1. NomDeGuerre
    Offline

    NomDeGuerre Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    2

    Style vs. Story criticism. How to tell the difference?!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by NomDeGuerre, Nov 12, 2015.

    Okay, you can consider this as Part II to my prior post awhile back about how to absorb OVERWHELMING FEEDBACK.

    Here, I’d like talk about what a lot of people are saying: Forget stylistic suggestions, just pay attention to story suggestions.

    But when one already has a very low opinion of his writing then the ability to tell the difference is not always easy. The temptation is to just listen to everything, try to make all the changes, and then…lose your mind.

    Or you have the other extreme where the person has such an inflated sense of self, he doesn’t want to listen to anyone and believes himself to be a genius and hence never grows.

    So I want to give some SPECIFIC examples and would like to see SPECIFIC examples from others regarding story vs. style feedback, relevant vs. irrelevant.

    There is a strong tendency in workshops for critique-ers to try and alter an author’s voice to sound more like their own. This is probably a case of missing the forest for the trees. It’s also a big cause of a syndrome known as the “MFA story” wherein everyone has been schooled to sound the SAME. Once individuality is gone then we’re just clones. And why even bother to read one writer over another? Everything is pureed uniformity.

    Let’s say I write: “The lousy sun went down.” A person reared on Jane Austen would likely hate that and go on at length about how the desc. fell short for her and that she could not feel or see or taste the sun, etc. She might re-write it as: “The yellow eye in the sky began it’s daily ritual of lowering its lid to descend below the body that was earth which was its mistress….blah-blah.” Whatever, you get my drift. But there is no definitely right or wrong way. It’s purely a matter of style, right? Do you agree? I mean sometimes I want Chandler. And other times I want Tolstoy. Very different. Like some days I want a pizza and other days I want a burger.

    The problem is trying to parse through all that while trying to find relevant story suggestions. I think that would encompass something like: “When the character did that I didn’t understand his motivation. It didn’t feel logical or set up. Felt like it came out of the blue.”

    Okay, so there is a solid character/story suggestion. You might fill in the blank a little (or a lot) about what drove the character do what he did. But HOW you do that, what words you use is entirely up to you. Right?

    Now I want to give examples from an actual critique I got.

    Here is a section as originally written by me:
    Sam brought his ankle off his knee. Somebody fat rolled down the hall in a wheelchair. A doctor got paged.

    Here is the same section rewritten by my critique-er:
    Sam brought his ankle off his knee. Sam had known Hank for seven years now. He watched Hank clutch his head with both hands. His eyes bloodshot and thin like red veins. The sound of rubber rolling on linoleum rounded the corner and they both turned and watched an exceptionally fat man roll down the hall in a wheelchair. A doctor got paged and stood abruptly and rushed out the double doors.

    Now, this section occurs between two lines of dialogue and was originally written to denote a pause in a tense conversation at a hospital.

    The question is: do all the extra details make it undeniably better? Do all the extra beats in the pause produce more tension or less? Could some of these details like “seven years” be given later? Does it need to be here? Obviously, out of context, it’s hard for someone else to say with certainty. But I made the decision to go with the original way I wrote it. Why? Because it just sounded more like ME, my style that is. And the other version didn’t seem objectively better in a larger story sense. Obviously, sometimes you want more desc., longer sentences. Everything’s a balance. But the critique-er definitely favored longer, more baroque details. I had this funny image of Hemingway being edited by Faulkner. Not that I’m Hemingway! But you know what I mean.

    Now, with all that in mind, I actually ended up agreeing with a third of what the critique-er suggested, just not in that instance. After all, a certain amount of push-back is good; it challenges you to either rethink something or stick to your guns, which is all part of the learning curve, right? :)

    Really, there needs to be workshops on how to absorb feedback and how to rewrite. The two most important skills, IMHO, to being a writer. Anyone can write a first draft; anyone can get an opinion. But it’s those next two steps that are the deal breaker for 90%. o_O

    So, yeah, I’d love to hear other people’s experiences in the style vs. story feedback debate. It’s only taken me 20 years to begin to understand it. Haha. ;)
     
    DefinitelyMaybe likes this.
  2. DefinitelyMaybe
    Offline

    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2012
    Messages:
    866
    Likes Received:
    227
    Location:
    Leicester, UK
    My reference for stylistic suggestions is to look at fiction that I like which has been published. Preferably by very skilful writers.

