Responding to Criticism

I received my first work back from critters.org today. I received 10 critiques, most of which provided some useful information. I haven’t put the story up yet that they were critiquing, but that will definitely be my next short story to go on the page, and I may use it as a case study to show “before and after” on the feedback.

After reading all of the critiques, here’s what I can glean:

The Good

1) Most people thought that my writing style was engaging. That’s great! I want the words I write to be easy… I don’t want people tripping over it and getting lost. After reading several stories as part of critters.org, I understand what they mean.

2) In general, people were interested in the premise. I had introduced a new kind of magic, and different slice of the world. What’s going on with this? That’s a good hook.

3) That was it. That’s really the positive I got out of this. I suppose there were a few that liked specific moments (some of which I was especially proud of while writing them), but that was it as far as multiple reviews saying the same thing on the good front.

The Bad

1) The story was flat. I believe that and fully agree. I can make excuses: I wrote this for a contest that had a 4500 word limit with the theme of “underground.” The original draft of this had a lot more related to the underground component, and I never really fleshed it out. I knew when I finished that the concept demanded more words to truly realize it, and then was too lazy to do it. There were multiple areas within the story that I could have built more tension, but didn’t because I felt I didn’t have words. There are too things I take away from this: First, I probably needed a simpler concept for a 4500 word short story, but more importantly, I wasted a ton of words with my writing style (more on that below).

2) My hero (Dickson) was flat. We don’t really learn about him beyond the fact that his parents were getting a divorce, and that he’s sort of milling through life. He needs more motivation… more drive. More background. As is, nobody cares.

3) The ending was flat (notice a theme here?). Multiple people commented that our hero essentially rolls over and takes it at every opportunity… And then ends up getting all the power and awesome at the end anyways. Where’s the interest there? This needs to build to a climax.

4) Too much telling and not enough showing. And this is pervasive. I’m telling the story of what happens, but I’m not painting a picture. I actually just got done critiquing a pretty solid novel that paints pictures well. Most of the scenes I could close my eyes and imagine, and I really want to achieve the same goal in my novel.

5) Weak verb usage. Ironically, I thought I did fine at this, but the sheer volume of critiques that noticed how often I bombed my verbs staggered me. For example, “Dickson was falling down the hole.” This would be better served as “Dickson fell down the hole” or better still “Dickson tumbled down the hole.” The first edit reduces word count… The second paints a better picture. Action verbs!

The Observations

1) Ironically, as I’ve done critiques I’ve given a common piece of feeback: Try reading your work out loud. You’ll catch a lot of grammar and typo issues. The pot has officially called the kettle black. For a work I thought was complete, I was shocked at the number of issues people found. Silly things I should have noticed. Definitely know I’ll do better on this going forward.

2) Jumping around while you write is great, but it has a price. Some readers noticed me use words like “again” when there had never been a prior, and a lot were able to state, “I’m pretty sure you must have had a scene you edited out, because blah blah blah.” I need that out-loud read through to make sure things are consistent at the end.

3) You can’t make everybody happy. When the first reviews were trickling in, I got some feedback about a particular scene. Each critique had a different take on that scene and whether it was good or not. That tells me the importance of multiple reviews, and why in my standard critique template I remind the author that s/he is ultimately the one writing it… S/he knows what’s best for the book and should make a decision based on my feedback… Not necessarily blindly follow my feedback.

All in all, I was really glad to participate. I’m working on finalizing my next story for Critters, and I hope to come out stronger from this.

What have you learned about your own writings in the critiques you get? How have you responded to it? Any advice on the best ways of performing a critique?

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