August 3, 2006

Critical eye for the writer guy

As many a publisher’s site will tell you, if you are done with your manuscript, then you should consider working with an online critique group to further polish your manuscript. But does a critique group actually help you? Personally, I believe that depends on the kind of critter that you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to get.

When Laurie first suggested that I try a crit group, we both looked around a bit and settled on one. They suggested that you read the Turkey City Lexicon. We both did that. And then we started critting. Our first critting experience came from the work we did on that particular crit group. However, we left soon after because we didn’t agree with their particular methodology.

Since then, I’ve been critting manuscripts for different people on a one-on-one basis. I’ve slowly been formulating my own ideas about crits and what is useful to me personally and what is not. I’ve also seen the critting styles of various people and have come to formulate some theories as to the different styles out there.

One thing I’ve come to notice is that there are a lot of "professional" critters out there – people who seem to soullessly follow the "rules" of writing and look for adherence to the rules or the breaking of the rules. The story does not matter to them. What matters to them are these amorphous rules. The problem is, most of these rules, while good rules if followed with a smidgen of common sense, become an albatross around your neck (and on the figurative neck of your work) if you stick to them mindlessly. For instance, I had a critter tell me that I should take a chunk of backstory which comes out in a conversation between two characters and have that whole backstory be the start of my story because the conversation was "telling" and he wanted me to "show" the whole thing. Personally, I don’t think it would have added any value to my story whatsoever to do it that way – sure, it would have made the story about forty pages longer but it would have started at a point where nothing much was happening and would have made for a much less interesting opening.

There, I believe the critter was simply looking for an excuse to pinpoint the "show don’t tell" rule – he wasn’t looking at the overall story. This is the problem with some critters. I’ve come to appreciate those critters who love the story. They will read your book not out of a sense of obligation but because they enjoy the story. If they don’t enjoy it, they tell you "hey, I don’t like this one" and that is fine – that at least lets you know what you’re doing wrong.

Face it, the reader is not going to be reading your novel looking to see if you tell instead of show, or if you use too many adverbs or if you head hop. (Mind you, I’m not saying that these rules aren’t important – they are and you should look out for these things when you’re writing) But when I look for crits, what’s important to me is to know if the story and the characters grab the reader, if they keep you engaged and what points in the story draw you out of the story. This is what is most important to me. Of course, what you want might be totally different. I guess the bottomline is, find critters who can give you the kind of feedback you need, not ones who just crit for the sake of critting :)

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Tags: Writing
Posted by Fahim at 7:16 am   Comments (0)