Tag Archives: critiquing

Critique Partners

20 May

We’re really excited to officially announce a new part of the blog today–the Critique Partners page! After a reader suggested a sort of “Critique Partner Speed Dating,” we couldn’t wait to try the idea out. A few people have already taken the plunge and put up profiles. If you’re looking for a CP, please take a few moments to fill out the information. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with the critique partner of your dreams…!

And while we’re on the topic of critique partners, here’s Kat Zhang with an article on just the thing.

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Critique Partners

by Kat Zhang

As a writer, you quickly learn that one of the most prized gifts you can receive is an honest critique. Sometimes (or should I say most of the time?) our work is too close to our heart for us to see its imperfections. I like to say that my stories are my best friends, my babies, and my worst enemies all at once. I simply don’t trust myself with them. When I love them to bits, I wonder if it’s just my motherly instinct telling me that my child can never be less than perfect. When I hate them and want to throw them out the window, I wonder if it’s that enmity coming into play.

So when I find someone who will look over my bundle of joy (or worst nightmare, depending on the day—or hour—or minute) and tell me straight up, no frills, what he or she thinks, I count myself extremely blessed. A good critique partner is often hard to find. Some turn out to be more cheerleaders than critiquers—they love everything you write! Nothing should be changed! Not a word!

I’m not putting down the value of a good cheerleader (or saying that a good critique partner will never say any of the above—maybe you just wrote a really kick-ass book!), but as writers, we need to be continuously growing, and there are very, very few of us who really “don’t need to change a thing.”

I say all this now, but I’d have to be the first to raise my hand if someone asked “But don’t you just feel bad sometimes when people say they don’t like something about your story?” I think I’m thick skinned, but there’s always that twinge in my heart when someone points out what needs to be fixed in one of my works.

Writers, I think, often tend to be more sensitive than the average person. We need to be in order to throw ourselves into other people’s lives and capture them onto paper. But the same sensitivity that allows us to write can make it hard to take critique.

So whenever I find myself getting depressed or even hurt by something a reader has said, I remind myself of the following.

It is much, much easier to bang out a “Great story! I loved everything. Can’t wait to see what happens next!” than it is to type out a list of things that didn’t quite work out. Your reader put effort into expressing his or her thoughts. They gave up their time to help you—and you know what that means? It means they like you, they really like you!

Just kidding. Well, no, I mean—they probably do like you, but—okay, getting back on track. The point is, your critique partner is not saying these things to make you feel bad, or because they secretly hate you. Quite the opposite! We all know this logically, but sometimes the best of us are insensible when it comes to taking feedback.

Of course, there will be times when you and your critique partner may simply disagree. I wouldn’t say either of you are “right,” since so much of writing is subjective (a good reason to have more than one critique partner!), but if you’ve really thought about a suggest a CP has made, and in the end, you just can’t see where they’re coming from, it may just be a case of differing opinions. Your critique partner’s job is to tell you what they think, and your job is to put aside your prejudices and consider each one of their comments. If, after careful consideration, you still find yourself disagreeing, then it’s perfectly fine to leave your story the way you like it.

Finally, I would like to mention that being a critique partner usually means giving as good as you get. The best way to say thank you for a good, well thought out critique is to write one in return. But don’t think that reviewing your CP’s work is just “paying your dues.” I have learned so much through critiquing other’s work. By forcing yourself to analyze a story, picking out its strengths and weaknesses, you start to see these same factors in your own story.

I’ve heard people say that writing is a lonely profession. Well, it may be true that we spend more time than most isolated at our desks, tap-tap-tapping away. But few people truly write a book totally alone, and you certainly don’t have to! As someone who never had a true critique partner until recently, I can tell you—they rock my world.

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Kat Zhang is an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. She spends most of her free time either preparing to query HYBRID or pounding out the first draft of THE FINEST OF LINES. Both are YA novels. You can read about her writing process and thoughts at her blog.

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Question of the Week: Crit Partners

19 Mar

This week’s QOTW comes from Samantha W, who asks, “I’ve been seeing you guys mention critique partners a lot… But this is the first time I’ve actually heard of them. How do you find critique partners? How many should you have? Etc?”

