1. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yet more conflicting critique

    Discussion in 'Editing' started by Catrin Lewis, Jun 12, 2018.

    This morning I received the feedback for my Novel Beginning entry to this year's Pennwriters contest. I submitted the first 10 pages of the sequel to my WIP, and no, I didn't win, or even place. Not surprising--- it was a rush job getting it in on time.

    Anonymous Judge No. 1 gave me very little feedback. S/he even forgot to attach the scoring sheet. The one definite thing s/he did was to suggest I cut out some back story.

    On the other hand, Anonymous Judge No. 2 (who did include the score sheet) wanted more back story! Lots more of it! And reflection on it from my POV character!

    What's more, s/he really, really, wants me to start with my female protag in the Krav Maga class, not in the ladies room after. That'd make for lots more excitement. Lots more drama. Much more potential for tension.

    I don't object to beginning with the self defense class, myself. I had it that way when I PM'd the first couple of chapters to @KaTrian for her to crit the KM moves. And it was like that when I submitted my first pages to the live critique at the Pennwriters conference a year ago. But the pro writers and the hotshot agent on the May '17 panel all agreed that starting with the Krav Maga was too much like a "movie" beginning and didn't work for a novel. So I revised all that out for the contest . . . and look what happened.

    The Anonymous Judges are all pros, as were the critiquers on the live panel. Shouldn't their feedback all carry equal weight? But No. 2 has really stirred the pot.

    So, whom do I believe? If it were your novel, would you restore the original beginning on the strength of the kind of feedback I got today? Or would you hold off, write the rest of the novel, and come back to the first chapter when you're done?
     
  2. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I think you should go with the one you like best. And ultimately, first chapters fare poorly in the first edit when everything is done. So go ahead, finish what you started, and take a look at which is best on first revision. Not worth fretting over at this point
     
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  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Is this piece in the Review Room? I'm remembering the class and the ring. Would it be worthwhile to link to that and ask for feedback from us based on the conflicting feedback?

    This sounds like somebody's advice that when you get writing advice, you should believe it when someone says, "This doesn't work for me" but you shouldn't believe them when they say, "This is how to fix it."

    There's something about the class that didn't work for people. And there's something about the ladies room that didn't work for people.

    Both of those were openings.

    So it may be that there's something about how you approach openings that doesn't work for people. That you do well once you have the reader pulled into the story and all nicely soaked in the situation, but the original pulling-in is problematic. Some people think the problem is lack of excitement. Some think it's lack of backstory. But those are solutions. You have to find your own solution.

    So I would explore openings. I'd grab a whole bunch of books and read the first two pages, and see if that points to anything.

    Edited to add: But not necessarily now. Unless it's nagging at you (my own opening was nagging at me and I just rewrote it) it seems totally fine to just let it go until later.
     
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  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Any time people are critiquing a fragment of a story, there's the possibility that they're guessing at a different context than the one you actually wanted. Like, starting in a Krav Maga class might set a certain tone and establish certain expectations in readers, and that would be good if the story is moving in one direction, but bad if the story is actually moving in another direction. And I don't think professional writers are automatically any better at guessing which direction a story is taking than other critiquers might be.

    I wouldn't hurry to take advice from anyone who hadn't read my entire story. I mean, go ahead and consider the advice, and if it twigs something for you, great, but in terms of making changes based only on advice rather than on what you think is best? Not a good idea, I wouldn't say.

    So... what do you think is best?
     
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  5. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    When you say these judges are, "all pros"-- I ask, by whose accounting are they professionals? What have they produced that's sold well? Just because someone is published doesn't automatically mean they're worth reading.

    Book critics are like wine tasters, they're a dime a dozen! Study after bloody study shows professional wine tasters for what they are... frauds!
    Don't let yourself get tied up in knots over "professional" writers, whom I imagine most of us have never heard of or read.

    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis
     
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  6. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    When I rewrote my prologue, I had the following feedback. One editor suggested cutting it completely, the second wasn't sure if it was better than the old prologue and the third loved it but felt it needed more detail.

