Tag Archives: critique group

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.   


Table Talk in Writing

Friday night Dear Hubby and I played Sequence with Eldest and a handful of his friends.  Even though the kids cheated horribly, DH and I kicked some kid butt. 

The reason, at least to my way of thinking?  The kids were so busy trying out their secret table talk that they failed to keep their heads in the game.

Writing is a bit like this.  Okay, A LOT like this. 

Just yesterday, one of my crit buddies and I chatted about how we–insert writerly name here–have the tendency to defend and explain our positions during a critique session. 

“But,” we might say to some feedback, “this is why I did it.”

Or, “I know this sounds confusing now–insert explaination–but it makes perfect sense later in the manuscript.”

Oh yeah, we are masters at defending our positions.  What we should be doing, however, is keeping our heads in the game. 

While we may have the luxury of enlightening our crit partners with extracurricular table talk, we do not have this same advantage when our readers include agents, editors and the paying public.

In the future, we may be able to insert a little chip in our digital editions that says, “Press button here to understand this section of the book.”

Until then, our manuscripts better speak for themselves.  And this means no table talk.  Because whenever we do this, we cheapen our writing and cheat our readers out of a delightful experience.

So, what do you do with critique commentary?  Have you had to pull out your cheat sheet and explain your writing to your readers, or do you just sit back and keep your head in the game? 

Crit Buddies: the Happy Meal of Writing

This past week/end was a blast.  DH had been scheduled for his yearly golf tourney up in Brainerd, but injured his neck and stayed behind.  Unlike his normal, workaholic self, he actually remained home on his already scheduled days off.  It was great to have him around and we got some odds and ends done.  Lots of relaxing too.

Middle son’s relay team placed 5th (out of 5) at the state track meet on Saturday.  He was so excited to stand on the podium to receive his award.  Eldest marched for band, while our Dear Daughter and Youngest walked the parade.  DD turned 14 and celebrated in style, while DH and I apparently adopted three teenaged children. 

All our kids are highly social, which means a lot of hosting.  Our food count for the weekend looked something like this:

  • 16 hamburgers
  • 36 cans of various drinks
  • 24 water bottles
  • 8 hotdogs
  • 2 brats
  • 3 large pizzas
  • 4 boxes of cereal
  • 1 butter braid
  • 1 angel food birthday cake
  • bags and bags of chips
  • bags and bags of veggies
  • cantelope, pasta salad & other filler foods too numerous to count

Oh, yeah.  And one Mc Donald’s run for Youngest.

“Dad, please take me to Mc Donalds.  I want a cheeseburger with only ketchup.”

“I’ll make you one.”

Youngest is stubborn and knows how to hold his ground.  After much finagling, the truth comes out. 

“Dad, your hamburgers are just a teensy, weensy bit…not as good,” Youngest says and holds his fingers together so they almost touch.  He smiles real big, trying for damage control.  “Everybody likes your hamburgers.  Grant and Davis.  Connor does and Lexi and Tyson.  Mom…”

Youngest ticks off names, his little eyes looking directly into DH’s.  He loves his Daddy and doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.  “To them, your hamburgers are good.  To me…not so much.”

This refreshing honesty is exactly what I look for in a critique partner.  I love the truth.  It’s the only thing that helps me grow as a writer. 

Thankfully, I have a group of critters that gives me what I need.  Two are outstanding Beta Readers.  Another is my Comma Queen.  She makes last minute polishing a dream.  And just recently, I hooked up with another Minnesota writer who has proven to be an outstanding critiquer.  He’s young (by my ancient standards) and has a fresh perspecive.  He’s also not afraid to tell it like it is.

“Everything sounded really good up to here.  This part just doesn’t work for me.  Flesh it out.  Give more detail.  This sounds off.”

I love it.  My critters are the best Happy Meal around.

Is it important to have a well-rounded critique group, or is that akin to too many cooks at the fry basket?  Which type of reader is the hardest to find?  Which ones are the most valuable to you, and why?   

Now let’s go get a hamburger!

Rules of a Writing Fort

It’s fort season.

A few days ago, Dear Daughter had a friend over to spend the night.  When I walked in the next morning, I couldn’t find them or the floor.  Blankets stretched from her bed to the four corners.  Books precariously held the blankets in place from their stations on her vanity, chair and night stand.  DD is almost fourteen (Guess what happens in seven days, Mom?) and has apparently not outgrown the magic of an impromptu fort.

Taking a cue, and a table, from big sis, the littles turned their bedroom into a fort.  Last night they both slept under their beds, which were connected by a series of blankets and books, night stands and card tables. 

It is fort season, indeed.

I understand the joy of forts.  It wasn’t so long ago I constructed them myself with my sister.  They are secret and safe and adventurous.  They turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Secrets are whispered, promises made and friendships solidified.  The world’s problems are always solved within the confines of these fabric walls.

At least until the books come crashing down and we are left under a tangle of blankets.  In that one fatal moment, it seems as if the magic never happened.

Over the years I’ve had several writing forts.  Critique groups can be invaluable to any writer, no matter how inexperienced or advanced they may be in the craft.  They also vary as widely as the blankets kids use to create their clandestine worlds.

But, not all forts are happy, safe and productive places.  Some members can be bitter.  Some are unmotivated.  Some want to socialize, while others want the nitty-gritty.  Some cry at the drop of a hat (not me this time, I promise).  Inevitably, somebody stands up or waves their arms in a way that knocks the books off the night stand and we are left with a disgusting pile of rubble and a mess to clean up.