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A critique partner (or CP) is simply someone that you share your work with and they give you a critique (not a review). CP’s are usually dedicated to their tasks, and are your friends who are writers or readers. It’s important to find a CP whose opinion and tastes you trust, and who you can speak openly to. An ideal CP will be honest with you about your bad work, and be able to offer suggestions as to what you could improve. My former critique partners have included my friends who like my work, and were able to act as test audiences, but I’ve found that the best CPs are writers themselves. I think you’re allowed to have as many as you like; I know of people who have 2 or more, but I would be careful in recruiting a whole bunch of people to critique your work, because they are doing you a favor and you want to be sure that you have time to appreciate them for what they’re doing for you 🙂

The Writer Waiting to Hear Back From Her Agent About Another Project

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Critique partners are absolutely, totally vital– at any stage. I have an agent and three editors I work with, but NONE of them will see my writing until at least one critique partner has gone through it and I’ve addressed any of their issues. And keep in mind, I’m multi-published so somebody thinks I know what I’m doing. 😉

I found my critique partners in the blogosphere– I’ve been on LJ for a long time and have connected with a lot of writers. You can also find them on message boards like “absolute write” or verlakay.com (if you write YA/MG) or through a professional organization like SCBWI, RWA, SFWA, etc.

Just don’t go too crazy– I know people who will have 5-8 people read their work and that’s just going to paralyze you– you can’t make everyone happy or address every comment. And as a last tip, it should really be a writer– not your BFF or your Mom. Someone honest and unbiased.

The Writer with a Book  Deal Who Recently Became an Agent

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Like others have said in their answers, critique partners are necessary. They really help you understand what your writing is like, things you may not catch yourself.

Critique partners should be comfortable with each other enough that they can really tell you what is wrong with your story or novel. Although there are some critique partners that are asked to critique lightly versus others who are used to really pinpoint what is missing from or wrong with your novel.

You can find critique partners, like Mandy said, online at Verla Kay’s, Absolute Write or even your blogging website. You can also find them in a writing group you may be in. What if you liked what X said about that paragraph in your story? Why not ask them to critique the full thing? See what happens. You never know!

The Writer Working on her Second Novel

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Finding a good critique partner is like finding a good boyfriend. Sometimes harder. But anyways, you need someone that you can trust, first and foremost. Once you’ve found a potential CP using the great resources my LTWF peeps suggested, exchange a bunch of emails, chat online, talk about your projects, etc.–before you send them your material. A lot of writers are afraid of getting a CP out of the fear that someone will steal their work. Stop being afraid. Just use common sense. These days, it’s pretty easy to check out people online–do they have a website/blog? Are they on twitter? Do they have other writer-friends? Is this someone that seems legit? There’s no harm in checking out your would-be CP before you commit.

Be honest with each other from the start. Clearly state your expectations, and come to an agreement about how you would like your feedback to be received. Are you someone who likes your criticism sugar-coated, or do you just want to have your work ripped apart?

You have to embrace the criticism as much as the praise, and if you find your CP’s comments to be upsetting, it’s not THEIR fault. You need to let go of your emotional investment in your work when you receive criticism from your CP. You’re both in this to improve, and that won’t happen if you ONLY want to hear good things about your stuff. It’s not personal. Don’t be afraid of someone finding a gaping plothole in your story, or that your characters are 2D, or some other major thing. Think of it as a lifesaver: how would you feel if you ignored those things, and then queried agents only to have them point out the same stuff?

That’s not to say that you should accept every comment your CP says. Sometimes your CP can be wrong–this is a subjective business in a lot of ways, after all. Let your CP’s criticism sink in over the course of a day or so. Think through the changes they suggest. But remember that your CP can see your work more clearly than you can (without the emotional attachment). But if your gut advises you not to listen to them, then just keep the suggestions in the back of your mind.

 A great way to do before committing is to do a test run.  Agree to swap the first 3 chapters of your stuff. When you exchange feedback, you’ll just KNOW if the person jives with you (much like you KNOW when your significant other is The One). Just remember to be clear on what kind of feedback you want to exchange!