    In the end, I took feedback from all three, noted down a sort of "average" and then just left it and went on revising the later bits of the book. I'll go back to it with fresh eyes in a few months time. I'd advise doing the same, but remember, at the end of the day - write the book you want to write. You can't please every reader, editor, or judge. :)
     
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  7. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Concur with the "all pro" comment by @Iain Sparrow. If they teach writing rather than publish themselves, they expertise may be a lot less than you think. And if they don't do that, then they are just another reader.

    I did take major input from Dave Poyer who has published over 40 books, all doing very well, and sits on the Naval Academy literature department as an adviser, definitely qualified. When he said he wanted to "smell the blood, hear the flies buzzing" from the POV of someone awaiting execution in my first chapter, to feel what he was feeling, and not just watch this from a cold impersonal distance as I had original written it, I definitely took that aboard, from someone who clearly knows the craft. But he didn't see that first chapter until the book was complete in its first few drafts, and the original first chapter long since discarded.

    But as to judges, critics, I would be more judicious. Agents and professional editors? They certainly know what sells, so their input may be worth more.
     
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  8. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I have to agree with Bay on this one - it's hard enough to get a consensus from multiple people on a completed work, so I'd imagine it would be even worse the further away the material they're critiquing is from the end of the story. It's kind of why the "First Three Sentences" thread doesn't do much for me - I just can't draw any real conclusions from such a small snippet of a larger work, as a writer or a reader.
     
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  9. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The chapters I posted in the Workshop started in the ladies room, with the events of the class being talked about. Frankly, I like starting with the class better (on Orson Scott Card's principle that if you need your mild-mannered protag to know a martial art, you show her practicing it). But I admit it wasn't quite working the way I had it.
     
  10. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Can't say, really. I know the contest judges are all published authors, but they don't identify them in case someone can't take the criticism and um, reacts badly.
     
  11. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    For whatever my opinion is worth, I would hold off and let the advice marinate a little bit, especially because it's the beginning. I would estimate that around 50% of what I write winds up needing the beginning to be rewritten (not always drastically) to match the direction of the end. I know that this isn't true for everyone, but it's possible, and it gives you a chance to keep pushing forward while you kick the advice against the direction of your story as you continue to write.

    Then again, I'm not sure the advice you got from either judge can hold any kind of water specifically because the ending hasn't been read or written.

    You can definitely save the advice in a document or something and come back to it once the novel is finished.
     
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  12. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    There's more than one way to write a novel, story etc. Everybody who gives you advice on how to fix the story is creating their own way of narrating that novel/story. There are many ways to go about it. Backstory may work, and no backstory may work, too. Stories are made of so many little things that there can be a huge number of combinations and many of those combinations may work well. It's like when you build a house and ask your neighbour whether it will be nice to add a porch or not. Well, there are nice houses with porches and nice houses without any porch. You may get more useful advice if you start asking what's the benefits of a porch (it gives you shade, you can put a chair there etc) or when a porch can be a bad idea (when it's on the edge of a busy road and car's whoosh right past your front door maybe). If somebody advises you to add backstory, think what a backstory is used for, and how to make good use of it. If you add a backstory and it doesn't do it's job well, then it's useless. If you just tack a backstory on because somebody said it's going to be beneficial then it will not, actually, be beneficial to the story. It's all about how you write it, what event you choose, how many pages it takes to tell them, how you manage to hold the reader's interest with it, all the usual stuff.

    That is a general approach but it doesn't explain how to actually write that martial art scene... And there are so many ways to write a scene. It can last for one paragraph, or for five pages. It can be dramatic, or comedy, or fast paced, or slow and full of deep thoughts, it can be your character telling it as a memory or it can be told as it happens at the moment. Obviously, some of those approaches will be wrong for your story and will not work. Others will be just right. You need to be able to decide for yourself what works and what doesn't because there's nobody standing beside you to guide you through every step. If you want to include a martial art scene, start with the basics - what makes a scene work well, when will a scene sound boring to the reader and when the reader will devour it and be curious to read more.
     
