decide they are real enough to write them down!
For the rest of the month I’ll be catching up on all of the possible goofs I have missed in adding the new characters. I want a seamless blending where I have added them in, which means line by line editing. I take the time when doing this to catch dropped punctuation, spelling errors, grammatical no-no’s, etc..
It is also a good time to check and see that your characters are showing, speaking, and acting it out rather than you telling the story.
Believe me, no matter how many times I go over it, I catch a couple more errors, and kill them off, hiding the evidence, so that by the time I get to the end, I will be ready for the next batch of revisions from Friends, Beta Readers, Agents and Editors.
I recommend you try adding a couple of characters and see what happens with your story. I’ll bet it grows in ways you didn’t expect. Have fun playing in your world, the company is great!
I commented to a recent blog: Foetal Positions in an attempt to explain why I blog to an audience, but it got lengthy, so I decided to expand on the manuscript portion of my answer here. For me, content and character are high on the list in choosing my audience, and you might consider examining this for yourself if you elect to have an audience at all.
I thought I was writing a fantasy novel for adults, but it may be a young adult novel instead, or perhaps a young adult dark fantasy book, due to its content and character development leaning in that direction.
Though the situations may be a bit dark, young people live in a much harsher reality than society gives them give them credit for understanding. By the time they are teens many are exploring darker imagery. However, beyond the darker side of life and pushing boundaries, my manuscript is growing into a coming of age story on its own, but I think that it can be enjoyed by adults, too.
Now, this was not really my initial plan, but rumor has it there is an audience for YA fiction, and lets face it, who amongst us wouldn’t want to have our scribblings published, perhaps be successful enough at the game that we can, if not quit our day job, ease up on those hours and devote more time to writing?
I have another manuscript started, a horror novel. This second enterprise is definitely adult in content, moreover involves murder, sex and violence, and it is already holding steady in the adult audience position of its own accord, the characters dealing with adult situations more graphic than in my fantasy novel, even as they grow through solving the mysteries and murders, and evolve in their character arc.
My audience with the first novel, when I’m published, will likely be adults at first; those who have guided me on my journey, and those friends who will buy one to show support, but I’ve a feeling my young adult audience will trickle their way through to find my bit of work, and with any luck, come back for more.
The second novel will pull in a mature audience, and have a following in perhaps both the horror and dark fantasy genres.
Here is one thing to keep in mind when writing to your audience, and your intentions and responsibilities toward them: This quote by agent Jon Sternfeld: “All genres are mysteries…”
What this means is that you, as a writer are attempting to engage your audience, your readers in a play of, “Hey, there’s a mystery to solve here,” or a dilemma to overcome, etc., and you promise, as an author to give them a bit of a peek, a chance to anticipate, participate, and unravel the clue, to care about the characters, and solve the problems presented, regardless of genre.
Batton Lash, The Author of Supernatural Law and one of the writers of Radioactive Man comic strip among many other hats (mentor and friend to C.K.Garner among them) launched his new studio this evening! See his comic book series here: Batton Lash/Supernatural Law
Located within ArtLabs Studio on San Diego’s famous Adams Avenue, a street long known for its antique galleries and Street Fair, Lash’s new studio found perfect company with four other artists who share the ArtLabs Studio space, and whose works were featured on every wall.
The opening of the new studio coincided nicely with the annual Art Around Adams event, here’s the link:
Art Around Adams
A constant crowd of folks flowed into the Art Lab building from the two mile long Art Around Adams Walk, which features art and music incorporated into local businesses, a truly unique format in San Diego, checking out the art on every wall, chatting with the artists, and sharing champagne toasts all around, accompanied to live music.
I had the opportunity to meet and chat with James Hudnell author of “Aftermath: Humanoids” who gave me a great mini lesson about “theme” and “character arc” in writing, which I will be thinking about as I continue scribbling my own manuscript, you can see his work here: James Hudnell Aftermath: Humanoids. I enjoyed the fine company of one of Batton’s long-time artist assistants, the charming Madame Melissa, as well as meeting Batton’s famous wife, at least famous for all Geekdom and comic book fans, Jackie Estrada.
Though though you may not have met her, if you are a Comic-Con International fan, you’ve likely seen Estrada’s name and work. Jackie is the administrator of CCI’s Eisner Awards, which represent an Oscar equivalent for best of the best in the Pop Art and Comic industry, and has for years been the editor of several Comic Con related titles as well as holding the position as co publisher of Exhibit A Press. So, this was a night of high falutin’ company indeed for this very new Writer!
Hats off to Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada; pioneers of the small press industry! Congratulations on the new studio!
A couple of Blogs back I promised that this week would be add a few new characters week for my manuscript. I played with a few ideas in my head, none of them bearing real fruit until I had a waking vision. I was munching my dinner in my car when suddenly my mind opened up with a great picture of a creature; a scary, but beautiful night creature. Yeah, yeah, I know you’re all thinking Vampire, right? Nope.
I have been re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which I mention last Blog. Ala J.K Rowling‘s experience on a train, no pen or paper handy with the idea for Harry Potter in her head, there I was with no pen or paper available, only my mind for a page. To make matters worse, my dinner break was ten minutes from finished. What to do?
