Part Four of the Critique Series
Remember critique circles? When you'd go out and drop a wad of cash on a huge stack of copies all collated and stapled, text double spaced leaving just enough room for inline comments. Remember that feel of the warm ink and smooth copy paper in your hands? The slightly metallic smell of the freshly burned carbon. The lugging of all of those copies into a class and wishing them luck on their journey as they were passed around the room. “Fly little birdies, fly.”
Remember getting them back? By and large the feedback you get on most wasn't worth the fifty cents a copy that you blew on getting them printed in the first place. You got a lot back with “Wow, great story!” scribbled on them with silly little smiley faces, a bunch with meandering comments that didn't make any sense, some came back a gory mess, and maybe one or two that were actually worth a damn. Oh, and let us not forget that one jerk who returns your story with nothing written on it at all. Thanks Jasper; appreciate it.
All of my different experiences with crit groups led me to come up with my own "rules" with regards as to what should happen during crit group.
Thoughts On Rules:
I think that there have to be parameters set up for crit groups. Get too many artsy people collected in one place and drama is sure to ensue. Remember, the key to a critique is open, and honest feedback.
Don't Talk Back: When you're being critiqued you sit there with your notepad and copy of the story, keep your mouth shut, and you listen. Period. As soon as the back and forth banter starts, even if it's all positive and Rainbow Brighty, you're affecting the critique and won't get honest feedback. We read body language, intonation, all those subtle hints and cues that others give off. And since humans have a strange desire to please those that we are around so that we appear favorably in their eyes, we'll adjust our feedback accordingly.
Don't Explain Yourself: When you send your story off to an agent or editor, you're not going to get to explain things. “Obviously you didn't get it, you see, so and so has to do such and such in order for this to happen so . . . .” Uh, no. You're story has to stand on its own two feet, so let it. If the reader didn't understand something, that's your fault, not there's. Now you just have to decide if you need to clear that part of the story up with your writing or that you like the ambiguity.
Constructive Feedback Only: It's fine if you feel like there is a problem in a story but you can't put your finger on what it is. Just make sure you note that. “At this point in the story I found myself drifting away but I'm not sure why.” Also, try to give them something to go on. It's your job as the critic to provide more than just a read through.
The Critic is ALWAYS Right: If someone is telling you how something in your story made them feel, that's how it made them feel. They can't be wrong about that. Opinions are never wrong, just different. Now, whether you act on that opinion is up to you, but don't discredit it.
Don't Disagree: At least don't 'openly' disagree. To do so tells your critic that you don't value their opinion. In the future, said critic is not going to give you their open and honest thoughts. They'll filter their feedback so as to spare you're fragile ego. A tell tale sign of this is when your writing suddenly goes from being filled with feedback to receiving nothing but praise. It's not that you got into a car accident and turned into Stephen flipping King overnight, it's because no one wants to argue with you about how they feel about your story.
Take Notes: All of these rules don't mean that you don't get to interact with anyone. Once the critique is done, then you get to ask questions. If you didn't fully understand something that someone said, ask them about it. If you get an idea and think it might solve their problem with a story element, run it by them.
Wait Till The End: Related to the above, I think that questions should come at the very end. In this regard I like the crit circle setup. You go around in a circle, starting next to the author, everyone goes through their feedback, highlighting points that they think might need clarification or that really stood out to them as either good or bad, and then only at the very end does the author get to ask questions. This is a huge time saver.
Time Limits!!!!: I've been subject to no time limits before and it is an agonizingly miserable experience. You've done your crit, you're ready to move on, but said author wants to pick pick pick at your brain until nothing's left. Again, this is yet another way to earn yourself 'glowing' reviews.
Write Your Own Damn Story: Feedback should be general, and not specific. Rewrites should not occur during crit group. Two reasons: 1) it's your story, write it, 2) it will kill your voice. Take the suggestions home, sleep on them, then fix things.
Deadlines: Part of being in a crit group is coming through for others, both in your crits and in providing your work.
Rules Can Be Bent: Not broken. Everyone has stuff come up in their lives, though I'm finding more and more in life that those who achieve success do so because they don't come up with excuses. There are those of us who allow circumstances to get us out of things, and those of us who decide that we will get things done regardless of circumstances. Success seems to follow the latter group.
Today is supposed to be the end of the crit series buuuuut . . . tomorrow will be the end. Promise. The rules sound kind of like a rant anyway, so I'll post the above as a Friday Rant of sorts. Either tomorrow or later tonight I'll post the last article on critiquing. It will outline different forms of crit groups, my thoughts on both, the crit group I'm starting, and then a second crit group that I'm considering putting together in the near future.
Sorry about carrying this over an extra post. I hope you can all hang in there. I've noticed the comments slip off for the crit series, so I'm assuming that series aren't everyone's cup of tea. But I've got lots of fun stuff in the cue for next week.