Category Archives: Critiques

When Crap Hits the Fan

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

There are two major rules to being a better writer: 1) read abundantly (especially in the genre that you are writing), and 2) participate in critique groups.

In 2016, both of those rules went out the window and run over by a bus. And both for the same reason. Life happens.

Five years ago, I attended a conference at my local library with other writers where were guided in the art of critiquing. The group I was a part of clicked so well, that by the end of the day we agreed to keep a good thing going. Thus, C.R.A.P. (Creative Rockstar Author People) was formed. For the next four years, we met at each other’s homes, chowing down and glorious cookie pizzas and hummus while providing feedback on each other’s works in progress. Sometimes we laughed so hard my stomach hurt for days afterwards.

The beauty of C.R.A.P. was the individuals that made up the group: Betsy was a genius at snark, voice, point of view shifts, and story mashups, Jessica was a savant at description, plot gaps, and setting, and T.J. was the grammar guru, character flaws, and the one who ensured that we did honor to our male characters. Their feedback was incalculably valuable. Our brainstorming sessions enlivening. Their friendship immeasurable. And, they provided the perfect counterbalance to another critique group which I am a part of. My writing was propelled to higher levels as a direct result of being a member of these groups.

Then 2016 happened and our worlds were tossed about on the tempest of life. We lost one member to a move across the country. Another, changed jobs and had a new baby join their family. Two of us had family members diagnosed with cancer. As for me . . . well, let’s just say that I’m the magnet for insane life complications, so we’ll just skip what happened to me last year.

As a direct result, C.R.A.P. hit the fan and we stopped meeting. We planned on Skyping our meetings in a vain attempt to keep the group intact, but each time we had to reschedule. It took many months before I realized that since, we stopped I had not written anything new, nor had I read a single book for enjoyment. I still attend the other critique group, but always arrived with previously written works that needed drastic editing help. I was in severe writing depression and this other group was my lifeline.
But I missed C.R.A.P. They had become family.

So how do you replace family? You don’t. There will always be a place on my calendar the next moment we can all get online to meet. But I needed that counterbalance. I personally needed that second stash of writers to enhance and expand on the information gained from my one remaining critique group. I felt like an orphaned writer wandering the streets of literature town begging, “Please adopt me.” But my heart wasn’t in it.

Instead, it was time to start over; start fresh. Over the last few months some of my friends have asked me what to look for in a critique group. My advice: 1) you must be open to others criticizing your babies, 2) find a group with a blend of backgrounds and writing styles, 3) your partners should inspire and improve your writing, not tear you down, and 4) it is okay to say no thank you.

A successful critique group must work well together. But how are you supposed to know that if you have never worked with these individuals before? In talking to another critique member, we agreed on a plan. We sent out notices to those individuals who’d expressed interest in being part of a new group. As part of the selection process we requested that these individuals email submissions of their works in which we would read and provide feedback on. Then, we asked them to do the same for us. Afterward, we would make a group decision. Could work as a team for the greater good? If yes, then we have a new beginning for the new year. If not, then we would utilize our Get out of jail Free card and start the process over again.

Will it work? I sure hope so. Because writing is my therapy and my critique partners my support group.

Will I give up on C.R.A.P.? Never. I will never give up on family.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

L.J. Hachmeister: A Tale of Disappointment, Fear, and Murder

 My Year in Review: A Tale of Disappointment, Fear, and Murder.

By L.J. Hachmeister

2016 started off with a bang. I just finished my first out-of-state convention with a group of established authors, and got asked to join their touring group. On top of that, I was promised a seven-book contract for my science fiction/fantasy series, Triorion, by the managing editor of my favorite publishing house. For the first time in my literary career, after years of frustration and despair, I had hope. And hope can be a dangerous thing.

In February, I attended Superstars Writing Seminars. Being a frugal person, I balked at the ticket price, but after the first hour, I realized it wasn’t an expense, but an investment. In that conference room were some very big names in the industry as well as up-and-coming authors, and talking to them without the craze of a Comic Con or being under the stress of selling books allowed us the time to trade secrets, and give each other insight into our publishing experiences. Finally, after years of feeling alone in my literary struggles, I felt like I had allies.

Things started to unravel not too long after Superstars. The seven-book contract fell through, and the touring group disbanded. My mentor, someone who I had deeply trusted, disappeared, leaving me stranded in a strange author limbo. Because of this, I felt plagued by disappointment and frustration, and full of doubt. Triorion was the most important story I had every written, and landing a publishing contract for that series was my greatest wish. Having hope like that—feeling like the publishing contract was right in front of me, only to have it evaporate—left me shattered.

