Saturday, August 27, 2011

[Critiques: pt2] Giving Critiques

[edited re-post from former blog]

This post is building upon Part 1, so if you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I would suggest it.

Giving critiques, like giving anything in life, is much different than getting. It requires a lot of thought sometimes! And loads of concentration. I have a bad habit of getting really wrapped up in some of the incredibly well-done books I critique for friends, and when that happens…the amount of comments I leave decreases drastically. I tell them that’s a good thing, though. Because it means, to me anyway, that they are doing a great job.

In my previous post, I defined three kinds of critiques that I have found: the Good, Bad, and Balanced.
Building upon that, I’d like to add three more to the mix that are interconnected to the first three: the Techy, the Story, and the Blend.

The Techy: I am very guilty of giving way too many critiques of this sort, especially in my early stages of giving critiques. Techy critiques are basically just that: comments on the technical aspects of a manuscript. Misplaced commas, missing question marks, paragraphs that belong to the previous paragraph, et cetera. It rarely ventures past commas, “*likes*”, and the occasional “this sentance is awkward!”.

The Story: This is the antithesis of the Techy. This sort of critique, which, in my experience, is much harder to give or get, delves into the aspects of Story (if you’re an OYANer, this will make perfect sense. If not…keep reading my blog. Someday I’ll write a post about Story ^.^ Or go here and check out the OYAN curriculum! [/shameless advertising]), the characters’ motives, and the like. Techy comments in this kind of critique are usually few, unless the mistake is glaringly obvious.
Comments tend to sound more like, “Really…could Rosa honestly trust Mike so soon after he almost shot her?”
Or, “This piece of dialogue doesn’t fit what you’ve shown us of Nikki’s character. It sounds more like something Troy would say.”
Or…worse still…”This scenario is completely far-fetched. I can’t believe any of it at all. And…it’s boring me. If this were a published book, I’d probably set it down about now.”

The Blend: Just like with the Balanced, the Blend is a “hybrid”, so to speak. It covers the Techy side, but the Story side as well. These are the ones I strive to give. And it’s tough! I’m so tempted to read quickly, skim over things, and just enjoy the story without stopping to comment when my little inner-editor starts screaming his fool head off, even if I don’t realize he’s talking but just feel that something about the story is “off”.

Let’s say you’ve never critiqued before. Maybe you haven’t. Or, if you’re one of my amazing OYAN friends, you’ve probably critiqued a lot. If you are one of those awesome people, please comment and tell me what I’ve gotten wrong in this post/add your 2c.
Now, back on track. You’ve never critiqued before, and your best writing-buddy has just sent you a chapter of her book and asks for your feedback.
What do you do? Just saying “awesome job!” could work…but would that really help her?
No (yes, yes, I’ve done that before myself. Especially if I haven’t been asked to give any feedback, even though I should ). Not really.

Read carefully. Make notes.
If something doesn’t make sense, make a note.
If there’s something missing, whether it’s a word, a period, or whatever, make a note.
If something elicits emotion in you, make a note!
If you really, really like something a certain character does, or the character in general, make a note!
If the plot takes a turn you weren’t expecting, or rather, if you predicted the ending way too easily, make a…you guessed it! A note.
Really, that’s an easy way to sum up what critiquing is. It’s making notes of what you’re observing in the story–the good and the bad.
It’s finding the passive voice and the adverbs that really could be replaced with something better.
It’s finding inconsistencies in characters, holes in plot, things that could be better described.
The things that simply aren’t right…like a semi-automatic .22 taking down a deer, or a bottle of gasoline exploding when thrown against a hot motorcycle engine.
The things that make you laugh…or cry, or grit your teeth, or give you that funny feeling almost like you’re feeling pain or adreneline right along with the book-people. Make notes of it all! I can't even begin to describe just how valuble good critiques are, both for the giver and the receiver.

Well, there you have it. That's what I have learned so far about the nature of critiques.

- Hannah

Friday, August 26, 2011

[Critiques: pt1] Getting Critiqued

[slightly edited re-post from former blog]

Ah, yes. An exciting, yet scary moment. The moment when you receive a critique on your much-loved piece of work. You shared it with the world, or part of the world anyway, and now…said world is responding.

There are a few things that can happen. Depending on the nature of the feedback, you could…

1) Be completely crushed and vow to never show your writing again (if you got a “bad” critique).

2) Be in 7th heaven and convince yourself that you’re the best thing in the writing world since…since…hm. Since your favorite author (if you got a “good” critique).
Yes, there is a third option.

3) You can take the good, the bad, and the ugly. Roll with the punches, take comments as they are meant to be taken, keep a level head, and decide to improve (if you got a “good”, “bad”, or “balanced” critique…it doesn’t matter).

