Friday, September 4, 2009

Dealing With Crits

Being as I just woke up (whatta slack!) I figured I'd start the day by trying to confuse everyone with a crafty type post. Better to get this fuzziness out of my head HERE instead of when I start poking at FI, right? (g)

I thought it sounded like a good idea.

Okay, so crits. Who needs 'em? What do you do with them once you have them? and What if _all_ of them disagree? WHAT THE HECK DO YOU DO??

Well, let me start out by saying that critiques of your work are very personal things. No matter how much you try to distance yourself from the experience, and no matter how much you say you won't take things too personally, you DO. On some level, you always do. Sure, you get better at it as times goes by, but I don't think any of us can say that a completely negative crit is a fun thing to receive. I think most of us probably close the email and declare, "That person just doesn't get my work!"

Well, I'm telling you, those feelings are natural, and probably healthy in the long run.. BUT, when you simmer down, open up that email again, and open yourself up to the possibility that the critter may have some legit concerns. It's likely that there's something there you can use to make your work better.

As an illustration, I'd like to use my recent experience with my first three chapters. If you think you've received crits all over the board, wait until you hear about this.

I sent it to six readers total -- here's what I received back:

1. This person loved it. Couldn't think of a single thing to change other than minor cleanups.

2. This person felt it was good throughout, but that maybe I should cut chapter one and start with chapter two.

3. This person also felt it was good throughout, but that maybe I should cut chapter TWO and start with chapter ONE. *brows hitting the back of my neck at this point*

4. This person loved it -- hasn't offered any ideas for major changes. She also said the chemistry between my main characters was "smokin'" and that she was so connected to my MC by the end that she felt like she WAS my MC.

5. This person said the writing was good, but that she didn't feel any connection with my MC OR any connection/chemistry between my main characters. Overall, didn't sound like she liked the tone of the chapters either.

6. This person loved it.

Someone pour the vodka! I need a drink!

I have to admit. Even just two years ago, I would have been freaking out by now, thinking my book sucked. But having wizened with experience (heh, right) I had to take a step back and really break this all down.

My first step was to look at the two readers who suggested I cut full chapters. Why such opposing viewpoints? Well, after much thought, hair-pulling, and wallowing in buckets of my own tears (kidding), I think I've come up with an answer.

My book really starts out with a lot of background information. I TRIED not to do a huge info-dump right from the get-go, but I also wanted to make sure readers understood who/what Madison does for a living. My solution was to illustrate it, and make sure I got in the information in the least "info dumpy" sort of way I could manage. The end result? Two good chapters, but two chapters that basically illustrated the same things.

Solution: I'm keeping chapter one and dumping a good portion of chapter 2.

Now, I know as soon as I do this, readers will come back saying they don't understand this or that. It's a complicated business this writing thing is, and I have no doubt that many, many readers will cry foul. The thing is, though, I have to do what's best for the pace of the story. I don't want to confuse readers, but at the same time, I don't want to spoon feed them every answer either. And I certainly don't want to bog down the story by giving them the same stuff twice. I have faith my readers will figure it out. And if not, I'll go back in and make sure they'll get it. That's my job.

Now, on to the chemistry comments. This is by far the harder issue. I don't want anyone to feel a disconnect between my characters, and/or my characters and him/herself. That just sucks, and quite frankly, is my biggest nightmare. (Right after not being able to tell a good story. (G))

What do I do in this situation? Well, naturally you want everyone to LOVE your characters, to LOVE your characters together, and to LOVE reading your book. But is that a reasonable goal?

My answer: NO. It isn't. And it ain't gonna happen. Deal with that now.

There isn't a writer out there who hasn't been criticized for one thing or another. I've read many, many books...and I'm often shocked by the lack of connection I feel for a character and/or story which others have RAVED about, claiming it's their favorite book/character of all time! And I'm quite certain people feel the same way about some of the books _I_ love.

That's OKAY. That's why there are shelves and shelves of books for us to read. You can't please all of the people all of the time.

Learn it. Live it. Love it.

It doesn't make you any less of a writer. Promise.

That said, there does come a turning point where you NEED to listen to these people. If everyone comes back, saying you aren't connecting when you thought you had connected the heck out of your characters...well, Houston, you may have a problem.

You always have to weigh the criticism you receive. But if more people love it than hate it, dude, you're on the right track. Don't let the negative ones bring you down. And I say this fully as a person *cough* who has _given_ negative reviews from time to time. I'm only one voice out of MANY, and just because something didn't float my boat, doesn't mean the world is crazy for loving it. Or that you haven't done your job well. (Wait a minute? Did I just say I might be wrong in my view? Holy hell. Is there a new world order? Nah, I did say MIGHT. (g))

The flipside -- if you receive a round of crits from people saying your work is PERFECT as is? Well, send it out to some more people. Just to play it safe. In my opinion, there is always something you can work on to make even better. Ask any published author who wishes he/she could go back and change this or that. There's ALWAYS room for improvement.

Oh...and the critters who loved FAKING IT as is? OF COURSE THEY'RE RIGHT. Yay to the two of you for getting the right answer!!!!

*Lotsa Confetti!!!*


Happy writing everyone!

1 comment:

Seluke said...

I think it is important to separate the writer from the work when dealing with critiques. The critiques is about the work, not the writer. Ideally it is about finding ways to make a good piece great or a great piece phenomenal. Too often though, writers don't want an honest critique and would rather just have their ego stroked. I'm no different than anyone else. Who wouldn't want to hear that it is brilliant and you shouldn't change a word. But this type of feedback does a disservice to the writer, especially in the early stages.

Also is important to keep in mind the source of the critique. Not all critiques should be weighted equally.