Reading and Deciphering Critiques

The longest period of time in the known universe is between posting your first story on a critique site and receiving the first critique.
The longest period of time in the known universe is between posting your first story on a critique site and receiving the first critique.

You wrote a story and posted it on a critique site! How brave of you. The world will now see what you’re up to. And comment on it.

(We talked a little about getting your story written here https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/breaking-down-your-crazy-massive-epic-saga-into-a-manageable-story/ )

You click “submit post.” Then you hold your breath…

Will they love it? Is fame and fortune around the corner for me?

Maybe.

Will they hate it? Is humiliation and failure around the corner for me?

I'm a talentless fraud!
I’m a talentless fraud!

Also maybe.

Some critiquers will want that to be so. You’ll spot them soon enough, so for now just be aware that they exist for venting their own putrid souls just like trolls on any site. They have issues.

But you will also get comments that are helpful – or sometimes confusing.

Just keep a proper balance between rewriting and new writing and finishing the story. Too many people get caught up in endless rewrites and never finish. (They could say that I should at least review my own stuff for typos, so maybe they have a point…)

Never change anything based on one critique’s opinion. (Unless that opinion comes from Stephen King, and then change it immediately and be sure to tell him what close personal friends we are.)

A friend recently posted a story on a critique site I use. (If I got a referral fee for recommending it, I’d tell it to you right now – but I don’t so they can remain anonymous til they pony up some dough.)

It was chapter one of her story. Apparently, people had concerns about the manliness of the Main Character’s (MC) manliness. Because she asked.

Now, since the writer is a woman, it’s fair for her to think that she may not fully understand what it is that makes a guy manly. Except, she’s kind of wrong. Often, what is considered manly is what appeals to a woman. Who better to tell a guy what that is than a lady? On the other hand, often women write things for a male character to say that a normal guy would never say. It happens. Guys don’t usually sit down and discuss feelings. That’s typically a chick thing.

As far as Peter’s (her MC) machoness/wimpiness – a character in chapter 1 is probably different from who he or she is by the end of the story. Don’t worry too much about that unless this is written with Arnold Schwarzenegger in mind. Ahnuld’s been playing the same role since 1985. Peter will evolve one way or the other, and if manly is the goal, you’ll get him there. As long as readers identify with him or grow to, you’re fine. It doesn’t all have to be there in the first dozen or two pages.

Because she asked, readers opined bout Peter being not-so-bright, when the author imagined him as fairly smart.

If you imagine a character as smart, he needs to occasionally say or think things readers would find to be smart. How is that done? Well, what do you say or do to let people know you’re smart? Mention you went to a good school? Use big words (properly)? Think of something that some other person didn’t think of? Ask good questions in an intelligent manner like I’m doing here?

Should I mention the community college I almost went to?
Should I mention the community college I almost went to?

Same for her missing girl in the story.

“I’ve been told they perceive her as an automotron, a robot, a cyborg, maybe an AI.” Good – maybe. People are speculating. That means they’re interested. (And since they have no vested energy in the outcome, why not speculate? It costs them nothing.)

You, on the other hand, have to write it. So if they give you specific statements that explain her roboticness, address it. Maybe you need to have her take a sip of coffee or stare out the window, or blink a few times – the things people who aren’t robots (or at least aren’t super high quality replicants) do. Things you do. Scratch your nose. Pull your underwear out of your butt crack.

It happens to all of us.
It happens to all of us.

Robots probably don’t get hay fever – and by adding that element, maybe that creates a vulnerability – or endears the character to the reader – in ways you never thought about but that help add a dimension. In the finale, maybe she sneezes and gives her hiding place away just as the bad guys are closing in! What robot would do that?

If you post a story and then ask people specific questions, readers and critiquers will tend to comment on what you asked. That DOES NOT mean these things were important to them. You asked, so they were nice and they answered. Next time, maybe ask about a few things that weren’t important in the story. “What did you think about the weather as a sign of foreshadowing the death of civilization?” Heck, that wasn’t even in there, but if you ask, they’ll answer. Yep, I saw it. The End of days was foretold in your… lack of mentioning weather. That’s what I saw, all right.

See?

I ask specific questions AFTER I get a crit, and ask very few during the original posting of the critique. Then, whatever readers comment on is their take away, not my projections. And usually if I know the source, so I can have some basis for their comments. By not asking specific questions first, I’m not leading the witness.

It all adds up. You’ll find the right balance for you. But whatever the replies say, don’t read too much into it. Most critiques are written by impatient people who think they know how to write. Some do. Many don’t, but they took an online course or even worse the read a blog post about proper writing and now they are experts telling you that every adverb must die.

But many of the things “bugging” them are things you’ll answer in your story if they read on – and that’s just good storytelling.

So keep at it!

By carrying that computer around, he looks like he just might know something, doesn't he?
By carrying that computer around, he looks like he just might know something, doesn’t he?

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

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