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Critiquing…a Necessary Evil

Let’s wish today’s guest blogger a happy birthday and send her good vibes as she waits for news about two stories that are with editors. Say hello to Debbi Crocovia who I know from working with her at the Outreach International Chapter of RWA. Here she shares with us tips on critiquing your work….and thank you Debbi for your very nice words about me.

 

Today is my birthday, no joke and I’m very honored to be visiting with Susan on her blog. Thank you for hosting me.

What better way to spend my birthday than speaking about one of my favorite subjects – critiquing. Yes I know, some of you might be shaking your head thinking, what the…. It’s okay. You think I’m either a sadist wanting to use my words to lash into someone’s self esteem or a sorry a** masochist taking abuse. Honestly, I’m a bit of both. Like some of you, I view the critique process as a necessary evil, especially when on the receiving end of a head spinning, mind numbing and sometimes demoralizing critique.

As a result of some disheartening feedback, I thought maybe I should give up my passion and peruse something other than a writing career. Then I found a bunch of spirited cheerleaders who believed in me. Thanks to them, I’m still in the game and playing to win. Go me!

I’ll let you in on a secret – critiquing makes you a better writer. Yep, you heard me right. But in case you didn’t let me repeat myself self – critiquing makes you a better writer.

Let others examine your body of work and you’ll gain new perspectives. We all miss something at some point with our writing and having a few extra sets of eyes makes a huge difference in our abilities as storytellers. In the end, the skills we learn and experiences we share will make us better writers and critique partners.

I hate to sound like a top 40 radio station playing the same tunes over and over, but this overused quote from Stephen King’s On Writing, still rings true. “Kill your darlings,” makes a lot of sense when taken in context. What he means is, if a word, sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter doesn’t work, regardless of how wonderful it may be – kill it – dead! Or if you’re like me and not so vicious, lock it up in file, real or virtual, for a future piece. *Wink*

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The reason I’m bringing up something that truly belongs in the revision process is this: most of us don’t know if something doesn’t work in our manuscripts until we see it in other people’s writing or through someone else perspective.

When reviewing another’s work, we may not know the WHY behind what’s not quite right, but we can see it nonetheless. This is truly a skill worth having and transferring to your own work.

On the flip side, we need fresh eyes on our work too. We want to know if the reader got the intended but understated joke or innuendo? Could they feel the angsts of the hero’s plight when he thought all was lost? Did they follow us into the web of red hearings we guided them through to come to the right conclusion? If not, we need to know where and why so we can fix it. It’s by asking questions that we humans truly learn.

I spent a good number of my adult life in a corporate setting as a trainer and manager. Inherently my positions plopped me in a world of critique or in the big business calls it, feedback – six one half a dozen, IMHO. In essence feedback is critique and critique is feedback.

In all my years I’ve seen strategies come and go. There’s the sandwich method – give a complement, zero in on the issue(s) then followed up with another compliment. Than there is the – Get right to the issue(s) at hand and don’t pay tribute to the positive.

But my favorite is something I coined as Strategies of a Useful Mentor.

How SUM works is very simple and effective for inciting change. First, the critique/mentor gives an overall impression focused on the positive, followed by where the areas for improvement need to occur. It ends with suggestions and/or examples how to improve those areas. You don’t want to say something needs fixing and leave the author scratching their head. I know I don’t.

Below, I’ve illustrated this model using a paragraph I’ve taken from a manuscript from a friend and fellow author.

Original:

Kala displayed decent conversationalist during their short walk together, even through their conversation had been mostly superficial – at least until the end. He’d caught her subtle come-on, and a tiny part of the man he used to be was flattered. Hell, that guy would have jumped on that at the first chance. But he was long gone, and Dillon didn’t expect him to return.

At first glance it appears like a good solid paragraph right? It definably gets you in the mind of the character and you know what’s going on. But, there are some technical issues here that need addressing. When we look closely, the first thing to notice is the use of passive voice.

Kala displayed decent conversationalist during their short walk together, even through passive their conversation had been passive mostly superficial – at least until the end. He’d caught her subtle come-on, and a tiny part of the man he used to be was passive flattered. Hell, that guy would have passive jumped on that at the first chance. But he was passive long gone, and Dillon didn’t passive expect him to return.

 The second thing we noticed is, it’s taking a lot of words to say what fewer can accomplish. I notice this a lot with people who are use to business writing, where it’s encouraged to use softeners and vague terminology. There’s also a few words missing and I’m not sure about some word choices either.

Kala displayed word choice and missing an ‘a’ decent conversationalist word choice during their short walk together we know they were together, even through their conversation this is a repeated of above had been mostly vague and passive superficial – at least until the end. He’d caught her subtle come-on, and a tiny part of the man he used to be was flattered. Hell, that guy would have jumped on that ‘that’ is usually an extra word you can delete and the sentence will sound the same or better at the first chance a lot of words to say a simple thing. But he was long gone, and Dillon didn’t expect him to return again used a lot of words to say a simple thing.

 So, how do we convey our findings without demoralizing the writer? Face it, us creative types are very emotional creatures and tend to see more negative than positive. You know it’s true – no use denying it.

Okay, the first thing recommend is start the critique by remembering the intention, and that is to help not hurt. Think about your own experiences both positive and negative. Try to duplicate the positive and minimize the negative.

For me, I would say something to the effect, “Love where you’re going with this and I totally feel his hesitation to get involved with her.” I’d smile and continue. “There are few places I noticed need looking at, a few places where passive voice is used. Just an FYI, passive wording slows the reader and lends itself to cluttered writing. How I’d address it in my own work is by eliminating as many of the ‘it was, was, has, has been, had, could, would, should’ word choices through my revision.” I’d suck in a gulp of air because I was long winded and…. “I also noticed some places to tighten up the passage by getting rid of any repeats or extra words. For example:

Kala proved a decent conversationalist during their short walk, though their banter remained superficial – until the end where he’d caught her subtle come-on. A tiny part of him soaked up her flattery. Hell, before he lost everything he’d jumped at a chance to seduce a woman like her. But, that man no longer existed.”

 After I offered up my version of a revision, I’d say, you’re the author so put it in your own words. I just wanted to show how making a few minor changes could effect the passage.

Okay, so what I did is offered up my insight and pointed out the areas I found warranting improvement. I gave the reason why, than offered a solution and even a revision option as an example. Even if they don’t make all the changes, I know I tried my best to be helpful, courteous, and respectful.

Remember; treat people the way you want to be treated.

 

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If you want to learn more about critiquing, sign up for my up coming two week workshop beginning October 1st Critiquing with Grace and Compassion.

Visit my website @ http://www.luv2write2.com for more helpful hints about writing for all genera and abilities. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest

Susan, again thank you for hosting me and for those of you who might not know, Susan is an exceptional mentor and knows her stuff. I recommend attending one or more her classes through OIRWA – Out Reach International Romance Writer’s of America.

 

 

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