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  13. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    Either you assume that both critiques can equally apply--for instance, you cut the backstory sections as reviewer one suggested, assuming you have one, but then lightly sprinkle backstory throughout more of the novel in order to satisfy reviewer 2--or decide on a story that is either light or heavy on backstory and accept not all readers will like that.
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Absolutely. If all you're given is a snippet to critique, you're tempted to chew on it—it could be this or should be that or maybe a little bit more of this or a little bit less of that. If you're given an entire story, however, you just keep reading, don't you? (Unless the start is really horrible.) You won't know if the beginning fits until you either get a long way into the story, or heaven forbid, actually reach the end and realise it comes full circle from the start, or something like that.
     
  15. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    @Catrin Lewis - I know this isn't what you were asking about, but I suspect you should not be showing people your work until it's done. All this conflicting advice you're getting seems to have sowed the seeds of doubt. You might be in danger of losing momentum and going off on tangents to 'correct' something that might actually not need correction.

    When you get your story all written and self-edited, you will have a much stronger idea of what you've actually created. You can then, with confidence, accept or reject advice. You will NOT get everybody to agree. Forget that. So what you need is feedback about how it is received by your betas. Find out what they like and don't like about it. Use your judgement to decide whether that feedback is pertinent or not. And work from there. Pay most attention to the opinions of people who actually 'get' your story. They are your target audience. If they have a niggling problem with some aspect of the story, they're the ones to listen to.
     
  16. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Yep, one of the betas for Gravity who used Tracked Changes in Word to make comments as she read, and she questioned one thing as being out of character for Connor early on that is totally in character after a plot revaluation three or four chapters later. She even commented something along the lines of "Aha! Now I see why you did that - great foreshadowing!" There are so many things that can look weird or unnecessary without looking at the story as a whole.
     
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  17. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    It's one of my personal rules, that I don't start giving feedback until I've read the whole piece—whatever it is. I sometimes scribble notes in the margins if there's something I need to remember, but in general, I just read the piece all the way through as if I'm just a reader and not a critique-giver at all. Then I go back and start writing feedback. It's interesting how many times my first impressions of something have turned out to be not quite right.
     
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  18. Malisky

    Malisky Fortune cookie Contributor

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    I didn't read all or the above but I agree with most I think.

    When something is your "baby" you feel the urge to protect it. Make changes only to the parts you somewhat agree that will make it better. Do not change the parts you love. That's what's all about. You got to trust in yourself too. I don't see you as a beginner in writing, not even intermediate, so trust in yourself more. Don't change things that only consume your productive time. If something feels wrong, then most definitely it is. You are the writer of your story. As you write, you progress and that's that, I think.

    Contests don't show your worth for so many reasons I am bored to illuminate. I think you have already thought about it. It's good to win the prize, but if not, it's not an indicator of your worth as a writer.
     
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  19. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with you, mostly. However, I also think it's a mistake to be too protective of your baby. You can end up like parents sometimes do, insisting their wonderful offspring can do no wrong.

    Writers are in the business of communicating ideas to their readers. If this communication doesn't have the desired effect, then the writer should probably rethink the approach. There may be nothing wrong with the story itself, but there can be a lot of room for improvement in how it gets told. I wrote it that way. It's what I wanted to write. I'm not changing a thing. That's fine, but be aware you're talking to yourself, if nobody else agrees with you. If others don't see the story's merit the way you do, that means your communication skills need work.

    I've always advocated taking the middle ground. Get as many betas to read your book as you can. Accept that some will not like the story, no matter what you do. (There is no point in bending over backwards trying to please a reader who detests Fantasy, if you've just written one.)

    Accept that some of your readers will be open to your basic story, but have problems with certain aspects of it. LISTEN to them. See if you can get them to be specific about what bothers them, then take what they say on board. If there is some way to address their concerns without twisting your story out of shape, consider making some changes.

    Accept that some readers won't understand what you tried to say. Figure out why. Did they miss something important? Go back and make that point more clearly. This is a writing issue that you can easily correct.

    Accept that some may quit in the middle because they lose interest. Figure out why. Get them to pinpoint where the problem began (if they can) and see what you can do to improve this situation. Are you dragging along in certain spots, or allowing your love of minute detail or banter to derail the forward motion of the story? There are little tricks you can learn to do to maintain the forward motion while keeping the details and some of the banter. But only if you accept that the beta's opinion is valid, and stop seeing their remarks as an attack on your baby. If you just dismiss their opinion, then you've lost that opportunity to improve your story.

