1. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    I have thought deeply on the subject of critiquing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Flying Geese, Aug 31, 2015.

    Hello

    I recently shared the first chapter of my novel a couple places and I'm beginning to feel similar to how I felt when I first began writing: confused.

    So far, out of 3 recent anonymous readers this week, only one acknowledged that a major factor in these critiques is a lack of additional chapters. In general, I want to trust a person I don't know more than someone I do know because -- as we are all led to believe -- a person who knows you is more likely to not want to hurt your feelings.

    However, when I read some of the comments on my work and others as well, I wonder if a writer can reach a point PRIOR TO BECOMING PUBLISHED where they should simply drown out the negative comments drive on. There are plenty of 1 star reviews for all of our favorite books.

    I frequently see the same kind of critiques for openings. I have come to the conclusion that they don't have to be fireworks strapped to a dragon while the protagonist chases it down for the gem in its chest to heal his disabled mother who is buried 500 miles away under 100 feet of snow.

    Two books I have read (Harry Potter and The Giver) have quiet and dull beginnings. Harry Potter isn't even the first character mentioned in his own debut novel, and he isn't mentioned for damn near 3 pages. The first page of The Giver is, by itself, completely boring.

    Of course it's easy to mention already-successful novels, but I am starting to notice a pattern. I'm finding more and more books that don't have a massive hook, or even an apparently interesting concept. I also find that these first chapters just seem to move. That's the only thing that they have in common.

    Then there's this advice: "Let it grab me from the very first sentence."

    First line from Name of the Wind's prologue: "It was felling night."

    Consider me grabbed.

    Not really. Yet Name of the Wind is a critically-acclaimed book nonetheless.

    Whenever I give a critique I try to make it a point to offer an alternative, even a sentence. I also make it a point to let the writer know what they are doing right, so that they know, and don't end up taking that out and also so that they try to capitalize on that strength.

    A critique is not a mini book review. It should push the writer towards being better at writing. And there are times where simply pointing out errors do not accomplish this.

    I know that some things do need to be cut entirely, but I am starting to think that a helpful critique should be less of "Make your writing adhere to this format" and more of "How can we make this (or something similar) work well?"
     
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  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're completely right about the first sentence/first chapter thing. I know all the advice out there says to immediately grab your reader but I don't think readers are that stupid and short of attention. We give authors a little space to set up the story and the characters. IMO there is nothing worse than opening on an action-packed first chapter or, even worse, a prologue, and then going back in time in Chapter 2 - all because the author wanted to start at an attention-grabby place so simply moved a later chapter forward. Confusing and frustrating. The only way I'm going to give up on a book before Chapter 3 is if the writing is bad.

    Maybe for publishers, it's different. Maybe you really do need to grab them in Chapters 1-3 with a massive hook or a big action sequence. But then how do so many slow-starting books get published?

    As for critiques, I am very much a beginner. I want to learn how to make my critiques useful for other authors. So far I've tried to give the kind of critiques I'd like to get - focusing on the impression it gives the reader, the things that are confusing and the things that make me go "hey, this story is going to be interesting". I find it helpful when people preface their posts in the workshop with a few questions, or directions as to what they want to learn from the critique. Sometimes I don't know if they're after spelling and grammar line edits or general impressions of their work.
     
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  3. outsider
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    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

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    A critique is not a book review though. You seem to be conflating the two somewhat.
    A critique is someone's subjective ideas and input into where they think you could improve in certain aspects of your writing.
    A review is. . . a review.
     
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  4. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Someone just recommended to me a couple books to draw inspiration from. Sure enough, they open up with a young man surrounded by dead bodies because of some battle that just took place. He's the only one alive.

    That is not at all the kind of book I am writing. Like you, @Tenderiser , I abhor books that open that way. Because you know damn well that they've got to explain that battle and why it happened anyway. I can understand right before a fight or battle. But not at the end of a battle that's been won already. I learn nothing of the story from the scene opening up with streams of red running through the streets.

    The kind of story I am trying to write is more like the show Death Note in that the suspense and the drama takes place more in the mind. I have nothing against a reasonably slow beginning to a book or a movie, so long as I feel the progress is interesting and/or promising.
     
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  5. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    I just had someone critique me saying that the opening wasn't interesting. He then wrote the whole chapter off. That's all fair in a critique, of course. What troubles me is one of his answers to a question I asked.

    Critic: "The beginning is not interesting. I lost interest almost immediately. There's nothing dire."

    Me: "Fair enough. But the fact that the book the MC was reading is forbidden by the temple is not interesting at all?"

    Critic: "No. The book is forbidden for some unknown reason, but it's just a book. The Christian church forbade people even to read in English, and many authorities have banned subversive books before. All we can know is that he's not allowed. In all honesty I paid it no real thought ... Shrug."

    Me: "Wait so you know that churches and authorities have banned certain books and things to stay in power, which means you probably know that there were punishments carried out for possessing them back then ... Yet you gave that concept in my story no thought at all??"

