Tag Archives: critiques

Organizing Critique Comments for Implementation

Guest Post by Susan Forest

You’ve chosen beta readers from more than one source who understand your genre, you’ve given them your best work so they don’t correct flaws you know about, and you receive their feedback. But how do you organize the feedback, process, and implement it?

Knowing how to effectively deal with feedback will greatly help and improve your manuscript and will turn beta readers into fans.

First, it’s helpful to receive your feedback, when possible, in both written form (line edits and/or written comments) and verbal form. A nice protocol is to invite your three beta readers over for snacks or out to a restaurant for coffee and dessert. This is not only a way to thank them, but to bring them together by a specified deadline, to give feedback.

During this meeting, ensure you set a tone of professionalism (it’s not just social) and take notes without interrupting (except to clarify misunderstandings). There is no point in taking up time explaining what your story was supposed to say—if they didn’t get your message, that’s feedback, too.

When I get home from such a meeting, I first organize my comments into two types: line edits and global revisions. The line edits are easy to get through fairly quickly. Here, you can clear up typos and small wording or sentence changes that you agree with. You can ignore the occasional edit that is clearly wrong, or at least, wrong for you.

Sometimes, a line edit your beta reader gives you includes something bigger: a place where the reader was confused, where their comment has implications for several places in the manuscript, or where the comment gets to deeper thematic or character arc issues. Make a note of these, and add them to your second type of comments: global revisions.

By doing line edits first, you accomplish something important to the book, improve your novel, and give yourself a sense of achievement—and staying positive about your novel is critical, especially in the face of multiple notes to make changes.

The global revisions, especially on a longer work such as a novel, can be daunting. Begin by putting them all into a single document (perhaps in point form), and reduce their number:

  • Delete any repetitions. But remember: if all three of your beta readers pointed out the same issue, it’s probably valid.
  • Delete any changes you’re not going to make. Perhaps your beta reader isn’t really your audience (if he or she doesn’t read or understand your genre, they might be off base), missed the point of your story, or—although you respect their point—you simply know: this is not a change you’re prepared to make. Hey, you’re the author, and this is your book.
  • Don’t try to please all tastes. If one reader wants you to make a certain change, a second gives you the opposite advice, and the third doesn’t want any change at all, remember that by trying to be all things to all people, you can edit the passion out of your story. Follow the critique of the reader whose vision is closest to what you are trying to achieve.

Next, phrase all comments in the positive. You can’t do anything with a negative comment. For instance, even if you agree that the comment, “Don’t make your protagonist weepy and weak” is valid, it can’t be implemented until you change it to “Angela should stand up for her own position in her relationship with Greg.” That is something you can work with.

Then, find out where (in which chapter and scene) you want to implement the change. In the above example, you might decide that Angela will tell Greg she intends to buy a cat in chapter 2, scene 1; choose the restaurant in chapter 9, scene 5; and demand he pay half the rent on their apartment in chapter 15, scene 4.

In some instances, a comment will be implemented in only one place in the book. In other cases, several different examples will find their way into different parts of the book (as in Angela’s example, above). In still other cases, the same detail will be applied to multiple places in the book. This could happen when you want to ensure rats are ubiquitous in your medieval fantasy.

Create a new copy of your manuscript (Angela and the Rat, v. 2.0) and insert the points you want to change at the top of each scene. You might want to use a different font for these notes, just to be sure the point doesn’t accidentally slip into your text. Now, instead of an overwhelming list of changes to make, you have anywhere from 2-5 points at the beginning of each scene—and some scenes will have no changes at all. This is much more manageable.

Revise each scene. You are likely to discover as you go through that some revisions simply won’t work. You might have thought you could slip in a reference to rats in chapter 3, but to do so turns out to be awkward and derails the point of the scene. No problem. When you’re revising chapter 4 you might find a more natural place to put it—and, if you already intend to refer to rats in 2-3 more places, you might not even need the chapter 3/4 reference.

You may find that implementing a change in one part of the book spawns other changes, such as the domino effect of logic and motivation, or a cool new idea that enriches and deepens your text.

And, when you have finished all the revisions (like the guy taking the wheelchair apart and putting it back together who discovers he has a handful of nuts and screws left over), you may find there are some revisions that somehow just never made it into the new draft. Do you really need them? Maybe. If so, go back and find a place to put them in. Or, maybe you don’t actually need them.

Read the entire manuscript again. This not only allows you to catch inconsistencies the revision process may have introduced, it gives you a chance to put your finger on the pulse of the book as a whole, so you can see how the build and flow of plot logic and emotions work together. This step has the added benefit of pumping up your enthusiasm for your novel: it is better! Revision worked! And, it wasn’t as painful as it first appeared.

