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My job as your mentor and/or guide…
…and/or critique partner and/or editor and/or sounding board…
is to figure out the things you’ve done that make your story less perfect, point them out, and try to help you figure out ways to correct them.
It’s also my job when I review my own writing.
I consider it my duty, what I would do for you and what I need you to do for me. Really giving it to each other straight so we can make our stories the best they can be.
It is a tall order.
CRITICISM and INPUT
It requires guts to tell somebody what’s wrong – with patience and kindness to do it in an encouraging and non-destructive way – and it requires time and energy to help them come up with a solution.
It requires fortitude to hear what’s wrong, even when delivered kindly, and it requires strength to accept the words of others who want to help you become a better writer.
You should also point out areas where you smiled or laughed, places where you went OOH! and anything you liked, but not just to be nice. You do it because the author needs to know what works and what doesn’t.
- Fear, not ego, makes us weak and closes our ears to even the best suggestions.
- Ego allows us to know that accepting good suggestions from others makes our writing better, and even if we took every suggestion from every source, our writing is still 99% our own.
MY JOB AS Critique Partner:
When I read your story it is like carrying a soft blanket through a thick forest. Anything that blanket snags on is something that needs to be addressed.
So as I read, if you misspell a word, that’s a snag. If you started three sentences in a row with a declarative noun-verb combination, that’s a snag. If you have a run-on sentence, or a character reacting before the action takes place, or a patch I want to skim, that’s a snag.
Anything that would potentially snag that blanket is what I point out to you, what must be pointed out. I will try to find them all, regardless of size, so your writing can be the best it can be.
I ask you do the same for me, so my writing can be the best it can be.
Together, we can become GREAT writers.
It is WITHIN OUR GRASP as humans.
It is LEARNED.
(Although we’ll let be fine letting people think we were born with the gift of writing.)
Once we can get the blanket carried through the forest without any snags, I know I’ve achieved The First Step of the First Priority of a Story
Never un-immerse your reader from your story.
In order to have a great story, readers have to become fully immersed, never pulling their head up to see the world happening around them but only flowing along with where your story goes and what your story does. They get lost in the world you created.
You need many things. An interesting plot. Relatable characters. Good pacing. On and on.
You must avoid mistakes. No typos. You can’t be dull.
When it’s right, readers know it.
You see it in movies all the time. When people leave a movie there pumped up after watching Rocky or they’re feeling adventurous after watching Indiana Jones. Where they are sad, crying their eyes out, at the end of Love Story or Dr. Zhivago or Titanic.
When it’s wrong, readers know it.
The Angry Birds movie, if you are over the age of ten. Finding Dory. Zoolander 2. Heck, just about anything 2. Independence Day 2, whatever it was called. The Johnny Depp/Through The Looking Glass thing where he wore all the clown makeup. Come on. Clown face? That’s awful on the cover. Nobody’s seeing that.
All the things we advise you to do – spell checking, trimming, grabber openings, cliffhanger endings – are the things that helpimmerse your reader in your story.
Your goal is to never un-immerse them.
Typos and run-on sentences and things like that all serve to pull your reader out of the story, even if only for a nanosecond.
Un-immersing your reader from the story is the ultimate sin.
The goal is to keep them in, so anything that takes them out has to be addressed.
Look, at some point you’re going to have to end a chapter. That’s a great place for the reader to say oh it’s time to make dinner – and then they get busy with a phone call and email and then the next day they have to work late and then the air conditioner breaks and then soccer practice starts and it’s their day to make brownies for the team – and your book never gets picked back up. I’ll get to it tomorrow…
A DAY becomes a WEEK becomes NEVER.
The third Harry Potter book still waiting for me. I got halfway through it because I took two airplane flights to go snow tubing. Killing Jesus took me four months to read because I read half of it in one sitting, got busy, and didn’t get back to the second part until four months later! And those are both good books. Anything slightly less and I would not have picked it up, such as Bird By Bird or The Hero With A Thousand Faces or any of a number of other books. Or movies I recorded that I started watching and never got back to. Or TV series with multiple episodes DVRed and every time I get a chance to start back up at episode three, I’m kinda sleepy and Kevin Can Waitlooks better. A month later, the folder gets deleted from the DVR in a fit of digital spring cleaning and no one notices.
Is that what you want for your story after all your hard work writing it? No.
So you have two goals. 1: Tell a great story, and 2: Keep your reader completely immersed.
That’s what makes writing difficult.
We can all tell good stories.
We can’t all tell smooth ones that readers stay completely immersed in. It’s hard work and it requires concentration and hours of furrowed brows, rewriting the same line four times and still hating it. It’s hard work to ACCEPT when somebody tells you to cut a whole chapter. It’s hard work getting up the courage to show your story to a critique group. It’s hard work to call local book stores and ask them to let you do a signing. It’s hard work = whatever you don’t like doing. (That’s TIP #3)
That’s why Hemingway said we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.