Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Critique

So as some of my readers know, at Dragon*Con I got into a Master's Writing Workshop. Only seven students were accepted. And finally, yesterday, I got my one-on-one critique. So I thought I would share the feedback I got with all of you and my thoughts on it.

First she told me what I was doing right:
  • Nice voice
  • Likable protagonist
  • Not a cookie cutter medieval world
  • The idea of magic being viewed by the general populace as evil is different from most fantasy books and therefore interesting
  • Jess is a character readers will identify with
  • It has an easy flow
  • Good style
  • Good descriptions
All and all, I'm very glad those things were right. I know voice and style are the two things that are hard to create in a writer. Plot (my major problem in this story) can always be fixed, but the only real way to fix style and voice is by lots of reading. Thank goodness I already have the lots of reading required to develop those things under my belt.

So I knew going in that there were a lot of problems with pacing and lack of plot in the middle of the story, and of course the critiquer realized this too. Awesomely she helped me think of a lot of really great ideas including:
  • creating another POV (for those of you who have read Spirit Riddled this 2nd POV would be Berta). This would allow me to show some of the events that Jess (my MC) can't experience first hand (Bank Tower explosion) and allow this character to pay a greater role in the story, which is cool. And since she's only a 15/16ish year old girl she's not too old to participate as a secondary POV in a MG book.
  • changing one character entirely to make her bad (Basically I'm taking Antonina out and replacing her with a different maid). This opened a lot of possibilities, which includes having someone in the story who is constantly (and visibly) working against Jess and trying to keep her in her old mind set.
We basically spent the entire time talking about how to jazz up the plot in the middle and a few things she thought of as "logic problems" (meaning they didn't make sense to her). Usually, most of the logic problems weren't because I hadn't though it out but because I hadn't explained it adequately. One good example of that is one of the main plot points in the story is that a building blows up. Because of this, my critiquer assumed that my society had basic guns (like muskets). So she felt there were a lot of inconsistencies and logic problems with the time era my society is in. However, I explained to her that my society is more like ancient China, that had rockets and explosives but not guns. That made sense to her once I explained it BUT I'm not going to be there to explain those things to my readers. So now I have an idea for adding a scene in earlier that explains this about the society (in a show not tell sort of way).

Basically the critique was really good because it gave me great ideas about how to fix this story in the middle while still being true to the story. I wasn't afraid to reject the ideas my critiquer brought up that weren't true to the story. There was one in particular that would be a good story but wasn't MY story.

I think that's important to remember whenever a writer gets any critique. I could easily have taken that first idea I was given and made a good story. However, when I explained that wasn't my story, the critiquer and I were able to think of any better ideas--ideas that were true to my story.

So that's the basics of the critique I got. And hopefully, one day when research and school aren't crazy, I'll actually be able to revise it.


  1. I'll be excited to check out the revised version. I'm not sure how I feel about the second voice, but getting into Berta's head might be fun. I definitely don't like the idea of getting rid of Antonnia, but that's because I tend to hate the "obstacle" characters in books. I don't mean that in a "my hate for this character helps me bond with the main character" way, either. It's just a literary element that authors use of which I've never been a fan of. That said, there are a (very select) few "hateable" characters that I've loved to hate over the years. Good luck making your new character a believable obstacle and wonderfully Snape-like in hateability rather than just an enormous Umbridge-like pain (no one will ever be able to convince me that OotP was better with her in it than it would've been without her). The rest of the feedback definitely sounds good.

    Glad you got a lot out of the workshop!

  2. "never been a fan of" should be "rarely been..."

  3. Your critiquer did a fine job balancing the positive comments with the constructive suggestions. Looks to me like you're in quite a useful workshop.