    Accept that some may be bored by parts of the story that others love. See what you can do to make the 'boring' parts less boring, without losing the elements that the other readers loved—which is related to what I said in the previous paragraph.

    Some will fall in love with your characters. Some won't. If a reader dislikes your character, find out why. If you intended for readers to dislike that character, then you've done well. If you didn't intend that at all, see what you can do to address the concerns your betas have. Don't try to change the character. Try to change the way you wrote the character. It's easier to do than it sounds, once you identify the problem.

    Keep in mind that you will never please everybody. However, I think it's a good habit to at least try to please most (within limits.) Dismissing criticism, or being reluctant to take it on board—because you love your story so much and it's your baby—is not a good habit. Not if you want to improve your writing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2018
  20. MikeyC

    MikeyC Active Member

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    To the OP, i am always of the belief that the best critique are those that have succesfull writing under their belt.

    But then again, I guess it depends on your perspective. If you are trying to write a literary master piece, listen to the critiquers, if on the other hand you are writing to make a living - i.e. earn money, listen to people who have made a success of it.

    Agents/Publishers - and we are talking about people that are there to ONLY make money - they get this wrong ALL the time. They have no idea what will sell well and won't - on the whole (massive generalisation, and i apologise for this)

    Just my 2 pennies worth.

    Rgds
     
  21. Malisky

    Malisky Fortune cookie Contributor

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    A slight misinterpretation there. I never meant not to take critique from anyone or to overprotect your "baby". What I said is that as creators we feel an urge to protect our creations as is (or are... not sure) when we feel satisfied with it. One very important aspect I think of creating something good is to be a better critique yourself. Being an objective critique upon your own creation is hard, because you are passionate and that's not a bad thing. That's a vital thing from my POV to produce something special. So, to sum it up, you got to "know" somethings at least. No one can interpret what you have to say better than yourself. Take advice, take suggestions, sure, why not? But! In the end, if you come to a point where you yourself don't understand where you are heading or what you are doing... then maybe you should be a bit more confident upon your vision or even abilities, set some clear lines within your brain (limits etc) and even maybe lower your expectations. Not to get misunderstood again, I don't mean admit to your flaws. Never admit them! Change them. What I mean is that not all books are meant to be best sellers. Maybe what your book is about will interest a very specific target group (the mother of a friend of mine writes psychology books upon the different stages she comes across as an individual on life that interests her specifically. No men will care to read these books most probably but she doesn't care about it. Her books are intended to interest just a few women that had similar experiences and wonder upon specific outlooks).

    To sum it up because I got to leave soon, Paul McCartney said this (or at least something like this): His father was a musician. He was a pro, meaning he was good at a level that he made it his primal job and made a living out of it. When he heard the song "She loves me" played by John and Paul on their living room for the first time, he said that it was good enough, trendy but why not make it " She loves me, yes, yes, she does" instead of "She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah."... Imagine that and that's all I mean. ;)
     
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  22. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, you're right. In fact, that's where the multiple betas come in. If some people don't like your work that's fine, as long as some people do! Yes, Yes, Yes.... :)
     
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  23. noobienieuw

    noobienieuw Banned

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    I would do what I think is right. Listen to the people, but if they don't all agree then use your own judgement.
    Now if they all did agree then I would certainly rethink things and try to understand why their view was different.

    The only one that would make me change anything that I don't agree with might be the publisher or an agent.
    And even then I would push back first to make sure I understand WHY they want the change(s).




     
  24. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Be careful with your plan to push back with any publisher or agent who wants your stuff. You don't want to seem difficult to work with in this industry. The why is always that they believe it makes your work better. They're on your side.
     
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  25. noobienieuw

    noobienieuw Banned

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    I would still like to know why.
    I would never push so hard as to effupp the deal.

    When editors have tried to change things that made them incorrect then I will always call them on that.
    Fiction does not have that concern nearly as much as non fiction does. Editors make mistakes all the time.
     

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