Critique Clinic: passage rewrite

So, if you didn’t break up with your critters after yesterday’s post let me reassure you that a crit partner or team is one of the best tools a writer can have.  In fact, they can shape up a manuscript in ways we never dream possible.

Often we don’t have a clue what to do with the feedback we receive.  Do we want line-edits or vague commentary?  And how, pray tell, do we do incorporate simple statements into workable material?

I’d like to offer you a mini clinic with actual passages and feedback so you can see a critique in action.  A big thanks goes to John Sankovich, one of my crit buddies over on AQ, for letting me use his manuscript as an example. 

A little background on this YA piece: we have an MC with special powers who finds herself thrust into a dangerous situation.  Her mother did not survive the latest attack.  A young man has been there to support MC since the beginning and will be the second side of a love triangle.  Our MC just got out of the tub and is wrapped in a towel when said triangle side enters with a breakfast tray.  Just before leaving he tells her he’s sorry about her loss.

She didn’t have a response and watched him leave her to the waiting breakfast. Her heart raced and she clenched her fists. How can she deal with Kellen and her growing powers? 

 To which this comment was attached by a crit partner: Oh no you don’t!  Don’t cheat me out of this heart-skipping moment.  I guarantee you, your readers want him to touch her right now.  Her hand, skin on skin, letting her feel things she’s not ready to feel.  Whatever.  Just don’t let this chance slip by to connect these two.

What follows is a quick, but fabulous rewrite that gets to the heart of this budding relationship. 

“No problem. I’m sure you’ll repay the favor someday.” He reached for the door keeping his cool intact. “I’m really sorry about your mom. I didn’t know how to tell you last night.”

She didn’t have a response and watched him twist the doorknob. His hand remained there for a moment and she stepped closer. Her body moved while her mind screamed for her to stop. He dropped his hand and moved toward her. His warmth caught her off guard and she looked into his eyes. Her heart raced, threatening to explode. He touched her cheek, his soft fingers caressing her and she opened her mouth to say something, but her mind refused to form words. He leaned in closer, she tilted her head back and he kissed her. Gently, a peck that increased the longing. He ran his hand down her arm and studied her. His eyes seeming to delve into her soul. Her body melted and if it wasn’t for her telekinesis, she would have collapsed in the middle of the room.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since that night at the gas station.” He left.

Her mind exploded into a thousand colors as she slumped to her knees. Her entire body shook.

And that, my writer friends, is how it’s done. 

So, what do you think?  Are you opposed to such directive comments or do you prefer something simpler: build character connections here?  How does feedback jumpstart your muse?   

For more examples of how critiques have shaped writing, please follow me.  I’ll be blogging at From the Write Angle on Friday.   


8 responses to “Critique Clinic: passage rewrite

  1. I would prefer specific suggestions in a critique, not the vague….”this whole section was a distraction”. The more specific, the more helpful. That’s where I am right now. Lost.

    • Yvonne,

      I tend to agree with you. I like a little direction with my feedback. Even if I don’t ultimately go in the direction that is offered, it helps to see another prespective and often that other perspective can jumpstart an entirely new approach.

      You’ll find your way. I have faith in you and your poetic writing.


  2. I LOOOOOVE suggestions from others; the more creative minds, the better! But I do know some writers hate suggestions. Always a good idea to find out what the writer wants before jumping in and giving advice! And, of course, always good to let your crit partners know whether or not you’re open to that kind of input.

    • Yes!

      Great points. When I start a crit relationship, I usually let them know there are three things I can offer. A copy edit, a content edit or a mix of both. Then I let them know that I have a “bad” habit of commenting stream of consciousness in the margins. I tend to write my first reactions and play with words or phrases to illustrate my points. To some, this may feel intrusive or directive, so I try to let people know that this is just my way of thinking through what I read and not a rewrite.

      It is uber important for everyone to be honest about what they want and what they can give.

  3. Great points!

    I’ve done a little critiquing. I have been hedging on my critiques, but the “Oh, no you don’t, don’t cheat me.” is a great way of letting the writer know what is missing. I could also see this go another way.

    “Oh no you don’t! You don’t need to bore us with all that description. I got lost between the trees, and the sun set. We need a snack at this point, not a full course meal.” Or something like that.

    Thanks for the post. I’m about to embark on the Speculative Fiction Writing marathon over on the AQ web site. I’ll be looking for critique buddies. This one little line will be invaluable in the next several weeks. Thanks Cat!

    • DC,

      Glad this example was helpful in seeing one way of critiquing and how it can work.

      And you’ve hit on a very important factor. How we offer critique greatly affects how a writer responds. Humor is helpful in that it usually doesn’t offend. I also think gut reactions are good. John is a very helpful critter to me, because he leaves great little comments on the lines he likes and those where he’s confused or questioning something. This real time reaction is invaluable to me.

      Best luck as you embark on the Marathon and in finding a good crit team. They can truly be lifesavers.

  4. Hey, John, I don’t remember THAT rewrite. Hot!

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