It is a truism that, with rare exceptions, first drafts are not very good; that fiction comes to life under revision. It is also true that coming out of a meeting with your beta readers with a wheelbarrow full of suggested improvements can be daunting and depressing—so much so, it can be hard to even look at your creation again. By winnowing the comments down, rephrasing them with positive wording, and dividing them up into small, workable batches, you can really make use of their power, and come away with a vastly improved draft: one you are proud to send off to potential markets.

 
Susan writes SF, fantasy and horror, and is an award-winning fiction editor for Laksa Media. Her novel, BURSTS OF FIRE, will be out in 2019, followed by FLIGHTS OF MARIGOLDS. She has published over 25 short stories, contributes to When Words Collide, and has appeared at many international writing conventions. https://fineartemis.wordpress.com.

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.

Taking Criticism

A critique or criticism from a critique group or a review can make an author feel like something’s really gone wrong, even to the point of doubting yourself. How do you handle criticism? Story Doctor David Farland has sage advice on the issue. He kindly agreed to let us reprint two posts: Taking Criticism (today’s post) and Dealing With Criticism (tomorrow’s post). Thank you David!
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

An author has to take criticism as part of his job. That isn’t always easy. After all, if you get too much criticism, a couple of things happen.

First off, you begin to doubt yourself. You might even want to surrender and quit writing completely. I’ve seen hundreds of people quit writing because they couldn’t take criticism—even very accomplished writers with dozens of novels under their belts.

The second thing that might happen is that you might begin to become too defensive, telling yourself that “The world is full of idiots,” none of whom recognize your true brilliance. You’ve probably all met that kind of writer before—all ego. Some of these writers are indeed quite gifted, but once you quit listening to others, inevitably as a writer your skill begin to diminish, until at last you shrink away into obscurity.

The third thing that might happen is that you find yourself confused just as to whom to believe, and so you find yourself running down blind alleys, trying to write works that please your spouse, your writing group, or anyone else—but which don’t really feel real and vital to you.

So you have to try to sort through the various critiques that you get and try to figure out which ones to respond to and which ones to ignore. I can’t tell you how to do that. I don’t know you as a writer, and I don’t know who your critics are.

I can tell you that if you’re getting advice from someone who seems mean-spirited, you had better watch out. I’ve known writers in writing groups who have tried to destroy one another, and in some cases they succeed. So listen to people who mean well.

But also be aware that there are some good reasons why even excellent critics sometimes misread a work.

The first reason that comes to mind is that your critic just quit reading or shut down too early. Something in your work might be perceived as an error when in fact it is not. Let me give you a couple of examples.

I once got the movie Inglorious Bastards and sat down to watch it with my wife. The movie starts out like a standard holocaust movie—beautifully shot and acted. Well, that’s just boring to me at this point in my life. Then we meet the Inglorious Bastards, a group of assassins who go out to scalp Nazis, and the violence was so over the top that my wife and I just kind of looked at each other and said, “Hey, let’s shut this thing down and go to bed early.”

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend who was very impressed with the movie. I told him of my own early impressions—both justifiable, both perfectly correct—and he said, “Yes, but you didn’t see what the writers were working toward. It has one of the most powerful and brilliant endings I’ve ever seen.” So we got it on video and watched it. Holy cow, he was right! The movie is in fact a starkly realistic fantasy about how Adolph Hitler is killed by the Jews in the movie theaters. It’s a metaphor for how one group of people will often dehumanize others. It creates perhaps the most brilliant and complex emotional states at the very end that I’ve ever seen, where the audience laughs uncontrollably while a dumb American soldier carves a swastika into the head of a Nazi. We laugh, even though everything in the movie tells us that this is wrong, that we shouldn’t be dehumanizing one another!

In short, I shut down a bit early.

The same thing happened to me a couple of days ago. A woman wrote and said that she loved one of my books, but she had closed it and tossed it away on page 199 because she felt that I had a “breast fetish.”

Well, that’s just perplexing. I’ve written entire novels where I’ve never mentioned breasts. However, in this case in my novel In the Company of Angels, I felt they were necessary. Part of the story is told from the point of view of Eliza Gadd, a woman whose family pulled handcarts across the prairie in 1856. She’s nursing twin boys at the time, and the arduous journey causes her to lose her milk at the same time that all of the other women in camp—and the cows—dry up. As a result of this, one of her children quickly becomes ill and dies. Her husband, guilt-ridden, begins to give part of his meager allowance of food to his other children, and he soon starves. Her ten-year-old son, trying to take over the responsibility of the man in the family, soon takes ill and passes away, too.

It’s a pattern that happened throughout the Willie Handcart Company as they trekked across the prairie. So I felt that it was important to write about it. The image of mothers struggling in vain to nourish children on this journey crops up perhaps half a dozen times.

Does that mean that I have a “breast fetish?” Probably no more so than any other confidently heterosexual male.