I brainstormed that new character in my head for that ten minutes until she looked completely fleshed out and real. I drove my car back to the job, thinking hard about those ideas of her made whole, got out and locked the car, walking a little blinded by the vision in my head. I was so desperate to hold onto her. I could see her eyes becoming more and more real. They haunted me until I was through the doors of my work.
So, my vision stayed with me. My lovely one grew taller. She gained hair and skin and a lithe physique. Her eyes were her best feature, but all of her, well, I think I’m in love, like a parent of a new daughter I just wrote into being…except I hadn’t written her down, yet.
By the time I left work, headed home in a happy, calm mixture of thought, she gained personality traits, had a way of moving about, something of her very essence was captured. She now existed.
So, after a start with no paper or pen, last night I finally wrote her character into my manuscript.
I added this character so readers could connect with my protagonist better, see her through the eyes of her newly created friend. I went further to decided how she looks, speaks, acts, and interacts with my main character and the others thus far introduced.
She worked like a charm but for one thing; I love the new character so well I’m afraid she’ll take over the story! But, if J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter could function well with such appealing characters as Hermione and Ron Weasley, okay, Ron was comic relief, perfect foil for serious Hermione, maybe I’ll be okay with this new creature just as she is. And perhaps later on she’ll get her own story. Could happen…
Manana I’m adding one more character to the mix, a villainous type, and perhaps two other minor characters for this book, that will grow into their own in this and the next book. Yes, Virginia, there is a sequel to the manuscript I haven’t finished…yet! I realized that to tell the story I have brewing, I will need more than one book unless I want it to be two thousand pages long. Thus I’m splitting the tale as I write it into two sections.
I have yet again, through close reading of Harry Potter and a bit of knowledge about J.K. Rowling, moved ahead in my manuscript. J.K. Rowling really does have a touch of magic…if you look into her first Harry Potter Book long enough, you will find everything you love about a good tale…and then you get to keep it and apply that magic hand to your own writing. I could find it and keep it, and even apply it, you can, too. Tag, you’re it.
Well, gotta add more characters, and work on catching them all up into the tale. Cheers!
I’ve been thinking about Harry Potter today in relation to writing my own novel. I dusted off my son’s battered old copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, abandoned now that my son is twenty and moved out into the muggle world as a young adult, and began rereading it, with an eye for what drives this little volume that started a worldwide reading frenzy.
After a few chapters, I caught up on a few things that I had seen before in many, many books happily read over the years. At the most obvious, this is a classic coming of age story.
Harry has the ability to grow, and the reader, if he starts reading this as a child, will mature right along with him, can relate to him from every aspect of what it is to be a kid. From what he is required to eat as opposed to what he wants to eat, from the tedium of studies, to happiness with professors he enjoys, and the schoolyard bullies, lurking around the corners, kids, and adults who remember being a child, can relate to him.
Then there are the friendships that develop as Harry gets to know Hermione Granger, Ron and the whole Weasley clan, and learns how to relate with the other students. He goes from a lonely child to a boy with close friendships.
Finally, there are the adult figures.
Harry has absolutely no experience with adult characters beyond the Dursleys, and he has no reason to trust any adults. But with the arrival of childlike, if intimidating Hagrid, Harry begins to see adults in a new light, and this will continue as he grows and meets Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and the rest of the cast, keeping in mind, he meets the not so nice ones as well, but chooses who he will associate with, once he has freedom of choice beyond the Dursley House. Thus, Harry Potter comes of age before our very eyes through his interactions with humanity, or rather Wizards and Half Bloods and Muggles who touch his life, and change him mostly for the better.
Next, Harry Potter is a rags to riches story. He sleeps in a cupboard, and lacks bedroom, pets, toys, friends, family and good inside or outside activity. He has no one who sees or cares what is happening to him at the Dursley’s hands. Creature comforts as simple as a decent bed and a good meal are denied him. Just a couple of chapters in, he is eating savory sausages, has a protector and companion in Hagrid, and finds a new place, richly vibrant and alive in contrast to his life with the Dursleys. The money wealth is only secondary with all that comes his way.
Last, but only because this is such an involved subject, the tropes available just endless, Harry Potter is the classic tale of Good against Evil, and the struggle of our protagonist to learn about himself, the sacrifices his parent made, the eventual knowledge that his father wasn’t always the nicest kind of guy, the ambition to push forward and become a leader, albeit reluctantly, and the battle against the Ultimate Foe, one who goes after children…well, the need to choose between the good and the ugly and the middling ground in between lay in at the door of this classic Genre series.
So, what to do with this deluge of information?
I take it as a lesson that my novel doesn’t have to fall into just one category or subject arena. Sure, it’s nice to bust out with something original, but the tropes laid down in stories past are still going because they are beloved familiars. I can twist and tweak them at will just like J.K. Rowling did and does. The good guys can become bad, the bad good. The rich can become richer, and the poor stay poor, or the poor can gain wealth to no good end. The lonely find a host of company, or just the reverse, find delight in the art of being alone. It’s all up to me, and to you, the writers.