I vowed to never hope again.

In the early spring, one of my good friends called me up and asked me to critique the short story he wanted to enter for the Superstars anthology, Dragon Writers. When he found out I didn’t have a story to enter, he gave me some much-needed encouragement. Still, I didn’t feel like I had much to offer. I was experiencing manuscript burnout from working around the clock on the Triorion series, and I didn’t like dragons. Seriously. Dragons frightened me; they represented a genre I didn’t feel comfortable writing in, and I feared what I didn’t understand about them.

Still, part of me understood that you shouldn’t pass up opportunities, no matter how intimidating or out-of-reach they may seem. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t terrified with every word I typed out for my story, Heart of the Dragon.

In the month it took the editor to get back to us about our entries, my fear turned into anger. I no longer hoped that Heart of the Dragon would be accepted; I knew it wasn’t, and I was all the more frustrated with myself, the writing industry, and all the blood, sweat, and tears I had put into my stories. Triorion fan letters dulled some of the hurt, but I felt beaten down.

And yet, I didn’t stop writing. I can’t tell you exactly what keeps me going. Encouragement from fans is fantastic, as is that ineffable feeling when a character truly comes to life on paper. But there’s something else. Perhaps it’s a mix of insanity and unrelenting desire, but even before I heard back about Heart of the Dragon, I made a decision: I wouldn’t stop, ever. There is no other choice. Writing is a need of my soul.

Now, keep in mind I had vowed off hope and prepared myself for rejection for Heart of the Dragon, but when I opened the email from the editor, and I didn’t see the words, “we regret that we will have to pass,” and instead, “congratulations,” I screamed. Finally, something real—and it was born from my lowest point.

But my biggest challenge was yet to come. Despite a successful convention year, I finally acknowledged something I had been down-playing: I needed to write something other than Triorion. It sold well, but it wasn’t catching fire like it needed to if it was going to get picked up by a big publishing house.

The truth about killed me. After all, I had already written book five, and was well into book six of the seven-book series. How could I stop now? Even with my meticulous notetaking, I was bound to forget some nuance, some critical component of the nearly million-word saga—and I left my characters right in the middle of a terrible intergalactic battle!

As I struggled with my decision, my editor gave me feedback on a short story I had written for another anthology. Along the top of the paper, she wrote in big bold letters: “murder your darlings.” A google search later, and I realized what she meant: I had to kill what I felt was brilliant and precious in my work if I wanted to be successful. I found that it didn’t just apply to that story, but to my biggest decision this year. I had to put aside Triorion.

Inspired by my friends and martial arts training partners, I sat down and wrote, Shadowless: Outlier, the first book in an illustrated novel series. I thought it would be difficult to write something new, especially since I had been writing in the original Triorion storyline for twenty-nine years. However, my 10,000+ hours of writing experience really smoothed out the process, and I ended up writing the entire novel in less than five months.

My year was tough, but in the end, I met a lot of cool authors, sold out at every convention, got published, wrote a new novel, and landed a literary agent. If I could go back and give myself advice about how to manage through the toughest times, I would tell myself this: Stay flexible, say yes to as many opportunities as you can, and get everything in writing.

And it’s okay to hope.

 

Author L.J Hachmeister writes and fights—though she tries to avoid doing them at the same time. The WEKAF world champion stick-fighter is best known in the literary world for her epic science fiction series, Triorion, and her equally epic love of sweets. Connect with her at: www.triorion.com

Do Sci-Fi Movie Directors Dream of Electric Scripts?

This month’s Fictorians’ theme is “movie adaptations.”

I got lucky and snagged “Blade Runner.”

blade_runner_poster

When Blade Runner came out, I wasn’t paying attention enough to remember the obscure novella I had read at about the age of twelve. I was well into the movie before I put two and two together and realized I had read the source material. I remember thinking at the time, “When is he going to find that toad?”

That’s pretty close to a spoiler, I suppose. There is no toad in the movie. I don’t remember origami in the novella. Maybe there was some. Honestly, I didn’t remember that much about the novella. I had read it during a period of my life that I was reading three or four sci-fi novels a week. Plus classics like “Gone With the Wind” or “Moby Dick.” The novella simply hadn’t made that much of an impression on me. I had to go back and review “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” to realize just how far the movie had strayed from the original story. How far was that? Well, maybe not as far as the shoulder of Orion, but certainly well past the Tannhauser Gate.