    If anyone told me that I shouldn't write in one particular way, and I can find writers making it work both artistically and in terms of being published, then I interpret that as a subjective opinion, that I can accept or not accept. I would still consider the advice, but it would be up to me to decide to follow it or not.

    If anyone told me that I shouldn't write in one particular way, and I can't find writers making it work either artistically or in terms of being published, then this is more likely an objective fact for fiction writing in modern Western culture, and I should probably take very careful notice of the advice.

    What is being published, and what of that I like reading, is a good information source about how writing should be. An individual critique or post on the forum (etc.) may well send me back to this information source for research.
     
  3. Chinspinner
    Offline

    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,918
    Likes Received:
    1,018
    Location:
    London, now Auckland
    With critiques you need to take what is useful and discard the rest.

    If people give you specifics i.e. you use filtering, your sentences are excessively wordy, you are head-hopping, you slip out of your character's POV, you use authorial intrusion, show don't tell... and so on, then you would be slightly silly not to listen and at least understand what your mistakes are so you can make an educated choice to ignore them or correct them (because all these boogeymen have their place, sometimes filtering works, sometimes telling works).

    With the early pieces I put up for critique, I was making all the mistakes I mention above, and more... I attempted to correct them, but the mistakes were fundamental and there was no choice but to discard the pieces entirely, treat them as a learning process, and move on. And they were useful, I learnt a lot from them.

    I would call this stylistic criticism. It is identifying the mechanical errors in your writing. The risk is that in critiquing, there is a tendency to rewrite things we dislike in our own style, and this is where you need to discard the criticism that is not useful. In the specific example you gave I think the individual giving the critique was trying for deep POV; so that the reader can vicariously share the MC's experience... and generally I don't think that is a bad thing.

    To me, story criticism would have more to do with your characters, plot, pacing and so on.
     
  4. DefinitelyMaybe
    Offline

    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2012
    Messages:
    866
    Likes Received:
    227
    Location:
    Leicester, UK
    I must admit that I don't like the word 'discard' with respect to advice. Even if I choose not to follow a piece of advice, thinking about the advice may be an important part of the development of the story. E.g. I've seen someone on a forum who says that they dislike first person. (I"m guessing they don't read much flash). Let's say that I write a story in first person and post it to a forum, and she critiqued it by saying that I should rewrite it into third person. I might think carefully about her reasons for not liking first person, e.g. maybe I haven't named the character. Maybe I have't included enough action, but have concentrated on inner monologue too much. So, I might keep it first person, but change some aspects of the style to address some of these issues. If I do that, I haven't followed her advice, but in thinking about it and reacting to the advice, this is far from 'discarding it.'

    @Chinspinner - I have the same trouble as you in not being able to always fix the problems. Sometimes I can, but sometimes I can see the problems and not fix them. A piece I posted recently "The Author" was one that I felt that I couldn't fix. (Slow intro, writing about writing cliche which from what I've read is near unpublishable as people are sick of it.) But I remember a critique led development of a story in 2012 "Last Man Standing" where considerable rewrites did improve the story and remove many of the problems of the first draft.
     
  5. NomDeGuerre
    Offline

    NomDeGuerre Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    2
    Yeah, as I said, I did use a third of his suggestions. The problem comes when you blindly follow 100% of everything everyone says (like I have a tendency to do) and so lose your own voice (and mind) in the process. In that particular example, I chose not to, because there was also a matter of pacing to consider. It was in a chapter where there is plenty of deep, probing self-reflection to begin with and, well, you can't have every single sentence be an exercise in mega-description, e.g., describing every chair in the room, every spot on the wall, the individual ants crawling outside, etc. I decided to relax there, but go deeper in other sections.

    But anyway, maybe that's not the best example.

    Again, I'd love to see SPECIFIC examples from other writers where they did not follow the feedback due to stylistic reasons.
     
  6. NomDeGuerre
    Offline

    NomDeGuerre Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    2
    Okay, here's a real-life example from the novel, The Bird Box, the runaway bestseller from first-time author, Josh Malerman.

    It's written in an exceptionally pared down, straight-forward style:
    "Malorie looks into the living room. She has been at the house for two months. She is five months pregnant."

