I had expected my first real critique to inspire self-loathing, and perhaps a panic attack. I even dug through the recently cleaned stuffed animal bin to find one that I could use as a kind of security blanket while I endured the anticipated trauma.
Let me back up a moment. I have had critiques, and edits, and suggestions. My mother has proofread my writing since I began turning my ten spelling-word sentences into an actual story, since simply making up ten sentences was boring. I also recently reconnected with one of my closest friends from college (the first time I went to college, in the poofy hair days) Geri, who has been proofing and editing all kinds of stuff for me in the past several months. Another friend beta-read Dogs, Cats, and Allergies for me and gave me the most fantastic, emotional feedback.
But today I’m reading a critique from a professional author. Someone who has critted before. Someone who is published!
However the fact that she is published is not the main difference. There are virtual red lines all over the virtual paper. There are detailed comments in a long column all their own in the margins.
She’s kind-of ripped my ten pages to shreds…
So why am I so happy?
I expected to be feeling awful by now. I know myself. I can be very insecure, and I was planning to take a little time off from the WIP after reading this. I thought I might have a good cry. I pre-emptively ate a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
But I’m giddy.
I think it is because I’ve read these words myself, and thought “Geez, I know I can do better. Why isn’t what’s in my head coming out right on the page?” and now, I have someone saying “See this here? This is what you did…” and “Enough already! Too much!”
When I don’t have my perfect set-up of long chunks of uninterrupted time, I tend to go into what I call outline mode. My beta reader called it journaling. My critter calls it telling instead of showing. All right, I know this and accept this and can work with it. If the story gets out of me that way, fine, it just means that the first edits will be literal rewrites, not tweaks.
All right. I am embarrassed about the plethora of exclamation points.
After the first 1,372 words, I see the comment “This is great!” on one three-word sentence. Yeah!
I need to work on the info dump. You see, this story is designed to be a good introduction into the world of Kingdom Come, and apparently I tried telling the reader every detail they’d ever want to know all in the first few pages. This will be difficult. I will struggle to include the right amount of exposition at the right time. I don’t want my readers to be lost, but neither do I want them to be bored.
The next most difficult thing for me will be deciding which details really are important. Most notably, I drove home the point that Kingdom Come’s day is longer than Earth’s. Yes, this is important. However, perhaps I don’t need to tell the reader this same fact in different ways once per page.
Some of the most valuable critique is when she points out “Show that A=B” and I realize “Gah! No! A=C!” Of course, when I read it, I know exactly what I meant. But a fresh set of eyes makes assumptions that would never occur to me. I described a teenager as having “short little legs”. This is more important for the next book because (spoiler alert, sort of) the next book will be hers, and her lack of height is a major issue. But the phrase read as if she were very young, still growing, and that her short legs were a sign that she was a child. Big realization on my part! And easily fixed.
The next point might not be so easy to fix. I will need to gather opinions, and hope that people won’t agree with me just to be nice. I gloss over the fact that a secondary character has two dads. I did that deliberately, to make a point that, in this setting, two dads are nothing remarkable. But my critter called me on it, for good reasons. More on this at the end of this post.
One of my favorite assignments from High School English was to describe a place. With my love of architecture, I can do this well. I can also go completely overboard. Apparently here, I overcompensated by not describing it nearly enough. I do think it is ironic that, ten pages later, I do the opposite!
I’m going to attach a poll to this blog post! But I would love to hear people’s opinions in the comments as well.
I deliberately gloss over the fact that a secondary character has two dads. They are literally introduced as “These are my dads, Gil and Ed.” No mention that the homosexual relationship is unusual.
What you need to know in order to help me make this decision:
- The main characters are in a group marriage, which is very normal on their home-world, but very unusual on Earth.
- Homosexuality is unremarkable in most countries on Earth, including where the story takes place.
- There are still some places on Earth where homosexuality is considered abnormal and unacceptable.
- A major conflict in the story is what kind of relationships are socially and morally acceptable, and what relationships are not.
Knowing this, should I…
Shortlink for this post: http://wp.me/p1qnT4-b4
When reading “On Writing” by Stephen King, the one thing (in HIS long meander) was that popped out: you have to be willing to kill your “babies” (words; characters; paths story takes) when they need to be edited out, for the good of what you’re writing. I’m glad you took all of the critique that way. It is the only way to grow as a writer. That is why, with all the great comments I get, I really appreciate the ones that say “kill this” part, or why did you go here? or enough is enough. Thanks for YOUR help.
You are very welcome!
When will you find out how the contest went?
I know exactly what you’re talking about. I felt the same way the first time someone gave me REAL feedback that I could work from. Oh, they’d massacred my manuscript, but I finally knew WHAT was wrong and how to fix it.
And I don’t hate you lol! Really, I appreciate that you put so many real and concrete instructions in your critique. I now have something real to build on, instead of a nebulous “Well, it could be better…”
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