    Critic: "Not really."

    That makes no sense to me that an intelligent person could think that way. I will say that another writer on this forum did give some great feedback on how to ramp up my urgency in the story which I followed, but this what you see above seems almost like a troll.
     
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  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think the opening has to be interesting. That doesn't mean you need to have dire circumstances or action at the beginning. Slow beginnings can still be interesting.

    When it comes to critique, all you can do is take what is helpful to you and ignore the rest. Debating with a critiquer is rarely productive, in my view. My recommendation is not to argue with the person. If you don't agree with their assessment, just say thanks and move on. It's just one person's view of the work.

    As you said, there are many books that start off before the action or conflict takes place. That's a valid approach to a novel, but I think the writing still has to be interesting enough to hold a reader.
     
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  7. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would have to agree with the critic. The fact that a book is forbidden in itself lends no urgency or intellectual excitement. After all, lots of people read banned books all the time. Plus the "punishment" for doing so could be the equivalent of "Say three Hail Marys".

    The excitement comes from the reader understanding that there is something at stake, or the knowledge that the MC's discovery by the authorities is imminent, or that his failure to find something in the banned tome before he is forced to flee or is arrested would have dire consequences. The stakes must be at least hinted at and be high enough to arouse the reader's interest.
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Now that you describe it, I think I read that workshop entry. I don't think I had time to read thoroughly and comment but it certainly didn't strike me as boring. There was intrigue even if there were no dragon killings. ;)
     
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  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @FlyingGeese

    The number WORST thing that can happen in a critiquing exchange is when the writer (in this case you) makes up a separate thread to complain about his critics.

    Sorry, but when someone takes the time to read even a sentence of your work and then express their feelings, they are doing YOU a favor. It is about YOU and YOUR work. Maybe they are unable to express themselves intelligently, but when multiple people do not like your work, it is indication that somehow your work has failed. It is up to you to figure out why and how to fix it. A better critic might help you with those things, but it should not be expected.
     
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  10. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    I feel you Brian but I'm still gonna have to disagree. Here's why:

    In any story or movie, you assume that the rules are the same or similar to real life until you are told otherwise (by the narrator or whoever.)

    If you know about the Roman inquisition then I would think that a story that opens up similar to that situation would have to inherently be some sort of interesting?

    If a scene opens up with a thug wielding a pocket knife on a man in an alley, you're gonna think its a little tense, because knives and thugs are dangerous. But if you know the person being held up is say, Wolverine, then the rules have changed and that knife wouldn't be any issue.

    How then, in less than 7 paragraphs, having just arrived to start reading my story, can you -- knowing full well about Roman Inquisition, etc -- think that a book forbidden by a church/temple is of no significance? I do intend to raise the stakes a little, but that's gotta be worth something inherently?
     
  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with this, too. Somebody was recently VERY ungracious and dismissive of some thoughtful critiques she was given. Then she posted more of her writing for critique and even though it's one of the very few workshop entries in my genre, I just wasn't willing to give it a second of my time.

    If I'm ever brave enough to post something in there I'm going to thank everybody whether helpful or not, cruel or kind. I can sift out the wheat from the chaff without pointing it out to them.
     
  12. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I not exactly sure what you are getting at. In the sense you seem more like you are ranting than asking something. Is that true?
    I am getting this vibe of like "I disagree with advice and now I want to be told I was right to disagree." If I am wrong let me know. :)

    Though writing is art and art should be confusing. Sure there is some objectiveness in writing- I call it grammar. Also while possible correct grammar wise. I don't think anyone is going to argue in favor of someone who write "And then....." at the start of every sentence. Beyond that it is really a personal taste and style thing. I find I don't like concrete details. I don't care what color the grass is or how wet it felt. So if someone spends too long on that, I won't like it. That doesn't mean it is bad. There are people that love that style.

    I personally prefer slow starts so I disagree with the critic in this case but well only there. Opening on them reading a forbidden book is.... just really not interesting. For a number of possible reasons. I didn't read the piece in question so not sure if all these apply but let me label a few.

    They all dial down to no context.

    1.. We don't know why it is banned. We don't know the stakes. Is this some magical book that can raise the dead? Or is it some comedy that the king disliked and thus banned.

    2. In a sense this can have the worst features of the action opening and the non action opening. Lets suppose that it is a magic book and can do something super awesome cool. Well then we have no understanding of why he is reading it.

    3. We don't know the character. Is reading a banned book his normal?

    The simple fact seems to be that you can't really clue in a reader on all this context page one. So either the reading the banned book is irrevant or it has the issues I don't like about fast starts. It dumps us into a situation we don't know the context of.
     
  13. Adhulari
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    Adhulari Member

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    Could it also be possible to like (sorry - love) the openings of both Harry Potter and the Name of the Wind?
    Or does that make me a "bad" reader?
    I understand what everyone is saying here, but I think that sometimes you have to loosen up with the so-called rules when writing. It kills creativity.
     