    Now if a group of 15 writers took a look at this, I'm sure at least one would want there to be more and maybe rewrite it thusly:
    "Malorie, careworn in a beat-up sweater culled from a bin, looks with bleary eyes into the shabby living room whose off-white walls recall the tenement she grew up in as a child. She has been surviving in this house for two months, but the realization that she is now five months pregnant hits her like a gong, whose reverberations filter down the length of her body and set off a chain reaction of emotions that is like tidal wave of..." etc. etc.

    Again, I think this is a matter of style. NOT story.

    Agree, disagree?

    BTW, this is a great book which I'm a third of the way through.
     
  7. NomDeGuerre
    Offline

    NomDeGuerre Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    2
    Yeah, this is where push-back is good.
     
  8. Chinspinner
    Offline

    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,918
    Likes Received:
    1,018
    Location:
    London, now Auckland
    I cannot comment on your above example specifically as I have no context. But, this is why with critiques you need to take what is useful and discard the rest.

    Personally the only time I rewrite something is if I think there are faults with the mechanics of the writing. So if there is excessive verbiage I will strike it out. If filtering is used I will rewrite the sentence without filtering. If it is in the passive voice I will rewrite it in the active. It is not my intention to tell the writer exactly how something should be written, but rather to provide an example of how their prose could be tightened or improved.

    If the mechanics are generally sound then I might identify that, for me, the story would benefit from greater detail at a particular point, or the pacing is off. But I would not rewrite sections in this instance.

    But critiques are just opinions, and opinions are subjective; they differ from one person to the next. The only time 15 people will agree when providing critiques is if there is something fundamentally amiss in your writing. Otherwise, pick out the elements that are useful.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,995
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    Did the critique-er actually want you to add all that stuff, or did they say something like, "I feel the need for more detail, throughout. Just to explain what I mean by 'more detail' I've chosen a representative paragraph, made up some details, and rewritten it as an example."

    I think that the second would be a perfectly valid thing for them to communicate. I think that your original is better than the critique, but I like minimalist writing, and I'm guessing that the critique-er really really doesn't.

    Just as it's valid for the critique-er to present an example for your consideration, it's valid for you to decide, "No; I use a minimalist style and I want to improve my work within the bounds of that style. This example is not relevant to my writing."

    Looking at your paragraph, I would expect that to be your response, and if I were advising the person writing that critique, I would advise them that they're not offering anything that you're likely to benefit from. But they're allowed to offer whatever they want, just as you're allowed to decline their offering.

    Now, when I look at the original paragraph, I see it as (1) minimalist and (2) colloquial. I like the minimalism. I like the idea of time streeeeetching on, of a quiet bland dullness, so that these events are noticed, when under normal circumstances they might not even be perceived. Adding a bunch of frills and gingerbread to the events would give them a false importance that would go against the goal of communicating that dullness. At least, that's what I imagine that this paragraph is for.

    But I find myself wondering if you intended the colloquialisms. I feel the urge to remove some of what I perceive as colloquial. I have the urge to rewrite it as:

    Sam brought his ankle off his knee. Someone fat rolled down the hall in a wheelchair. A doctor was paged.

    That would, again, be an example. Maybe you wanted the colloquial mood. Maybe my criticism is also not relevant to your writing. But maybe it is.

    I do think that it's better for a critique to try to respect your goals for your writing, when those goals are apparent. But sometimes they're not apparent, and sometimes we just can't quite swallow the idea that someone has a taste that is different from ours. :)

    Answering some of your specific questions, again from my taste and my point of view:

    > The question is: do all the extra details make it undeniably better?

    No. I think they make it worse.

    > Do all the extra beats in the pause produce more tension or less?

    Less. (I wouldn't call them "beats" though. Now I'm wondering which of us has the right definition of "beat".)

    > Could some of these details like “seven years” be given later?

    Yes. This is not a good place for them. I could be wrong, with more context, but I don't think I am.

    Now, this almost entirely ignores the "style vs. story" criticism. I don't know that it's possible to separate the two, especially in a short piece. In this one little paragraph, I'm making story assumptions--I'm assuming that this character is in a dull, quiet place, and that he's been dull, and quiet, and passive, and idle, for quite some time. Those are story facts, but I got them from the way that you presented the scene--I got them from style. I might have gotten them wrong, but all the same, that's an example of getting story from style.
     
