Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sometimes Critique can be the Best Thing Ever

A few months back I wrote about an online auction I'd won for Do the Write Thing for Nashville to have a 50 page critique done for The Prodigal's Foole.

The lovely and talented Amy Boggs from the Donald Maass Literary Agency offered up this critique to help the poor souls impacted by the terrible flooding in Nashville earlier this year.

Amy and I had been corresponding a bit via Twitter previously...DMLA reps a few of the writers I love. As a writer seeking publication, research into the type of agencies you want to work with and who fits with your writing style and genre is a critical component of the business-end of writing.

Anyway....yesterday I received the detailed crit back from Amy...and I wanted to share a few of her comments as these sort of details are definitely things you should look at for yourselves when editing your WIP:

While Sy is engaging and likeable, I don’t feel we’re quite given enough reason to follow him. What makes him unique? Why is this his story and not Aaron’s or Billy’s or Eden’s or Janice’s or even Peter’s? Sure he’s funny, but for a character to really pull us in, there has to be an evident strength there as well. The key, I think, is to highlight what drives your character. Take Harry Dresden, for instance. He is driven both the bad and good events of his childhood.

A very fair point (and the comparison to Harry Dresden made me titter. And men really shouldn't titter). As TPF is structured at the moment, the reason's for what drives Symon is revealed in the second act...which jumps back and forth between the present and ten years prior. I can (and absolutely should) at least hint at the motivations earlier...hints will make the reader want to know more about Sy, while providing even more impact when the 'reveal' happens in Act 2.

More towards your writing, the big issue for me was that sometimes you don’t seem to trust your reader that much. A lot of this comes through in repetition. For example, “I nodded my head by way of acknowledgement.” The reader knows that nodding means acknowledgement because of the context. There were also quite a few instances where things were spelled out to the reader when they didn’t need to be, such as diving into a long paragraph about how they all have magical powers...

Even my sister mentioned this when she reviewed my novel. I ignored her. Guess I should send her flowers or something, huh? This is a 'mechanics of writing' issue for me that I have to be aware of....correcting this in TPF will take a little time. Correcting this for my writing over all will take strength of will. Pay attention to your writing and listen to your sister (who has a PhD and is a walking MLA Handbook)!

I know some of this 'sounds' negative. It's not. They're all good points....and all helpful to make TPF the best it can be. After all, do I want to eventually publish an ok story, or a tight yarn people will enjoy?

I'll share a third passage from Amy's overall comments with you. Not just because it's hopeful and flattering (so it's a nice ego boost ;-) ), but because now I want to work twice as hard to get it right:

You have a solid foundation here, and you clearly know how to juggle both big world-building and detailed sentence structure, and every story element in between. You story shows promise, and your writing even more so. I hope this can just perhaps be a nudge in the right direction.

Nudge indeed. I spent all night doing rework of TPF...:-)

Keep writing folks. Don't stop. Get people you know to review your work. Join writer's groups to get peer critiques. Make contacts in the writing world.

Becoming a published writer is a lot harder than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. But the key--for me at least--is to continue to get feedback. All it does is make you a better writer in the end.

Make it happen!


M Pax said...

Feedback is always good. My critique group has made me better. Feedback from editors helps when I get it. I have a professional critique with a sci-fi group in November. I'm looking forward to it. :D

It is hard. Takes a lot of guts, too.

Anonymous said...

For years I received nothing more than standard rejection slips. I wondered, "What is wrong with my work?" but, of course, the "doesn't-suit-our-present-needs" responses offered no help. Once I began to get real feedback from editors and agents, I listened, implemented suggestions, and my work improved.

Many writers believe critique exists only as a negative pointing out of flaws. For the rest of us, critique (feedback) is a tool to use for growth.

Good luck in your pursuit to get published. It isn't easy and it isn't quick, but if you don't give up, it will happen. (It took me eleven years!)


Anonymous said...

remember -- always listen to your sister!!!!
Dee ;)

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