The best reaction, in my personal opinion, is #3.
Now, these are strictly my opinions and observations here, but these are the natures of critiques:

The Bad: Comments galore, and all negative/negatively constructive. Each and every adverb, “was”, “had”, etc. marked up. Things that you thought were great and fit your scenario blasted to smithereens without good, solid reasons and suggestions for improvement.

The Good: A glowing, flowery critique full of compliments and little else.(note that the Good and the Bad are somewhat reversed. Sure, you might want a Good critique, but the Bad ones make you wisen up a whole lot faster)

The Balanced: A mix of the Good and the Bad, comments are largely constructive, and yet balanced out with notes on things that you did right, or things that elicited different emotional reactions in your reader. Sometimes the Good comments may simply contain “LOL” or some other such amused/amusing notation.

My favorite kind of critique? The Balanced. I don’t think I have ever actually gotten a Bad one. Not a really, really Bad one at any rate.
Balanced are the kind that I try to give, but giving critiques is a subject for Part 2.

So, anyway. You have your document full of comments. What do you do with it now?
Digest it, and, if you’re not currently in the revising process, save it for when you begin revising. A lot of the more technical comments are ones that are helpful but don’t require much thinking, but ones like in the example below need some thought and brainstorming to make the most out of the comment.

This is just a random paragraph that I made up for this purpose:

Reaching into his pocket, Jace pulled out his handgun. The weight of the Glock felt good in his hand, but he didn’t have time to notice as the thug came closer. Jace raised the gun and fired once, twice, ten times. He had no idea what he was doing, and all but the last three shots missed. The man fell just as Jace’s gun make a clicking noise. Empty. Jace swallowed hard and edged forward, ready to use the butt of the gun as a club if the person lying on the concrete not fifteen feet from him wasn’t really dead. Blood pooled beneath the man and red rivers ran through and around the trash in the dirty alley. Jace let out a sigh of relief as he drew closer; the thug was indeed dead.

Now, I will “critique” this paragraph.
Anything in bold in the above text is something I have commented on here below.

How big is Jace’s pocket?
In the next sentence you mention he’s carrying a Glock…aren’t most Glocks too large to fit into a normal-sized pocket? Or is it a compact/sub-compact? Specify.
If he didn’t have time to notice the weight of the gun, don’t write about it — slight Point of View switch.
How many rounds can his gun hold? Make sure this is in line with the right gun model.
Since he has no idea what he is doing, why is Jace carrying a gun in the first place? This could make for an interesting backstory. Elaboration would be really cool, but maybe not at this point in the scene. Toward the end, or even earlier/later in the book would work too. I’m sensing an excuse for foreshawdowing or backshadowing.
Good job of showing Jace’s nervousness instead of just telling us about it!
Slightly gory, but nice, detail. Gives us a better idea of where Jace and this dude are. Some more detail would improve on this further.

Some of this will overlap into Part 2, but I actually need an example like this in both posts, so…forgive the repetitiveness.
Now that you’ve read this “critique”, do you see what I mean?

Researching the sizes of Glocks and picking which model Jace is carrying, giving him a good reason for having the gun, keeping the PoV in line, and maybe adding some more detail, those are all things one has to think about before changing or deciding not to change.

Now, after some quick referencing, I’ve found that the compact Glock model I looked at holds only five rounds. That’s not enough for what I need in this scene. However, the Glock 22 has a mag capacity of 17 max, and it is also the model used by much of our law enforcement, which means it is likely one of the models easiest to find. While it’s rather bulky for a normal-sized pocket, that’s not the only place Jace can carry it (and how long did this research take? Under five minutes).
This all ties in to the specifications I needed to clear up. So here’s the re-written paragraph:

Reaching behind him, Jace pulled the Glock 22 from his belt. He tightened his hand around the grip and curled his sweaty finger around the trigger as the thug came closer. Jace raised the gun and fired once, twice, ten times. This was only the second time he’d fired the gun after getting it at the pawn shop that morning, and he really had little idea as to what he was doing. All but the last three shots missed. The man fell to the ground just as the gun clicked. Jace checked the magazine; empty. He swallowed hard and edged forward, fully prepared to use the butt end of the Glock as a club if the person lying on the filthy concrete in front of him wasn’t dead. Blood pooled beneath the man and red rivers ran through and around the trash in the dirty alley. Jace let out a sigh of relief as he drew closer, his shoe scuffing against an empty soda can. The thug was dead.

See how few things I actually changed, but now it looks as if I know what I’m talking about when it comes to guns?

I guess the bottom line is, when you get critiques, be thankful. Thank the critiquer–s/he took time out of his or her day to help you– and while you are not required to take all of their advice, at least consider it and do your research.
Plot holes are detrimental, even if they are minor. Critiques are one of the best things that can be given to you as a writer. Part 2 coming up soon, LORD willing!

- Hannah

[image credit:]