And a final word of advice. Even when you and your CP become friends, don’t let it cloud your criticisms. I know from experience that sometimes you get to a point in your CP relationship when you feel bad telling them that their book needs serious work. But it doesn’t help anyone to hold back your true opinion, and doing so can really deteriorate your CP partnership. While you should be sure to remember that someone’s dreams and hopes are wrapped up in the work, don’t forget that you should be honest.

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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I’ll be honest here. My first draft was crap–lovable crap. My second, third, fourth, fifth…..tenth, eleventh draft was not in it’s best shape. I thought my story couldn’t get anymore polished. I thought it was perfect. But then came the critique partners. They were mainly writers my age who helped out with grammatical/spelling/phraseology errors. Then a year ago I met a lady in her early thirties through Authonomy.com. She read the seven chapters I had posted up on that site, loved it, and offered to critique it. Since then she has made a whole-world-of-a-difference to me. I could cry at the thought of the crazy number of hours she devoted to my manuscript, The Runaway Courtesan.

The reason why she is SUCH a wonderful CP is because she is honest. She took on the most exhausting task of focusing on the plot/character development. This is how the critiquing went: She sees an inconsistency in my hero’s feelings for the heroine, starting from Chapters 1-9, so she sends me a revision letter with pointers on what stood out to her as being out-of-character. I revised and sent the 9 chapters back to her. She reread it and then read on, editing along the way. Then she reached Chapter 20 and sent an email bluntly saying that she had to suspend her disbelief while reading the climaxing scene that ALL the following ten chapters revolved around. I realized that she was right, that I had been avoiding this truth, because I just DID NOT want to revise anymore. But with her encouragement, after brainstorming with her, I decided to do a big time rewrite. Months later I sent her my rewritten draft. She actually went back to Chapter 1 again to get a better flow of my story. My troubles didn’t end there. My book had tons of other issues to fix. But she continued to work with me, on and on until the day I finally sent my full manuscript to the agent.

So my answer would be: Before searching for a CP whose specialty is in grammar and spelling, you need to find a CP willing to pour hours into focusing on the structure and character development of your story. It is asking for a lot, I know. Which is why I found myself in the position of offering to critique my CP’s work as well. I don’t think I was half so helpful. I found myself pointing out minor issues in an otherwise Charles-Dickens-esque novel.

Ah, and next to honesty, it is soooo important that your CP is utterly IN LOVE with your book. Or they’ll tire of critiquing midway. They have their own lives to live, after all; they probably have their own books to work on too. So yes. Love and Honesty makes an unforgettable critique-partner.

The Writer who Got a Full Request

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There are a number of ways to find a CP. And in many ways, they’re like your editor (and can really help you as a writer become more comfortable with critiques, cuts, changes, etc). I have friends who are writers, and it’s a wonderful thing because I am able to feel comfortable with showing my work to them. But at the same time, they know that they need to be looking at my work not as friends, but as critique partners. And I always ask them to be brutally honest. Sure, I might mope around for a bit, but I’ll know that they have my best interests at heart.
 
A great way is to join a writers group. You’ll be able to find CP’s very easily this way. Writing sites/forums are another great option. Just remember to not freak out when you get a lot of criticisms; take them in stride. And you can always disagree if you REALLY feel strongly about something, and keep it the way it is.
 
You also don’t need to have a lot of critique partners; often, one is enough (although 2 or 3 isn’t that bad either). But don’t have too many, because it will be far too confusing then (and probably too overwhelming).

The Writer Writing Her First Book

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Thanks for your question, Samantha!

Remember, if you want to ask us a Question of the Week, click on QOTW at the top on our links. We mostly answer questions in order, unless there’s something really pressing at hand.

Guest Post: Biljana Likic on The Importance of Reading WIPs

27 Jan

Today, we have the pleasure of Biljana Likic guest-blogging for us! Biljana is a fellow FictionPress.com author, and is in the middle of revising her first novel. She’s an amazingly talented writer, and a bit of a prodigy, too–she just turned eighteen! Keep your eyes peeled for her name, because we just KNOW she’s going places!

Take it away, Biljana!

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Hi, everyone!

