Friday, February 8, 2013

Dealing with Critiques

(For those of you who missed it, my query and first 250 made it through the Bouncer round on Cupid! That means I'll get to be in the agent round! Squeeeee! I also got a lot of helpful comments on my kissing scene, which I'm already working to incorporate. So all in all, I think this was a good week for my writing. Now on today's planned post!)

At the beginning of January, I participated in a "Critique Partner Dating Service" on the writing site Miss Snark's First Victim. One of the things I've struggles with as a writer is finding really good critique partners. My friends are totally great when it comes to reading my stuff, and despite not being writers, usually have fairly awesome comments. However most of their comments tend to focus on story and characterization--which don't get me wrong, is a good thing--but sometimes I just really need help with writing. As in flow, syntax, diction, all that jazz. And sometimes it just helps to have someone who is at the same place in the crazy journey to publication that I am reading my stuff.

I've gotten one or two great crit partners from other events in the past and from other websites, but it hasn't been easy to find good critique partners. It's a balance.  You need someone who will be honest with you about what works and what doesn't but someone who also gets your story. 

Sometimes you can find someone who gives really good feedback and is a really good writer, but their entire feedback gives you the overall impression that they don't get your characters or your story. And that's ok. Not everyone is going to get every story. 

Anyway, due to trying to find my perfect Critique Partner match, I recently sent out my first chapter to a lot of writers, and I got a ton of feedback. Some of it was contradictory. Some of it I just downright disagreed with. Some of it was spot on and I can't believe I didn't realize that before. But when sifting through feedback, how do you make the call that something is "good feedback"? 

Well, feedback for me is generally a fine line. Sometimes something will make me angry like "HOW CAN THEY SAY THAT? THEY JUST DON'T GET IT!!!" but then after I cool off it makes perfect sense. Such a reaction was exactly how I felt when Krista suggested I cut the character of Mark, my secondary POV's awesome older brother. I didn't want to cut him. The scenes with Mark and Marilla are just perfect and amazing and exactly how a good brother/sister relationship works. Except...they were unnecessary. Certainly good character development, but they slowed down the pace even more. 

After I cooled down, I realized she was (of course) right. And in my second revision of the story I chopped out almost every scene with Mark in it. Now he has two scenes left. Neither really displays much about Mark as a person, other than good big brother and avid gamer, but they fit in the story, they forward the plot, and they don't slow down the pacing. Thus Mark still exists. Just in a much smaller but better for the story way.

Other times, critters comments don't make me angry so much as they confuse me. My story is such a perfect picture in my head that I don't get how they don't get what I'm trying to say. (Wait, did that sentence even make sense?) When I got my first chapter back from my first reader this time around, I had that same reaction to the two things she didn't get. I was like, "but it's so obvious!"

Then I got the exact same feedback from every reader who looked at my chapter. Two points that I thought were clear were apparently not clear at all to anyone. If that's not a sign saying "YOU NEED TO FIX THIS," I don't know what is. One problem was something I had to fix in the second paragraph of my text, which I'm sure you saw if you read this post and what was posted on Cupid. The other was piece of info that I needed to drop, but in a subtle non-info dumpy way. I think I did so successfully, and let's hope it leads to less confusion in the future.

Some feedback is obvious to me, and immediately gets integrated without a second thought. Other feedback is never going to jive with me because I feel it doesn't fit with the story. And that's ok too. You don't have to take every single piece of feedback given to you.

The key, I think, is to ask yourself "Does this make it a better story but NOT a different story?" Because there is a lot of feedback that is good, but doesn't quite jive with the heart of what I'm trying to tell. And I'm not going to make my story a different story. At it's heart THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is always going to be a villain origin story. If it becomes anything else, it's a different story: the wrong story.

I'm telling a very specific story with THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL, and it's a story I want to tell. 

So that's how I look at feedback. Anyone else out there have different perspectives or helpful hints?

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