So, since the movie is such a radical departure from the novella, you might think that would count against it as a “movie adaptation.” But I can’t say that, because “Blade Runner” the movie, is better than the novella. By a large margin, in my opinion. Ridley Scott took the basic story of a bounty hunter wrestling with the morality and mortality of “retiring” androids, and created a revolutionary multi-media experience, spawning an entire sci-fi sub-genre in the process.

There is power in the imagery of the film. The fusion of film noir and dystopian post-apocalyptic pathos simply oozes gritty, bloody, sweaty authenticity. By abandoning the original sub-plots involving Deckard’s wife (yes, wife) and their search for an animal of their very own, Scott was able to focus his grimy camera lens directly on the question of what makes us human. That gritty, shadowy vision paradoxically grants the movie near-perfect clarity.

That clarity reaches its climax with Roy Batty’s iconic farewell, sometimes known as the “Tears in Rain Monologue.”

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.

Like all great works of art, the movie has an ambiguous ending, allowing the viewer to decide for themselves what Deckard’s and Rachael’s future will be. The viewer isn’t even certain if Deckard himself is a human or a replicant. And that is the movie’s ultimate message. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. As Roy tells us, the value of life is not measured in the number of years we are given, it is measured in what we do with the years we have.

Dealing with Criticism

Dealing with criticism is a gracious art. It’s always important to know when to consider the criticism and when to let it go. If we don’t know the difference, we’ll always feel like something’s gone wrong and we’ll doubt ourselves. In yesterday’s post, Story Doctor David Farland talked about how to take criticism. Today’s post is on dealing with it. Thank you David for allowing us to reprint your sage advice!
Ace Jordyn

PS: read to the bottom to find out how you can download a free book with over 200 of David’s favorite writing tips!

A Guest Post by David Farland
www.mystorydoctor.com

I’ve been talking about how to deal with criticism, and I’d like to talk a bit about how to deal with criticism that you disagree with. There are a lot of reasons that people will dislike your work that have nothing to do with your work.

If you look at online reviews of Lord of the Rings, which is widely acclaimed as perhaps the best fantasy novel ever written, you’ll find a lot of people who hate it. Does that mean that the book stinks? I don’t think so. Does it mean that the critic is wrong? How can they be wrong in telling you that they don’t like it?

What it really comes down to is that the book isn’t to their tastes. Lord of the Rings is a fantasy adventure that is slanted heavily toward a male audience. It’s a metaphor for life during wartime during WWII, and so it’s something of a “buddy tale,” that plays strongly on beats of wonder, adventure, and friendship. It’s a great novel, if you have a taste for that kind of thing.

So when a critic speaks, you have to look at that critic closely. What is the person’s age and sex? What is their cultural heritage and religious background? What are their political assumptions? All of those things (and more) play into their critiques.

So just be aware that any critique may have more to do with a preference for chocolate over vanilla rather than the genuine value of the work.

Then of course you must ask, did the critic read the story properly? Did they understand it? Very often a momentarily lapse in the critic’s memory will cause the person to rant and rave for hours about how the author messed up. Even my own professional editors will often say, “Now wait a minute–I thought this character’s mother was still alive!” Then I have to refer the editor to that touching four-page scene that he or she forgot about. It happens to all of us. We get distracted by ringing phones or children or our own problems.

In fact, assuming that you really do tell your story beautifully, achieving the effects that you desired, then virtually all of the negative responses that you get from critics will typically fall into one of these two categories—the reader either has different tastes from you, or the reader made a mistake.

If you have “errors” that you can’t account for, it’s typically that you are forced to exchange one value for another. For example, you might find that in order to maintain your pacing during a fight scene, your character just doesn’t “have time” to explain the internal functions of the fancy new gun that he’s firing. You will have a gun enthusiast rail that “I really want you to explain why these Glocks have such a great recoil!” But you just don’t have time for it.

Other than that, you pretty much have to own up to any real “mistakes,” and just be grateful for readers who will point them out to you.

 

davidfarland_storydoctorDavid Farland is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who has penned nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels for both adults and children. Along the way, he has also worked as the head judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests, as a creative writing instructor, as a videogame designer, as a screenwriter, and as a movie producer. You can find out more about him at his homepage at http://www.davidfarland.net/. Also check out more great advice in his book Million Dollar Outlines. And take some of his online workshops at http://mystorydoctor.com.


Now for the free book! Anyone who signs up for David’s newsletter can download a free book with 100 of his favorite writing tips–that’s over 300 pages of writing tips! Check it out at
www.mystorydoctor.com.