    NomDeGuerre likes this.
  10. Chinspinner
    Offline

    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,918
    Likes Received:
    1,018
    Location:
    London, now Auckland
    I didn't really want to comment on someone else's critique, but since you have, sod it. I agree. I like descriptive prose where it fits, but in this example I prefer the pre-critique version. The second version adds little for me, but detracts a whole lot. The humour is lost, the pace is lost, the tone is lost.
     
    NomDeGuerre likes this.
  11. NomDeGuerre
    Offline

    NomDeGuerre Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    2
    Yeah, that's a great term, "false importance!" I felt that in my gut. But you know we tend not to trust our own instincts, particularly when we haven't been very successful. It's like if you're lousy with women you'll listen to any guy who claims to know how to get them to like you, whether he might be full of it or not. Not that my critique-er is full of it. But you know what I"m saying, right? ;)
     
  12. DefinitelyMaybe
    Offline

    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2012
    Messages:
    866
    Likes Received:
    227
    Location:
    Leicester, UK
    Among those 15 writers there may be some who would like a modicum of description, but not over the top. E.g.:

    Malorie scrutinises the mess strewn across the living room floor. It had been spotless when she moved in two months ago; now look at it. She gently places her hand on her belly. Four months until you join me in my world little one. By God's mercy, may it be a better world than ... this.

    Personally I would think that choosing between the two versions in @NomDeGuerre 's post would be a case of Hobson's choice.

    I haven't read The Bird Box but suspect that like Cormac McCarthy, the pared down style is successfully established as the distinctive style of the book. And that there is significant other payoff, particularly early on, to keep people reading.

    EDIT: Hmm.... rules say I should try to remove the adverbs. I'm not sure that 'gently' should be removed. I can't think of a stronger verb to use, something like "caresses" doesn't sound right to me.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2015
  13. Lifeline
    Online

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,412
    Likes Received:
    1,565
    Location:
    no longer between
    Now this thread is concerning something I've been wondering about myself. I read critiques from others for others here at WF (mainly because if I would ever be called upon to critique I wouldn't do it wrong) and there always were at least some suggestions to alter wording and style. Rewrite this like that, formulate this another way, usually in bold.. and sometimes (not in all cases) I would get the feeling that the one giving the critique would slip over the line to make this a story in his/her writing style.

    I admit, I am a prickly author. I want this story to reflect my own voice, and not some other. So if I would ever receive a critique which started suggesting rearranging/rewording sentences I would be tempted to just skip over these rewrites without serious thought. And then I would (maybe) skip over the issues these rewordings concealed, i.e. not enough details. For me, that would be a really dangerous trap to fall in - as I said I tend to be pig-headed and like to batter down walls with my head.

    My Alpha, luckily, never did suggest another wording. She really read attentively, but identified the underlying problem in my writing style (i.e. too compressed writing) and told me that, pointing out an outstanding example of where my style reflected this problem. And then she left me alone to reflect on what she said. Going back over my story with these 'new eyes' I could then suddenly see what she meant, and also identify other places where I had stepped on landmines. In short, that is how a good critique should be for me. Not to gloss over particular wordings (but you can still mark them with i.e. 'Awkward as hell!' in red color) but tell me where in which kind of landscape my landmines tend to be buried ;)
     
    Haze-world likes this.
  14. Chinspinner
    Offline

    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,918
    Likes Received:
    1,018
    Location:
    London, now Auckland
    A good critique should identify why, as a reader, you felt some disconnect. Anyone can write a critique, with zero knowledge of writing you can still identify the areas that do not work for you, even if you do not know why.

    If there is a problem with your writing, rewriting it does not help. Identifying the issue helps. If someone were to take this sentence:

    The field was transected by three hundred giraffe

    And alter it to:

    Three hundred giraffe ran across the field.

    Without explaining that they altered the passive to active and used clearer language, then this criticism is likely to make you wonder what the hell point they are making. Writing is about communicating ideas, criticism should achieve the same end.
     
    tonguetied and DefinitelyMaybe like this.
  15. DefinitelyMaybe
    Offline

    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2012
    Messages:
    866
    Likes Received:
    227
    Location:
    Leicester, UK
    @Chinspinner - that's a very good way of putting it.

    @Lifeline - I believe that I am a non-prickly author, and consider myself lucky to be so. Even things that I don't agree with promote very useful thinking about my writing and stories.
     
