1. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Another Thread about Conflicting Critique

    Discussion in 'Editing' started by Catrin Lewis, Jan 28, 2017.

    I considered bumping last year's thread on this subject, but that was all about starting with the weather and I didn't want to highjack it. So anyway . . .

    I've returned from my first face-to-face writer's group meeting. One of my fellow members said the first few pages of my WIP weren't necessary and I should start at nearly the end of the first chapter instead. The other one agreed, "Oh, yes, your story starts where she said, at that later point," but proceeded to say nice things about the material that would have to be cut if I did change the beginning.

    I'm not averse to looking at it again if there really is a problem. Trouble is, I had the same material critiqued at a writers' conference a year or two ago by a four-member panel of published authors and a New York agent, and they all said they liked it, I had a good, confident voice, it was a fine beginning. The agent even said that if the book were done, he would have requested the full ms on the strength of it.

    Just because my critiquers today are struggling, unpublished writers just like me doesn't mean they might not speak for a typical reader. And just because my panel were all pros doesn't mean they do. But the opposite could be true as well.

    So whom do I believe?

    My first impulse is to be a good girl, cut those first pages out to make my group happy, and hope for the best. But I'd be removing material that's thematic for the entire novel. In fact, I intend(ed) to repeat the present first line as the next-to-last line of the story, with some ironic inversion. Moreover, there's info about the MC and the setting that I want readers to know from the beginning, the sort of thing that would naturally be talked about in that context and no other. How the dickens can I load it into succeeding chapters without resorting to infodumps, reminiscences, and flashbacks? It needs to be in there ASAP, because what comes after assumes that the characters and the reader knows "all that" already.

    Happily, I have other work to do that I need daylight for, so I'm going to control myself and make no changes right away. :superthink:
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I'm not really seeing what YOU think of the opening. I get that you don't want to rework it because it would have a whole lot of knock-on effects, but can you see how/why it would make it a better book? Or do you think it would be a weaker or just-the-same book if you changed it?

    You're self-publishing, right? So reader opinions are more valuable than agent opinions. But the panel of authors and agents are also readers, so...

    Some things I'd be asking myself, as well as the first question I put to you:
    - Which of the people giving you feedback read/write/represent your genre? I give more weight to feedback from people who buy books in my genre.
    - How many of them said the same thing independently? A panel, and a group of critiquers, can be swayed by the critique they heard from others. Especially if there are power dynamics at play.
    - What have beta readers said about the opening?
     
  3. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Last thing first:

    I haven't sent this novel out to beta readers, as it's only half-finished. We'll see what they say when the time comes.

    Neither of the crit group members write in the book's genre, which is adult psychological/supernatural horror. They both specialize in YA and children's literature. I'm not sure what I should deduce from that.

    About power dynamics: In the pros' crit session, each submitter's novel beginning was read aloud, the other panel members independently wrote down their impressions and comments, then took turns reading them to us. With my new peer group, we got each other's texts ahead of time, marked them up before the meeting, and used them as notes for the verbal crit. So there shouldn't be undue influence either way.

    What might the suggested change do to the book? I've been wondering about that the past few hours. Could I make the change my peers recommend? By "could" I mean "in the context of the book's structure," not, "do I have the nerve to kill my darlings?" My feeling is that I could perhaps relocate some of the backstory without confusing the reader. But the initial scene setting, no.

    The novel begins with my MC looking at a piece of farm land she's thinking of purchasing to start a plant nursery, and nearly being overwhelmed with how beautiful it is. She's falling in love with the place, even while she's trying to stay businesslike about it. Towards the end of the chapter she catches a glint of silver through a distant stand of trees and asks the real estate agent what it is. Turns out it's the farm lake, and bit by bit, starting with the agent's dismissive response, we get the feeling that there's something very dodgy about this body of water.

    Both my crit partners today liked that and thought it was really creepy. But, they said, I should start where my MC spots the water through the trees. But if I do that, any reasonable reader is going to wonder why the heck she's so keen to acquire the property, because all they'll know about it is that it's got an abandoned, polluted, fenced-off lake brooding down in a gloomy, overgrown pine hollow. I have to have her fall in love with the sunny hills and fields first, so they'll understand why she doesn't pick up on the creep factor and sees the lake merely as a challenge.

