Critiquing A Partner’s Work– Fiction Writing

How we treat one another is so important. If you believe as I do bad karma will come back to bite you. More specifically, how we critique another writer’s work.

Recently I saw someone post their first chapter in one of the writing communities on Google (can’t remember which one) and ask for feedback/critique. Normally when I see an extremely green writer post something I move on, because in order for me to help it would mean hours and hours of teaching them the craft. And I just don’t have that kind of time. Besides, I believe it’s better to learn on your own, make your own mistakes and grow as a writer over time. That’s how most of us do it, anyway.

But on this day, for some reason, I figured I’d give her a gentle nudge in the right direction.

zombies

Without going into detail, because I don’t believe in publicly bashing ANYONE’S work, let me give you a for instance… The story she posted was written in the present tense and she opened by telling the backstory, everything that preceded the story she would presumably tell. As you can already see I could have mentioned a million different things, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings or destroy her passion for the craft, so I wrote, “Please know I am only trying to help you. I think you have wonderful creativity, but you seem to “telling” your story instead of “showing” your story as it unfolds. Do you know what I mean?”

Well, she wrote me a friggin’ book defending her first chapter and explaining why she was telling it instead of showing. Her answer was, she was telling the story to HER CHARACTER and once her character understood the backstory she would begin to show the reader the real story.

What the

Huh?

My jaw went slack, head cocked, brow furrowed. I should have stopped then. But no. Again, I tried to help with, “Have you considered showing this interesting backstory in a flashback, or by dropping in little details from the protagonist’s past a little at a time and let the reader figure it out along with your character?”

She stopped responding to me. So, there you go. Did I help her? Or just piss her off? I have no idea. But it stuck with me. Today on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Twitterific links she listed a post about critiquing other writer’s work. In it, the author mentioned the narcissistic writer who doesn’t really want constructive feedback. They want you to tell them how great they are. And if you dare say anything otherwise you’ll be met with them defending their work and telling you why you’re wrong. Maybe I’m naive, but I had never even thought of this before. So I guess I came across a narcissist. Lucky me.

When I work with my critique partner we always try to be respectful but honest. If something just isn’t working we tell each other. And that’s what it’s really about. If you only hear how great you are and your CP is afraid to hurt your feelings than you are both wasting each other’s time. You might as well hang it up now, or find someone who will tell you the truth.

Susan and I (yes, we both have the same name) have worked on three different novels a piece, so by now it’s old hat (pardon the cliche). We each know where the other one’s coming from– that we want each other to succeed beyond our wildest dreams, want each other to write the best possible book we can. With that in mind we shred each other’s manuscripts– from missing words, commas, periods to getting rid of adverbs, too many adjectives, fixing pacing, format issues, story structure, etc. But we also help to rebuild. And that’s the key.

eat my heart out

Critiquing is never easy. Someone is trusting you with their hard work. It’s your job to take that seriously, not breeze over it. I’ve had to re-read a chapter sometimes three or four times to make sure I’m giving the best advice I can. When I send her chapters back to her– we usually do fifty page chunks at a time– I know I’ve put everything I had into my critique. And she does the same. Then we take the advice that resonates with us and leave the rest. It turns out we usually take every suggestion because we are very compatible. But that isn’t always true for most.

And that brings me to my next point. When working with a new critique partner only take the advice that sounds right to YOU. I’ve made this mistake before and paid dearly for it. (another cliche) It was your vision that made you write that specific story. If the critique isn’t about craft and instead is about personal taste only take the feedback that resonates with you. Those of us going traditional have heard it a million times: This is a very subjective business. It’s on almost every rejection letter. But it also happens to be true.

I’ve known authors who have had to fight to keep things in their manuscripts when working with a publisher in order to remain true to their story. Though I don’t recommend fighting with your publisher or any of their editors, I do believe in not caving when you believe the advice will change your entire vision. What I mean is, suppose your protagonist is a PI and the publisher doesn’t like that and instead wants them to be a lawyer. Obviously this would never happen but bear with me. You know your story won’t sound right if you change your protagonist’s profession, it goes against your vision for your story. On the other hand, be open to suggestions. Don’t be bull-headed and just say, “Nope, that’s not what I had in mind.” You never know when someone else’s suggestion could propel your story to the New York Times’ Bestseller list.

write every day

It’s a fine line we walk between staying true to our original story and knowing when a suggestion will make it all that much stronger. I’ll give you an example. In MARRED, there is a scene where Sage (my protagonist) hears something in the loft and sees a shadow flit across the room. I originally wrote that it was a red balloon– a creepy balloon that someone put there. My CP suggested having something– can’t tell you what– inside the balloon and having Sage pop it. When I heard her suggestion I got goosebumps. It was perfect! And I knew it instantly.