    Chinspinner likes this.
  16. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    This is essentially my take on it as well. I'm not going to reword sentences for you (unless I need to show an example). But I will call out passages that I think are problematic and explain why I think they're problematic. Or, more accurately, I'll raise a big-picture issue I see in the piece and then cull a few examples from the text to illustrate that point. Then I'll explain why I think the problem is, in fact, a problem. It's up to the author to agree or disagree. I don't particularly care whether he/she does or not, because in pointing out that "problem" I've done three things--made myself understand the problem better by forcing myself to explain it, alerted the author to a potential red flag, and made any third-party readers of the critique aware of a problem they may not have known about or caught themselves.

    It's not always easy to critique without touching the author's style. But sometimes that could be a red flag that the style isn't strong enough to distinguish itself. It also could be a case where the writer is confusing "style" for rookie mistakes--as in, using a lot of adverbs due to lack of knowledge of their purpose vs. intimate knowledge of their purpose.

    That's why it's the author's job to siphon the usefulness out of a critique.
     
  17. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,123
    Likes Received:
    5,322
    Location:
    California, US
    @NomDeGuerre

    A critiquer shouldn't be rewriting your work. I'd stay away from critiques written with that purpose. If the critiquer is writing a passage to illustrate a point, rather than to suggest you should adopt their writing, that's different.

    Your voice is your own. Sometimes it takes a while to find it, and you may change it from work to work, but that's sort of your fingerprint on the writing. If a critiquer is trying to change your voice, I also recommend staying away from that advice. A good critiquer should be able to identify what you're going for and offer advice, including rephrasing and the like, that aligns with what you're doing. If you're writing a descriptive, flowing work and a critiquer is trying to rewrite it into short, fast sentences, move on to the next critiquer.

    As for what is style and what is story, that gets to be a fuzzy line. You could consider any choice of wording to be style. You just have to remember that it's your story and you are the final arbiter of what advice to take and what advice not to take (whether you consider it story or style advice).

    Once of the greatest disservices done to new writers is to have critiquers who want to remake the work in their own image. Hold fast and don't let that happen.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,243
    Likes Received:
    1,001
    Take it or leave it, but I've heard it said that good critiques don't make suggestions on the plot or add stuff to your story. They tell you what is or isn't working and let you fix it yourself. Writing Excuses did a whole episode on "How To Train a Critique Group".
     
    Lifeline likes this.
  19. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,995
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    I often can't explain something without an example. I try hard to make it clear that it is just an example, not a suggested rewrite. And I try to make the distinction between my issue and my theoretical solution to the issue clear. I'm not saying that I succeed, only that I try.

    But I tend to use the author's work as the "before" of the example. This thread is making me wonder if I should create my own "before" as well as my own "after".
     
  20. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    As a writer you gotta learn when to ignore stuff from critiquers - they're not experts, they've got their own style, and they operate on different levels of writing experience. Some will give you excellent feedback and others might not get it and some might just be supportive.

    I find the size of a piece can change a critique and limit the feedback. I find it hard sometimes to critique on here when the pieces are too small or sometimes when they're so large and smoothly vague I'm at a loss as to how they fit in the big picture. That's when nitpicking can start. I was on another site and I critiqued a woman's third chapter. One of the characters I found off putting a stereotypical dumb blonde whose gestures felt straight out of a bad rom-com. I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure if this style/tone had been established - others called her on it.

    But never ever ever take anyone's rewrites or suggestions if they don't work. For the story or your style. The idea isn't to write by committee but to find out if you're communicating is clear and your reader feels engaged. ( and some readers tastes will never let them connect with your piece so those you just need to take into context. )
     
  21. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,243
    Likes Received:
    1,001
    ^^^^ This.

    One other thing I do is judge critiques by seeing which issues come up for multiple readers. If one reader objects to the same thing over and over again and other people like it, I leave it. If everybody objects, I think ways to fix it. If more than one object but overall opinion is mixed, I'll take it under consideration but not firmly change anything. Also get to know your critics' tastes over time if you can - there are a few people in my writing group who I just have to screen out because their individual tastes are very specific and idiosyncratic. They have the same issues every week, would never buy my book , and their issues don't always replicate with other readers.
     
    peachalulu likes this.
  22. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    You also have to watch for certain oddities. Like on certain sites I've notice trends and tolerance levels in the critiques can change which can sway majority rules. One site is a bit more forgiving of detail, the other would rather the paragraphs be short and streamlined. Here there doesn't seem to be any preconceived sets which is good. By keeping that in mind - if I find pace is an issue, I spread the piece around and discover what everyone has to say keeping note of their expectations in mind.
     