    My challenge is that I'm not out just to tell a scary story, but to evoke deeper themes about lovely, bright, wholesome-looking surfaces vs. the ugly, dark, diseased reality beneath. I'm working this in in various ways, but the most important has to do with my MC's initial view of the property compared to what she finds out once she's in so deep she can't get out.

    So no. The book cannot start on a minor key. The major must come first.

    Still, I wish I knew what to do to make that apparent to every blessed reader in the world! :supergrin:
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2017
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Do you get the feeling they're critiquing as readers or as writers? I get the impression they're critiquing as writers... a reader might say "this didn't really grab me" but a writer would say "you should actually start your story in this scene" or whatever. Does that sound right to you?

    If they're critiquing as writers - it sounds harsh, but do you think they're good writers? Do you think they're better writers than you are? Because you're essentially thinking about substituting their writing instinct for your own, and I don't think you should do that unless you think they're significantly better at writing than you are.

    Honestly, I hardly ever seek out critique from other writers for just this reason. Reader critiques are valuable. Writer critiques? Too often they're just about someone rewriting your story in their own style or to their own tastes, and that's really not too helpful.
     
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  5. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    How many words is it before she sees the lake? And is there a lot of description about the beautiful trees and sunny hills? If so, maybe there's a middle ground where you cut back on that but don't actually start the story later in time.

    But if it were me I'd stop worrying about the opening chapter and finish the book. So far, my first chapter have always had pretty extensive changes once I finish the rest.
     
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  6. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'd say they're critiquing as writers; at least, I wouldn't expect a reader to recommend me a book on how to write effective novel hooks. And oh, yeah, it was definitely "You should start your story here."

    It's hard to say how good they are. Before this morning, I, in my own pride, would have said I was better, before they proceeded to rip my work apart. Comparing the two of them, one is much better than the other, and the one who isn't as good acknowledged that. But hers started weak and got stronger, while the other's started really strong and got weak. I don't know. I'd need an impartial third party to judge among the three of us.

    It's early days yet. I'm sure this group will do me good, whether I can say yes to everything they recommend or not.
     
  7. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Keeping the timing but cutting back on verbiage might be a good way to approach it. But considering I'm revising later chapters to keep up with our meeting schedule, I have every incentive to leave Chapter 1 alone for the time being. So that's what I'll do.

    (And you heard it here first. I'm on record.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
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  8. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    Why don't you ask them if they would have put the book down before they got to the lake, if they were looking at your book in the store?
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    What you need to do, no matter who said what to whom, is THINK about what they said. You're not on a contract timetable, you're writing on your own timetable. So just think about it. And as @Tenderiser said, keep writing.

    Don't worry overmuch about perfecting the beginning until you've reached the end.

    You may well think up a solution to the 'start' problem enroute to the ending, but I wouldn't go back and start messing around with it now. Especially as you're not sure what you want to do with it anyway. Just keep going.

    Remember that the best way to start a book is to hint at what the book will be about. So if your book is about your character finding the house of her dreams and living happily ever after, then a long, dreamy start would ...probably put everybody to sleep. If the book will be about dealing with a huge supernatural problem with the house of her dreams, however, it's a plan to hint at this right at the start. So the lake might well be a good place to begin. The moment when 'uh-oh' enters the picture.

    But just keep it in the back of your mind, and continue writing. It will look different to you, once you've got the whole story laid out.
     
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  10. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Okay, I admit it. I gave into temptation yesterday and rewrote my first chapter. Not strictly in accord with what my crit group peers advised, but something in between that and what I had before. And yeah, I think my novel's opening is stronger now.

    Here's the funny thing: Giving her verbal crit, the member I'm calling Beth made it sound like my work was ridden with flaws. But her written critique is much milder. She even admits that I may well need the material she recommended I cut out.

    I'll keep that in mind next time.
     
  11. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Sorry, double post (wonky Internet connection).
     

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