The Wizards behind the curtain 6



I’ve been a bad blogger. I normally try to update much more often than twice a week. You’d think after the exciting news I had on Saturday I’d have tons of fodder for blogs. Nope. As I said in my last post, life really hasn’t changed much for me. Nothing’s been going on in my real life so I’ve not had much to say. I’ve been plugging away editing Sam’s story. I even finally felt ready to send the first seven chapters off to my Critique Partners earlier this week.

For those of you who don’t write, critique partners are an unusual and very special relationship that writers prize. An author will spend days/weeks/years carefully crafting their manuscript – a story they’ve agonized over, argued with themselves, maybe even cried about as they chose precisely the right word and put it in precisely the right formation in relation to the words around it. And then the CP will give up their own time, grab their proverbial red pen and tear that author’s “baby” to shreds. With the author’s blessing. Because the author knows those comments, those questions the CP left will make his baby stronger. Better. Faster. (Oops, I’m channeling the Six Million Dollar Man here again, aren’t I?)

Does an author really WANT to see red ink when it comes back? No, not really. We want to THINK we’re perfect. But to be truthful I don’t feel confident unless I see a critique come back with red ink. Because I KNOW I’m not perfect.

Until I’d met BlueSue, I’d never shown my work to anyone – well, let’s clarify, I’d never shown my original fiction to anyone. I’d written plenty of technical manuals and newsletters that went out to the world. But my fiction was … private, personal. So when Sue offered to critique my work four or five years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I once read someone else’s description of how they opened critiques. They said they’d push their chair back as far as it could go and still reach the keyboard or mouse. They’d turn their face away as if they were about to get slapped, close one eye, and only look through the other with a slit, and then very gingerly click “Open.” Yeah, that pretty much describes me back then.

The first few critiques I got back from Sue … well, there was so much “red ink” I thought the danged thing was about to expire from exsanguination. (All right, one of the things I’ve learned is “don’t use big fancy ten dollar words when simpler ones will work just as well.” IOW The danged thing looked like it was about to bleed to death. Although I still like the alliteration in the first version.)

Instead of frightening me or discouraging me, all that red ink became a challenge. Thanks to BlueSue’s nudges, I ventured deeper into the writing world and learned about passive vs active writing. I found myself involved in Point of View discussions. I’ve discussed how many times a word should or could be used before it’s considered an Echo word. I learned how to create characters and build worlds that had depth, and wrestled with the always important and occasionally frustrating “Show, don’t tell” mantra. All thanks to various critique partners I’ve had over the years.

My current critiquers – Sue, Dani and Marley – are invaluable to me. Every time I open a document they’ve critted, I’m struck by how each looks for different things as they read. To use an analogy, the story is a path winding through a forest, twisting and turning, dark in some spots perhaps, while at others it opens up into a beautiful flower-filled meadow. Two of my CPs fly over the tree tops and make sure that the path is clear ahead, that it’s not winding off course. Maybe they’ll tell me to trim a couple branches here and there, or chop a few trees so the story will move quicker. Sometimes they’ll point out a spot where I’ve taken a shortcut through the dark forest and missed the meadow where the hero is waiting for the heroine and gently nudge me back in the right direction. Or maybe they’ll tell me that beautiful flower-filled meadow is actually a swamp and a bridge needs to be built or another path taken. And one is a genius at spotting inconsistencies. “Did I realize that on page 39 the character had blond hair, and on page 103 his hair was dark?” or that “They were on the porch at the start of the scene and they’re in the living room in the middle – when did they go there?”

Another will walk the path at ground level. When she reaches the meadow, perhaps she’ll tell me that while they’re really beautiful flowers, a garden isn’t needed at that particular spot and maybe I should spread the flowers along the path in smaller clumps. She’ll spot weeds that pop up through the pavement and tug them out and tell me to keep an eye out for them in the future. (repetitions and unneeded words) She’ll look at the bricks that line the path and say “You know, you’ve got seven blocks here all facing the same way, you need to switch that up.” (IOW, Did you realize you’ve got a ton of sentences with the Noun Verb Object structure and it’s getting boring?)

Thanks to their nudges and prods and judicious use of red ink, I’ve learned to look for specific things in my writing so they won’t have to put so much effort into their next critique. But those “fresh eyes” of my critique partners are still able to catch things I’ve missed.

And the most amazing thing about my critique partners is how willingly they put aside their own work and take the time to read mine. You really are appreciated, ladies. Thank you!


6 thoughts on “The Wizards behind the curtain

  • Julia Smith

    What a beautiful way of putting the critiquing process. Especially:

    ‘Perhaps she’ll tell me that while they’re really beautiful flowers, a garden isn’t needed at that particular spot and maybe I should spread the flowers along the path in smaller clumps.’

    You should do a session on that for your TRW group.

  • Leah Braemel

    Julia: The thing is, I don’t feel I’m a particularly good critiquer myself. I spent too long teaching grammar and sentence structure and punctuation to be able to ‘fly above the forest’ and offer the type of critique that I love to receive. I’m the one walking the path pulling weeds.

  • Sue L

    *hugs*

    You’re too generous Leah, and not proud enough. I’ve done nothing but poke you with a sharp stick once in a while (and maybe whack you with it a couple of times).

    You have extraordinary talent, you just needed to push yourself a little to bring it out.

  • Julia Smith

    Leah – think back, think waayyy back – to a tag you gave me for The Writing Meme.

    I just did it!

  • Dani

    *Blushing*

    Thanks for the compliment, but it’s easy to crit someone that writes good quality material to begin with.

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