  23. Carly Berg
    Offline

    Carly Berg Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2015
    Messages:
    508
    Likes Received:
    222
    Location:
    thinking of England
    I would not make distinctions between what type of advice is good or bad. Because really, so what if their criticism does have something to do with your style or your voice? I don't know where you are with your writing so my opinion is in general, but with newer writers, things like "style" and "voice" are still developing, far from set. So just because something could be labeled style or voice does not mean it is sacred and above correction.

    And, even if they do re-write it in part or in full, that's to try to better fully show you their idea of how it would be better. That's wonderful and nice of them to make that extra effort, imo. Sometimes just saying what they don't like doesn't leave you with any idea of what they are saying would be better. We don't usually get the chance to have a dialogue with online critiques like we would in an in-person critique group, so more is better imo.

    It's hard enough to learn to use critiques without making it even more complicated (and you are so right, imo, it is a whole 'nother set of skills you have to learn on top of everything else). I'd just go with this: "Do you agree with the suggestion, or don't you?"

    Personally, I probably only use about 10% of the suggestions I get. They're all just one opinion and some are better than others. So, here's my method:

    You can do this one at a time as the critiques come in or wait until you have a batch of them to work on at once. If you do a batch at once, you can go line by line with all of them or read them all first, then handle one critique at a time, or any combination of all the above. But that's the first decision to make. You might want to print them all out first, or not.

    Save a copy of your original, of course, in case you feel like you've messed up on the changes you use. Now you can relax because if you get lost, you can start over later.

    If at any point you get overwhelmed, put it all up for at least a day or two. Then you'll be able to come back and read it like someone else wrote it.

    Now, with each suggestion, use three different highlighter colors (online or in person) or some other method of marking on each critiquer's copy what you agree with, do not agree with, and aren't sure on. Just don't black anything out entirely so that you can't see it at all because you may change your mind on a thing or two by the time it's all over.

    Some things might jump out at you as great suggestions right away. You'll think Aha! Why didn't I think of that? Go ahead and mark that with your "Good Suggestion" color and make that correction in your story at the time. Or, if it's more involved, you might want to just mark it and leave it and make a note to come back to it later.

    Other things will jump out at you as just not it. Not meshing with your vision, not an idea you think improves on what you had, or sometimes just well, bonkers! Highlight those in your "Bad Suggestion" color or just draw a line through them.

    If two or more people say the same thing on a suggestion you've rejected, reconsider. However, that still doesn't automatically make them right. Sometimes people are insecure in their own critting abilities and may just kinda copycat what an earlier critiquer said, for one thing. Other times some idea about a writing "rule" strongly takes root in a forum that is just wrong and everyone keeps copying it because they don't realize that it's been passed along and distorted like playing telephone. Other times it does point out something that's not quite right but their suggestion for how to fix it, if there is one, doesn't quite hit the spot either.

    Anytime you just don't know which way to go, mark it with your "Maybe" color, then go on.

    So, after you've gone through the critique or stack of critiques, you'll be left with a few "Good Suggestions" that will take more time to correct, and the "Maybe" suggestions. You've cleared a lot already, so this is much less to deal with now.

    Consider putting it up for another day or two before tackling the "Maybes."

    And, here's the important part imo. When in doubt, leave it the way you had it. You had an overall vision somewhere in your mind when you wrote your story. When you change one thing, it often upsets something else. Don't assume your critiquers are smarter than you are about your story. If you leave 90% of the suggestions on the table, that's absolutely fine. Making a story just 10% better can easily make it cross the line to being a polished, publishable piece.

    Lastly, if anyone doesn't know, thank your critters and don't argue with them. And pay it forward. Besides being only fair it makes your writing skills jump by leaps and bounds. There are a few dozen common mistakes that many, if not most, newer writers make and once you critique a few dozen stories, they'll jump out at you in bright neon colors and put you beyond the beginner stage yourself.

    Sorry so long. Good luck!

    Good luck!
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015

Share This Page