Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday, February 13, 2010

There's something about critiques...

Having just read Old Kitty's flash fiction story (she has the link on her post in case anyone wants to read it, and you should), it brings to mind something about peer group reviews.

Here's the truth: the better your work is the pickier readers will be. Old Kitty's piece was excellent, near to perfect, and thus the responses were "don't like the ending, it's weak." (Yes the ending was a bit weak, but that's an easy fix.)

Reason being, if your work elicits an emotional response (which all good writing must do), the peer reviewers feel that response, thus noticing a section that's not producing the same response. It stands out against the brilliance of the other and is pointed out as the weak spot.

Here's the other truth: If your entire work is weak, you will get general feel-good praise rather than being picked apart. Your reviewers, not wanting to be rude, will say, "that's good!" and "I like the ________ part!"

So if you're getting a lot of the "pickiness" take it as a positive! And if you're getting the general feel-good praise, take that as a negative. It means your work isn't eliciting enough of an emotional response for anyone to care if you fix the ending or not.

13 comments:

  1. THat's a great way to look at it!

    ann

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  2. Hey, Karen. I love what you keep doing to your blog. The quote and links and excerpts from reviews--you're turning this blog into something great.

    I completely agree with your assertion. One dissenting view might be bouncing bloggers who are in a hurry. They'll give general praise--I've done it before.

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  3. Hi KarenG!!

    Oh thanks for reading my story and for your very helpful comments. I'm blushing! I do appreciate them. Feedback is definitely crucial for me and I think the more critical, the more it makes me want to get my writing as good as I can make it.

    I remember reading Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. I couldn’t put the darned thing down – I read it until 4 am in my bedroom huddled against the radiator because it was so cold – I remember this so well. It was a beautiful, beautiful book - until I got to the final two chapters.

    I could not believe how it ended. Up to then I was thoroughly engaged, completely swept away, my heart was palpitating because I was so into the story. And then the ending. Arrrrrrrgh!!!! How could it end like that – it didn’t make sense – it was completely unbelievable. It rang false. I could have flung the book away!! What a shame. I felt so let down.

    As a reader, I noticed what I saw as a major let-down because the preceding chapters were sublime.

    (That’s not to say my little story is anything as sublime – far from it!! It’s just nice that people like it and are able to tell me what’s wrong with it so I can improve it! I've a long, long way to go).

    Take care
    x

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  4. I agree, though the person you have to please most is the person who will decided whether or not your piece gets published.

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  5. Ann, unless one getting all kinds of general feel-good praise from peer reviewers--then it may not be!

    M., thank you! Personally, I love the giraffe lol!

    Old Kitty, perfect example of what I'm talking about! Your expectations were raised so high by the book that your disappointment in the ending was that much greater. Now you have me curious about this book, Mandolin.

    Richmond Rambler, so very true. Since the outcome we are all after is publication. Thanks for visiting my blog and for commenting!

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  6. Karen, you just made me feel better about my peer critique at Miss Snark's First Victim blog. I belong to a new writers' group, which has an emphasis on feel-good praise, which is useless, which I choose to ignore in favor of a critique sandwich, which had some resistance but they invited me to stay, which is good! (Sorry about my which roll.) If I get patted on the back at the expense of improvement, I'll never get published.

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  7. Now that you mention it - that makes perfect sense! I'll take the pickiness anyday over the 'it's great' type of comments.

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  8. An excellent point! I know I start to get a little antsy when I'm receiving nothing but generalized "This is really great!" type praise. If people can pick out parts that they particularly loved or hated, I feel a lot better.

    Praise is nice, but as Nicola says... Beware of Praise!

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  9. Theresa, I agree completely, when you're serious about improving your craft feel-good praise is generic. It takes courage to go beyond that and look for the kind of critique that will make a difference.

    Steena, even if means having to thicken up our skins a bit, right lol?

    Maybe genius, there's one kind of praise I love. That's the "I couldn't put it down, read it in 2 days" praise, The worst is, "It's really good, but I haven't got that far into it...I've been so busy..."

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  10. Ha ha, it annoys me no end when all I get is praise for a story - especially general praise! I tend to think, Well fine, but I haven't got it published/won any competitions with it, so obviously It Needs Fixing!

    Oh allright, the praise does make me feel nice and warm and fuzzy for a while though.

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  11. SF, yep,warm & fuzzy is nice for beginners, but not for serious writers imho. Especially since we usually know there's something not quite right with it, and we're wanting someone to point out what that is, and maybe even give tips on how to fix it!

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  12. An interesting post - I hadn't thought of it that way. But I certainly agree - the pickier the better! After all, if all people can pick up on are little niggles then you must be getting most of it right!

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