October 24, 2000. That's the earliest “last modified” date that I have for my first venture into writing, and that's a “version 2” so something must have come before it at an even earlier date. I generally set things aside for a year before I come back to them and start working on second versions, so we're looking back at least ten years into the past. And if memory serves it was even slightly further back.
You see, on March 31, 1999 the Matrix was released. On April 1, I saw it in a crowded theatre, by myself, . . . on my birthday (sad birthday that year). I left the theatre with the same adrenaline rush as everyone else that had seen it. But there was one thing different for me. Along with trying to figure out how I might one day make Trinity my wife, and looking for tell tale signs that the matrix was real and all around us (come on, you know you did it too) I was also thinking, “Those bastards stole my idea!”
No, not the entire digital reality thing, they stole that from someone else, I'm talking about the programming fight training. This was nearly as bad as when Marvel Comics stole my name for a super group when they retitled The New Mutants to X-Force. I totally came up with that years ahead of them. Of course there's no proving any of this because in both cases I never showed the works to anyone. So that's just downright creepy. I mean, how did they get into our house and steal all those ideas? There's no justice in the world! Wait! There's a black helicopter flying over my house again. I'll be right back, I'm going to get my bullhorn and read them the constitution again, that usually gets them to go away, that and “I'm calling the news!”
Now then, where were we? Right, my crap story. It's old. I also didn't critique all of it. I just couldn't make it through the entire thing. I got two pages in and asked, “Why are you torturing yourself?”
Being as I did not have to torture myself, I opted to stop. I also knew that if I couldn't make it through, no one else would either, so after two pages I cut out the middle section, four pages of the middle section, four pages that didn't need to be there. Sigh.
Keep in mind that I'm a bit harsher with myself than I would be with someone else's work. Although, if you asked crit partner 2, the one that calls me Attila, as in Attila the Hun, she might disagree. But the way I see it, for as harsh as my criticism tends to be, I don't say anything out of spite, and nothing I can say can ever be worse than what you'd get from an editor.
Remember that my crit guide would usually come along with the critique so as to explain some of my terms and thoughts in better detail. Also bare in mind that this is not the only way to give a crit. David Farland recently sent out an entire series on 'how' to give crits. Unfortunately, Farland doesn't have a blog or anything that I know of where he posts all of this stuff, so I can't link to it (if he does and I'm just clueless, let me know and I'll fix this). You can only get it in your email. Farland is also long winded, even more-so than me (yes, it's possible). His critique series was at least seven posts long. Honestly, I don't think it's possible to keep even half of what he mentions in mind when doing a critique. That's why I resort to the tried and true, “This is what I was thinking while reading,” approach.
I try to note any “rules” that I think are broken. I look for repetitive uses of words and sentence starters. I'm looking for gerunds and participles that don't need to be there as well as said bookisms. POV shifts tend to stand out. In beginnings I'm looking to see if I'm going to be hooked, if I can get a hint at the characters story worthy problem and the inciting incident that sends us on our path. I also like to give my feelings, “At this point I'm curious about so and so.” And yes, I really do say nice things too. Just because there's not much nice to say about this old story doesn't mean that I don't say them about others' stories.
For the most part, you get better at critiquing by doing it, just like with writing. And the more critiques you expose yourself to from others the more rules you learn. I'm going to try and aggregate Farland's guide into something digestible. (Momentary admission of guilt: I never read the series he sent out, it was too much for my little brain to wrap around at the time.)
If you didn't catch the link above, you can download the pdf of the critique here [link]. Thanks to FreePDFHosting.com for hosting the file. If you've got a pdf of less than 2mb that you need to create a down-loadable link to, be sure to check these guys out.