So, as we all know, reading books is an integral part of learning how to write. When you read only good ones though, it’s easy to forget that even they’ve had coarse and sketchy drafts. And while a great deal can be learned from reading good books, they often won’t tell you how to write well. Sometimes it’s the novice that will teach you the most valuable lesson, and reading a work in progress can act like a workshop. It can teach you the process of building an original universe.

A Work in Progress, or WIP, has a vulnerability exclusive to its kind. It’s a writer’s brainchild, and it can have an enormous amount to grow. In the past year, as I began to take writing more seriously, this growth and process has become fascinating to me.

Expressing my honest opinion to an author has led me to revelations that I’ve later been able to take back to my own writing. These revelations were always something that I knew in the back of my head, but was never able to consciously pinpoint. So, I thought I’d explain to you guys some of the key things I’ve learned and explored this past year through reading various WIPs.

1. Word Choice. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But there have been many times that word choice made the flow stumble. Find your voice and keep it consistent. Always use words that you think best describe what the protagonist is going through, and use variety. Nothing is more boring that a page full of  “hot’s”. But if you substitute them with “blistering” and “torrid” and “sweltering”, the reader suddenly feels like they’re in an oven. A pickier point would be also not to use distinct words more than a few times. If you use a word like “piquant”, the reader will notice if it appears again a short time later. The thesaurus is your friend.

2. Awkward Phrasing and Over-Describing. Another obvious one. Personally, awkward phrasing is a nightmare to me. The key, I found, was to make it simpler. A lot of the time (and I’m very guilty of this, too), an author will try to make something sound more inspiring by giving it a different sentence structure or packing it down with too much description. Scrap it all. You don’t need it. If it needs to stand out, simplicity might even help it. If a big secret is being exposed, too many words will make us care less. And that is the last thing you want.

3. Repeated idioms/analogies. Unless it’s part of the character, or unless it’s frequent appearance is used in some ironic, funny, or deeply meaningful way, there is nothing more annoying than repeating an idiom or analogy. Some people even find idioms lazy, and think it’s just the use of common imagery to avoid the work of coming up with something new. I personally have nothing wrong with it, as long as I never have to see it again in the rest of the book. Think about it: how annoying was Sarah Palin with her stupid “pit bull with lipstick” spiel she’d throw every time somebody questioned her? The same can happen in writing. Once again, if it’s there for characterization, it’s fine.

For example, in Casablanca, Rick’s frequent “I stick my neck out for nobody,” turned into something heartbreaking by the end of the movie. That’s fine. What you don’t want is to repeat, “She was the apple of his eye,” every time you reintroduce a couple. Instead of endearing, as it may have been the first time, it becomes cheesy to the point of being painful. If you want to use an idiom or analogy, find a good, strong place to put it, squeeze all the juice you can out of it once, and then never use it again.

4. Transitions and flow. You can have great, amazing, stupendously awesome paragraphs, but if you don’t connect them well, they’ll sound like crap. Alright…that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. But transitions are really important. They are what ultimately keep the reader reading. A bad transition to the next section can turn a paragraph that’s great and exciting into one that’s anti-climactic. Almost every time you finish a paragraph, you have to go out with a bang because that’s what the reader will subconsciously remember when they think about how great the book was. You need dozens upon dozens of satisfying “endings” so that when you get to that most important one, the lead-up makes it explode into greatness. That said, however, you don’t always have to use powerful wording and creative punctuation. Find a medium, and exploit it.

5. Understating to Avoid Predictability. Painful predictability is every author’s hidden fear. Here’s a way I found to avoid it: understatement. A story’s ending has to make sense. Sometimes you’ll want the ending to be shocking. But you don’t want it so shocking that it’s completely unbelievable. You want to give the reader just as many hints as it takes to put the thought in their heads, but not enough to make them too suspicious. It’s just a matter of playing down the issue and making it subtle, manipulating the phrasing to focus on everything but the suspicious stuff. If the reader ever reads the story again, they’ll pick out these hints and simply marvel at how masterly your plot-weaving skills are.

And that’s all, folks! All that made clearer, just from reading Works in Progress. Makes me want to weep. Of course, there’s more. There always is. There’s continuity, pacing, dialogue… It never ends. But hopefully you now have a greater understanding as to why it’s important to read and critique other people’s works, and you have a few hints of how to better your own writing. Good luck!

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Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.