Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Shake My Fist at You!

It's hard to believe that anyone might find anything to criticize about our work, but it happens. I imagine a good majority of writers sit in their comfy couches luxuriating in the thought that the person (or people) they had just sent their book to read are laughing in hysterics at the funny moments, weeping in despair when the MC meets a particulary nasty challenge, and absolutely falling in love with each and every character (and secretly wishing to marry the hero). Imagine the shock, then, when the reader comes back and says they just didn't get a certain part.

Ugh. Now the writer has a few options in his/her path. He can either remain calm (I repeat! Remain calm!) and discuss this possible glitch in the path to perfection with the reader, or he can put up his defensive wall and attack the reader for obviously missing the scope of the work. It's not the reader's fault he/she is so stupid and can't pick up obvious things, the public school system has merely failed them.

Now imagine when an agent or publisher "just doesn't get it." How can the world possibly not recognize the awesomeness that is your novel?? It's probably wise at this point to take a step back and reevaluate your darlings.

I, for one, am the queen of defensiveness. I can honestly say that I am shocked and appalled when someone I have asked to read a section of my book comes back and criticizes a certain part of it. Walls come up! Oh the excuses! BUT! After a few minutes of steady breathing, I really think about what the reader had to say. Now that I have calmed down, do I still disagree? If yes, then I move on. There have been many instances where I have agreed with my critiquer. A good writer friend of mine suggested that I scrap my first chapter and start with my MC. I fought this for a while because I believed that important things would be missed if I changed where the novel started. But I did give in, and I'm glad. My new first chapter is far better and the reader has a chance to connect with my MC immediately, rather than slowly but surely.

There are instances, however, where your critiquer(s) will criticize the style of your work, rather than the content. It is extremely important, therefore, to know what your style is and be prepared to defend it. Lots of people confuse style and content. They think they're the same thing. They are not. Style is how you tell your story, content includes things like the plot, your characters, etc. It is not a style to describe one-dimensional characters and a plot that goes nowhere! So get that out of your head right now. Style includes sentence structure (as long as it's grammatically correct), POV, etc. These things should be left alone during a critique. If you write long, flowy sentences, but your critiquer prefers short, choppy ones, it's time to find someone else to critique your book. Those styles do not jive and the critiquer will feel tempted to change your style. There will only be pain in a situation like this.

Writers do tend to freak out (*raises hand*) when they recieve a particulary bad review, but we just need to start looking at them objectively. You'll never improve as an artist if you disregard every negative critique. I'll concur that some of them are ridiculous, but don't ignore the gems out there just because a few bad apples have gotten through. This is advice that I have a hard time living, but it's worth it when I do.

And if you're a critiquer, please, please, please! Stop critiquing style. We writers simultaneously believe that we are the greatest in our generation and just pure crap. Critiquing style will only work to make us even more depressed and it does nothing to improve us as artists.

~Emily White

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