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  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You can like both. Seems a bit silly to dislike one style of opening or the other based solely on principle. It's all down to the execution - if the author did a good job with it, that's what matters.
     
  15. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    I agree with you there. And I agree with what you say later that in some way my writing has failed.

    But I have no problem with doing things that are number 1 on the list of worst things to do.

    So what I don't agree with is this: That a beginning has to be a some sort of fast-paced scene to hook a reader because he/she probably has a short attention span anyway. They're probably just stopping by the bookstore on their way to work and just gonna skim the first line or so in my book so I have to put that hook right there.

    No thank you. I'll write as if the person is sitting down and reading a book.

    That, to me, is dogmatic. And like just about all dogma, it can be proven to be wrong as hell. I don't think dogma belongs in any art form.

    Also, when I critique, I think it's fair if the OP has questions about my critique. Maybe they might not question me if my name were Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson, but my mother chose to name me Flying Geese. I'm not saying a debate is in order for every negative comment on my work, but I think it's reasonable to question some people some of the time.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2015
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  16. Adhulari
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    Adhulari Member

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    Yes I got that ;) I merely feel that these more popular books are being bashed on this forum quite often and that I'm supposed to feel bad for liking them.
     
  17. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    You would be wrong. I said that it's the idea that a beginning has to be a certain way.

    It's like this: I already know going in that a critique on a forum is someone's point of view. Just one person's. That's all.

    Why then, would they try to pawn it off as absolute truth or certainty with so many works out there proving the opposite? This is what I don't get.

    I'm not after anyone's approval with this post.
     
  18. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    This is the point I'm trying to make. Not even saying I did a good job with my writing. I just think that it's hurtful to a writer to suggest that a good novel must begin with x

    I also, don't think that being a critiquer should mean you can say something without having to worry at all about anyone saying anything. It's not a free pass.

    Yes, critiquing is an investment of time and goodwill. But like any investment, you go in knowing there's a chance it won't work out.
     
  19. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I still not quite sure I get it.

    I mean you are asking if there is more than one way to open? Well yeah. Kind of a "duh" moment. I mean you quoted sources opening in different ways didn't you?

    And if you know this is true why is this one person getting to you enough to post this thread?

    I mean one dimensional thinkers that can provide no help to a subject. They exist. Is this new information to you?

    I am bit unclear on the purpose of this thread still. Sorry.
     
  20. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Thank you for taking the time to read Tenderiser! Even if you didn't comment no worries! At least you didn't find it boring!
     
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  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's par for the course in writing forums or any artistic forums. Popular books are popular for a reason - lots of people like them. Nothing wrong with being one who does :)
     
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  22. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    @GuardianWynn no one has argued with my critique more than you have, and I was thorough and logical in my feedback. If you don't remember, I will screenshot it and email it to you.

    Maybe it's because I'm a free thinker, but I happen to hold the belief that we have to be able to criticize bad ideas. And that's where the writing forums is a great help to progress (of writers).

    But being able to criticize bad ideas means being able to criticize the bad ideas of people who are criticizing bad ideas. No one gets off easy, I say.
     
  23. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wait what critic? I don't remember ever reading a piece of yours in the workshop? Though my memory isn't anything to praise.

    So this is a rant? I mean normally most threads in this forum are asking for advice or opinions. This thread seems more unique in you telling us an opinion. You seem pretty sure of yourself. So I wasn't getting the reason for starting this thread. Still not sure if I do actually.

    Well while I may not disagree with the core words above. I feel they need to be taken with a grain of salt. I mean for one is sounds might arrogant to say "Your critic of my work is WRONG!" at least like that. I mean just because you may disagree with a persons opinion doesn't make theirs invalid. Which is what this dials back to opinion. I mean if it was an actually grammar rule you can quote a source and that is the end of it(Except Italics for thoughts apperently lol). For an actual argument to ensue it seems like it is based on opinion. So... changed my mind. I disagree. Telling a person there critic is bad is well just mean spirited. You don't have to listen to it, there isn't any rule saying you have too but saying there critic is bad or wrong is saying there opinion is bad or wrong and that just feels well wrong.

    I could get disliking an approach. Like if someone said "I don't like this. Thus I don't like you!" or "I don't like you thus I don't like this." that might merit a counter point. But even then one is probably wasting there time.
     
  24. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Hmm... My thoughts on this would be that the people reading your work only have that ONE chapter (most often) to base your work on. Since there's nothing for them to read on to, they simply don't KNOW if your writing will pick up.
    First impressions.
    As aforesaid, people here are doing you a favour by looking at your stuff. It's more of a task for them, and if the writing isn't immediately rewarding (a good hook), expect those sort of comments.
    If you want to avoid this, I suggest you specifically ask for comments on the style, voice, flow, etc. Then you will know yourself that although there may not be so much action in the first chapter, your style works, and when there is action, it will be pretty good ;).
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    And, it is worth remembering that some agents and editors might give the work a chapter, if that, before making a decision.
     
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