Now part of that is because we are very simpatico. The other part is that I was OPEN to suggestions. And my story is that much stronger because of it. See what I mean? Don’t be the narcissistic writer who only wants to hear good things. That won’t help you. Grow your thick skin even thicker and listen. Just listen. You never know when you’ll get a comment like my balloon.

What have your experiences been with a critique partner? Have you ever had a bad experience? Tell me in the comments below.

Three Tips To Amp Up Your Writing

There are many ways to amp up your writing.  But this first technique will surely do the trick.  Today I will share with you three secrets that you may not know.

The first technique I guarantee you’ve read many times in hugely successful novels, but might not have realized that you’ve seen it.

writing book

A while back I read a post about this on Writers’ Village, one of my favorite blogs, and I’ve been meaning to write a post myself because this technique is such a great way to let your writing stand above the rest.  For those of you going traditional you need every advantage to climb out of that slush pile.  And for those of you going Indie you want your readers to come back again and again.  This technique will help you do that.

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Thank YOU! And A Sneak Peek of MARRED

Because I’m a bit of a nonconformist I’m not going to write a Thanksgiving post. There are plenty out there for you to enjoy. I will say, however, that I am thankful for my blogging community, in other words YOU, my followers on Twitter, tribe mates on Triberr, friends on Facebook, Goodreads and all the other sites I’m on. The writing community is a force to be reckoned with. The solidarity still amazes me. I am also thankful for my family, friends, and that my dog, Gideon (you met him in a previous post: My Sweet Boys), is finally feeling better today. For a while it was looking like we might lose him. But today, I woke up to a shiny new version of him. Prayer is so powerful. And I’m thankful for winning a spot in another pitch contest. More on that later in the post.

UPDATE: I just found out I’m going to be a grandmother again! This day cannot get any better!

dancing dog

Getting very excited…

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I’ve Converted! Outlining vs. Pantsing in Fiction Writing

As some of you know I’ve been working on a new book. I am very excited about this project because I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written. I’ll give you a little teaser later in the post. For now I’d like to share something else.

I have always considered myself a pantser, as I’ve said many times. I was recently approached by author/writing coach Joel D. Canfield who invented an outlining program for pantsers called Outline Your Story in 12 Sentences. Sounds to good to be true, right? Being the type of person that I am, always eager to help another writer, I allowed him to use me as his guinea pig. writing is hard

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Another Thank You To My Prose & Cons Family

There are times when we all need help. Seeing our own work as others see it is extremely difficult.  We spent countless hours crafting our characters, plot lines and twist, shaping and reshaping our story until we’re happy with it.  We set it aside for weeks, sometimes months, in the hopes of coming back with clear eyes.  And sometimes when we come back we still can’t see our stories like someone would reading it for the first time.

I struggled with this very thing a couple of weeks ago.

mistress

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3 Tips To Correct The Pacing In Your Novel – Part One

Aside

What is pacing?

Pacing is the rhythm of the novel, of the chapters and scenes and paragraphs and sentences. It is also the rate at which the reader reads and the speed at which the events unfold. By using specific word choices and sentence structure– scene, sequel, chapter, novel structure– we can tap the emotions of the reader so that the reader feels what the writer wants them to feel at any given point in the story.

quill-175980__180

Pacing is especially important in crime writing.

Almost everything you read on the internet deals with picking up the pace, because so many new writers pace their novels too slowly. But what if you’re like me, someone who writes at break-neck speed, never giving the reader a break from the action? I know when I’m doing it too. I’m literally on the edge of my seat, feeling like I just drank 40 cups of caffeine.

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Get Your Facts Right In Crime Writing w/ NY Times Bestselling Author Alafair Burke

Cool Stuff NY Times Bestselling Author Alafair Burke Learned as a Prosecutor that You Can Use in Your Book 
This post originally appeared on ThrillWriting. It’s a great blog. If you haven’t checked it out, click on the link. There is a vast ocean of information for writers there.
Alafair Burke, a graduate of Stanford Law School, is a professor of law at Hofstra University. She uses her background to inform her novels. Alafair is a NewYork Times Bestselling author and has been interviewed by The Today Show, People Magazine, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Chicago Sun-Times. And in person, she is just a fun and wonderful person.
The Myths:
 
1. Criminal cases involve trials
* Trials are the exception
* 90% are resolved by plea.
* They are fast and informal – the suspect waives his rights, and
   pleads guilty.
* Charge Bargain – Instead of murder one, your character will plead
   guilty to a lesser degree.
* Sentence Bargain – Your character pleads guilty to the charge but
   will receive a sentence that is less than the maximum.

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