Friday, April 09, 2010

Critique: Fantasy vs. Reality

On Monday, my critique group discussed my work-in-progress. I had given them the manuscript a month earlier, and I'd been fantasizing about how the critique would go...

Fantasy Critique:
Smart Writer: This is amazing! Have you shown it to your agent yet??
Writer Whose Prose Reads Like Poetry: Best thing you've ever written. I can't believe this is only your first draft.
Me: (Blushing) Well, actually, it's a second draft.
Overly Critical Writer: I think you could have used a semicolon instead of a comma on page 83.
Hilarious Writer: I was cracking up at parts.
Best Selling Writer: I cried at parts, too. You really captured what it feels like to be a thirteen-year-old girl.
Brilliant Writer: And that climax... I was dying!
Me: Really? Wow, thanks!

In reality, critique group didn't sound much like that at all. (Although one member, who is now my favorite person on the planet, did say the manuscript reminded her of something Judy Blume or Paula Danziger would have written.)

It would be nice to be one of those authors who writes brilliant fiction without much effort (is there such a being??), but since no fairy has granted me that magical power yet, I'm grateful for every bit of constructive criticism my critique group hands to me. Yes, it can be overwhelming. But I gotta tell you, I'd much rather hear my secondary characters need development from a critique group than from an editor in the form of a rejection letter. Or worse yet, from a reviewer after there is nothing more I can do about it.

In order to process all the comments I received (there are seven of us in critique), I went through page by page and copied everything into my one document. This is what a typical page of compiled comments looks like:

Note the smileys and stars! Note the, "Love this," and, "Such great timing!" Note also, all the questions. Clearly I have a lot of thinking and writing to do.

But this is my favorite part of writing. I'm taking something whole and making it better. I can do that. After all, I have some amazing writer friends with very high standards guiding me. And that's no fantasy.


Anonymous said...

THIS is exactly what I needed to read about! Brenda, the hardest part of revising for me is organizing all the amazing, helpful, constructive (and oftentimes, conflicting) comments I receive from my various critiquers. I didn't know how to capture all the feedback in one organized place -- and it never even occurred to me to bring all the comments together into one easy-to-refer-to document as you do. Brilliant. Thank you for showing us! --Christine Wolf

Brenda Ferber said...

I'm glad this sounds helpful to you. It's still important, though, to really think through all the comments. Sometimes you will disagree with something someone is suggesting, and you should feel confident enough to do that. Other times, you have to decode what someone means. Like, they might say, "I didn't believe Character A would do that!" That doesn't mean Character A can't do that. What it means is you need to develop Character A more fully so your readers will believe the action.