What it does mean is that I introduced an element into my story that I knew would make some readers uncomfortable. I did it in order to create a more powerful effect at the end of my tale. In this case in particular it seemed like the right thing to do. It introduced a level of embarrassment, of emotional discomfort, that I believe that the protagonist must have felt on the journey.

This is a trade-off that as writers you will find that you sometimes have to make, to sacrifice one effect in order to achieve another. Your story can’t be all things to all people. It can’t be a feel-good comedy and a tragedy, for example. So to make that trade isn’t necessarily a mistake, it’s just an artistic choice.

So as you dissect your critiques, be aware that sometimes there are valid reasons for a reader’s reactions. In short, you may both be right.

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.

Critters.org

Getting your work read is always a tough gig. You can promote and spam to your heart’s content … and when the first review comes in, it’s a two-star because of glaring errors in your story, lots of passive writing, and you even change point of view halfway through the tale.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had some beta readers who could catch those issues before you sent your work off to the slushpile known as Kindle Desktop Publishing?

Many of the folks reading this already have a network of folks who can read their stories to spot problems from a reader’s perspective. That’s not saying you should replace an editor with your beta readers — both are recommended for everything you publish.

For authors who live in the middle of nowhere, are nocturnal, or are too busy with their home life and/or a supporting job, there is a solution.

Over twenty years ago, former Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) vice-president Dr. Andrew Burt used his savvy tech skills to come up with an online solution to pair beta readers with authors. The website is called Critters.org, and it’s available at no cost. Anyone can join, and the coin of the realm is reviews.

For authors, one has to review other stories in order to get their work on the review schedule. By agreeing to critique at least one item a week, you earn the opportunity to get your work in front of the membership. Folks who are Active (professional) members of SFWA or the Horror Writers Association (HWA) only have to do one per month to maintain their status and to get their work scheduled, since they’re normally at a higher level of expertise than the average novice or semi-pro author. Professionals also get additional bonuses, such as head-of-line priveleges for manuscript reviews.

I’ve used Critters off and on over the years. When I was in a critique group in Denver, I focused on those stories. Now that I’m living by myself in a very rural area of the midwest, I’m reactivation my professional Critters membership. That’s another nice thing about membership — if you’re going to be busy for a time, just letting them know will keep your account in good order. When you’re ready to re-start, another email gets the flow going.

Authors have the option of sending out short stories and/or novels. One can request dedicated novel reviewers, and you can work directly with them. Otherwise, the maximum one can send in is 20,000 words per critique request.

Normally, this is how it works in a typical week:

  1. Critters receive an email, usually on a Wednesday, listing the manuscripts available for critiquing.
  2. The reviewer (you) selects one or more manuscripts on a private webpage.
  3. The reviewer reads the story carefully and writes up a critique of the manuscript.
  4. The critique is uploaded back to the group via email or via a webpage.
  5. The critiques are assembled and sent to the manuscript author and all of the folks who critiqued the manuscript.

When you’re submitting a manuscript to be critiqued, your work goes into a queue. Critiquers who go above and beyond the minimum and professionals get opportunities to get bumped to the front of the queue. When your manuscript is up, it’s sent out to the reviewers as noted previously. After the reviews are received and collated, you get to read them.

Remember, these are, for the most part, reviews from authors and/or readers letting you know how they felt about your work. Some folks will click, some will not. The site rules require everyone to be polite and professional. Even if someone hated your short story about sentient mushrooms taking over a brick, they will only focus on your story, so no troll-inspired “What, were you stoned or dropped on your head as a kid?” remarks. They will say why it did or didn’t work for them.

Don’t expect an inbox full of glowing reviews, however. I’ve found the reviewers on average to be quite astute, and they root out plot issues that are invisible to your critical eye with remarkable precision. The average review is around 800 words, and I’ve had around six to ten good reviews per story. Some things will be repeated — which is important for you to see, since if a large portion of your audience has an issue with something, you might want to focus on clearing that up. Each reviewer will spot unique issues, which you can either ignore or correct.

The group is self-policing, and the Critter Captain, Dr. Burt, is always available if you have any issues or concerns.

Two questions I see brought up are:

  • Is a story considered published if I run it through Critters.org?
    No. The manuscripts are in a private workshop designed to improve the story. It’s not available to the general public.
  • Won’t someone steal my work?
    No, especially since a lot of authors will see that you’ve sent in the story well before it appeared elsewhere. No author wants to be caught plagiarizing stories, especially a group that has a large amount of fellow authors and SFWA/HWA professionals. Nothing is guaranteed, but I haven’t heard of a story getting stolen through Critters in all the years I’ve known about the workshop.

Some additional benefits include getting some recognition when your work gets published (on the page and on the newsletter), and a listing of folks who are interested in forming a local critique group, broken down by states.

For many folks, Critters.org is an opportunity to get their work looked at by someone who isn’t a relative or a friend. It’s a way to get an honest critique in return for yours.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® finalist; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.