The side-effects can be disasterous when this happens.  Writers return to their closets and vow never to never share their work again.  They fear their writing is no longer valid.  They may even turn in their laptops and notepads.  They can become bitter and distrustful and a harsher critic should they ever erect another writing fort.

So, dear friends, in your vast and varied experiences, what are the rules of your writing forts?  What works and what doesn’t?  How often do you exchange passages, how much and how?  Who do you share your secret handshake and password with?  What tips have you learned along the way to help other writers succeed in creating the best fort of the season?


The Seven Degrees of Beta Readers

Manuscript critique is an integral part in a writer’s journey from rough draft to polished manuscript.  When we critique our own work, it’s called editing.  Each manuscript usually goes through any number of self-critiques by the author.  However, somewhere along the line, we need an extra set of eyes and a fresh perspective to help us really see the nuances of our writing: what works?  What doesn’t? 

I am a firm believer that Beta Readers of all ilk are desirable.  Even the least likely person to articulate their thoughts can make a tremendous impact on a manuscript’s direction–as long as we’re willing to listen.

And so I bring you The Seven Degrees of Beta Readers.

  1. White Belt: Those Who Love You.  Moms and grandmas make great White Belt readers because they boost your ego and encourage you to write more.  White Belts give great back pats and say things like, “Wonderful.  I loved it.”  What they really mean is “I’m proud of you for actually stringing all those words together.”  This is valuable feedback–not on the manuscript, but about you as a writer.  It is encouragement to reach for the stars.
  2. Orange Belt: Friends.  Find the ones who love you enough to read your work, but not enough to lie to you.  Orange Belts can be the first real feedback on your story as a whole.  However, be specific about what you want these Orange Belts to do.  In the past, I’ve handed mine a clean copy and said, “Jot down questions as you go, let me know where you’re confused and certainly please note the typos if they jump out at you.”  This is a great process for finding those niggling plot problems like “How long does it take for maggots to infest a dead fish?” 
  3. Yellow Belt: Expert in the Field.  If you’re writing a religious piece, hit up your clergy for a take on realism.  For a psychological thriller, find a willing psychologist to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t regarding mental health.  Kids make great Yellow Belt readers.  Have middle graders and teens stop reading when they get bored and mark the spot.  Watch the eyes and actions of younger kids when you read aloud.  When attention is lost, your manuscript needs work. 
  4. Blue Belt: Critique Partner.  These can be difficult to find, but they earn their belts by slogging through manuscrips of writing buddies and receiving critiques in return for their efforts.  The internet has made it possible to find like-minded writers anywhere in the world.  Face to face groups are a little more difficult to organize, but can be found by hitting the library and writing conferences.  Keep in mind that this arrangement is the only Beta Reader that is a partnership.  Balance is key.  Critique and be critiqued.  Respect and be respected.
  5. Green Belt: Mentor.  Writers come in varying degrees of experience.  Finding a mentor with experience, time and committment can be magical.  Having a Green Belt on your side makes your learning curve in the writing industry much shorter.  These relationships are more one sided, with the mentor doing the critiquing, guiding and cultivating.  Mentorships can be awarded at writer’s conferences.  That’s how Kate DiCamillo got her start.  They can also be found via social networking.  When something clicks, go with it.
  6. Purple Belt: Writing Instructor/Coach.  Colleges often offer creative writing classes, while some seminars or writing institutes offer correspondence courses.  Freelance coaches can also be found online or at conferences.  With Purple Belts come fees.  The coach is paid to read, critique and shape you as a writer.  Before signing up, make sure you know what you’re getting out of the course and who the instructor is.  You don’t want a bitter failed-writer-turned-teacher to coach you. 
  7. Brown Belt: Freelance Editor.  These Beta Readers should be skilled in the English language and the art of story telling.  Check them out before committing and forking over your hard earned cash.  In return for your money, you should receive professional advice on your manuscript.  Just remember, they don’t love you like a White Belt and they will not lie.  Make sure you are ready for the hard truth before sending out your baby.  If you’re unprepared, dreams can die in the hands of a Brown Belt.  The flip-side is that dreams can also be realized if you’re willing to gut out the process and take yourself seriously.  This degree of reader is not for the faint of heart.

And finally, when your manuscript has gone through various types for readers, each nitpicking their own thing, you are ready for the Master Ninja.  The Black Belts of the writing world.  The highest Beta Reader of them all. 

Your agent or editor. 

These Black Belts love your writing enough to take a gamble on your book.  They offer time, expertise and committment–as long as you are willing to work hard with them on rewrites, marketing and self-promotion.  It is a partnership, a mentorship and, if you’re lucky, a friendship. 

Like all things in writing, The Seven Degrees is not set in stone.  Beta Readers can be fluid.  They can put on different belts depending on the project and earn higher belts as they mature and grow.

The most important thing to remember about Beta Readers is this: every time someone reads your writing, they are doing you a favor–whether you like the outcome or not.  Getting back a less than stellar critique doesn’t negate the time and attention put into it. 

Be specific about what you want and realistic about what you’ll get.  Advice is yours to take or ditch.  Consider the critique carefully and learn what you can from the input, even if you don’t agree with it. 

And always, thank your Beta Reader with a smile, no matter which belt they wear.