Tuesday, October 25, 2011


(Or, Newest Member of the Plotting Club)

Congratulations to JUDY KOHNEN, winner of Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer.

Judy, please send your address to me at mkaley3 (at) gmail (dot) com. You are SO lucky to get this copy. Cue the standing ovation. Thanks, Martha, for the interview and for all the comments to the readers.

And, a few drums are rolling for our informal survey (using the NAE Ninja Science methodology, of course). The question was, are you a Plotter or are you a Pantser. The results:

Plotters: 37.9%
Pantsers: 34.5%
Combo PlotPantsers: 27.6%

Which can only mean one thing. 62% of us really need Martha's book. And the 38% who are plotters? They also crave this book. It's true. Read the comments.

Thanks to everyone for participating. *blows kisses*

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Martha Alderson

(Or, Whisper Me a Plot and Win a Book)

In my last post, I alluded to the possibility of a Personal Change of Being. I may have just morphed, my fine, fine, writerly friends, from being a pantser to a plot planner. I’ve ripped open the seams of my current WiP, and started to sew a plot structure for not one, but two future WiPs.

And I’m going to share my big secret with you. It’s Martha Alderson, otherwise known as The Plot Whisperer.

I think I first came to know about Martha through a twitter link that took me to her vlog series. I watched the entire series in a day (all 27 of them), and within the next few weeks, I had my entire online critique group involved in a workshop centered around her videos. Some of us are fixing plot problems in current WiPs, and others are getting ready for nanowrimo.

This is why I’m falling over with a general stokedness today. Because Martha is here. On Not an Editor. With her thoughts about critiquing. And? She’s got some thought-provoking answers.


Martha Alderson has worked with hundreds of writers in sold-out plot workshops, retreats, and plot consultations for more than fifteen years. Her clients include bestselling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow her blogworkshops, vlog, or follow her on twitter and faceboook.


NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?

MA: I suggest that the writer sit with the input for a few days and let the information sink in and feel the effects of the feedback emotionally. Then, based on what the in-depth critique reveals, I suggest that the writer pull out a fresh piece of banner paper and re-plot the entire story on a new Plot Planner, incorporating the feedback that feels valid to her. Then, she can stand back and, minus the words, view her story as a whole and assess how the energy of the story rises and falls.

NAE:  What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?

MA: Let me answer your question this way, I believe one of the best things a critiquer can do is always to separate the story from the writer. The story is the beginning and middle and end as a whole that involves characters and mostly one character as she is confronted with challenges and undergoes a meaningful transformation. The story is always whole and complete. The writer, on the other hand, in attempting to translate wisps of inspiration to the page is only as good as her current developmental skill level of writing.
When something is not working, it's not the story that is problematic, it is the writer as she continues to grow and study and reach for mastery over the story-telling process.

NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?

MA: I never critique writers' work. I have found as a plot consultant to writers that I cannot see the forest (plot and structure) for the trees (words). Plot consultations focus exclusively on the master plot, which is made up of the action, character and thematic plot lines or, in other words, the form and structure. Writers are asked to have on hand a list of scenes from their projects and an idea of the message they are hoping their story will convey.

By pushing aside the words, I am better able to see the deeper structure of the story and assess what is working and what needs work.

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

MA: I am most interested in how the dramatic action of the story affects the protagonist and how she transforms overtime and what that means overall. Minus the luster of words and phrases is the structure or form of the writer’s expression. Mysteries and depth are hiding in the stories right now. It is in the interlocking plotlines that they reveal themselves.


Thanks, Martha, for including us in your new book release blog tour, which gives me one last exciting announcement. I have a copy of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, and I’m ready to send it to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment below. If you’d like to tweet about this contest, I’ll smile sweetly and say thanks. Mr. Random Generator will pick our winner, to be announced next Tuesday. Of course, now that you’ve met Martha, you may not be able to wait to get her book. You. Want. This. Book.*

And here’s something I’d like to know in your comments today: Are you a pantser or a planner?

*Seriously. You do, you want this book. I’ve kept it by my side when I writer and critique ever since it’s found its way into my hands a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How-tos: Getting Your Full WiP Critiqued

(Or, Network, Plan, and Wait)

Okay. Yes, I know. I’ve been a smidge absent lately. I’m back in the saddle, reading everyone’s blog entries (so many fab ones!), critiquing for my writerly friends, and editing my own writing. I may even get back to Twitter soon (I heart my goat posse!). I’ve been a bit busy with a stuff going on in my real life, and also writing stuff. Writerly speaking, there’s something that has grabbed my attention and forced me to take a new look at the plots in my WiP, and (cue the shock) the plots of my upcoming WiPs. Now, I’ve been a total Pantser (vs. Planner) when it comes to writing. But I might just transform into a Planner, and I’ll tell you why.

But not until Thursday. I’m interviewing the person who has caused this shift in me, the change that’s gotten me soaked in the Planner mode over the past two weeks.

And? I’m going to give away her awesome writerly advice book on Thursday, too. Don’t. Miss. It. You want this book.

But that’s not the subject of this post. I want to dive into full critiques, since I’m doing a lot of them lately. We’ve already discussed chapter-by-chapter critiques, and now it’s time to talk about beta reads. Not the usual how-do-you-critique in beta reads, since I have a couple of posts coming up that will address this, but how to handle the process when your own WiP is ready for betas. If you are an experienced beta critiquer, please (please!) feel free to add and share.

1.       Celebrate. You’ve completed your first draft. Put it away and order a pizza or pour yourself a mug of your best wine. Eat some chocolate (my current fave: Fanny May mint chocolate squares), taking tiny bites and savoring the delicious melting euphoria that only chocolate can offer. Go dancing, sky diving, or some other adequately spirit-bolstering activity. Forget about your draft for at least a week, maybe two. You’re in celebration mode. If you must write, begin a new story.

2.       Read your WiP again. Of course, this step comes after the celebratory step with the week’s worth of wait in between. The best draft to send out to betas is a to-your-knowledge-perfect draft. Or, almost perfect. There might be things that you think can improve, but you can’t put your finger on how to fix it. That’s okay—that’s what critiquerly friends are for But, sentences that are missing words or 987 occurrences of the word very in your text? This is not what you want to burn your beta readers on. You’d like them to focus on those things that you can’t see or fix for yourself. You owe yourself one more read-through.

3.       Network. Hopefully, you’ve been working on your writerly contacts all along. You’ve visited writer’s group websites, blogs, attended conferences, and you know a group of people who you respect, who like you, and who’d love to work with you. In fact, you’d love (love!) to work with them, too. Even if your WiP isn’t quite ready, you can establish relationships and read/comment on other writers’ completed WiPs. It’s time consuming and a whole chunk of work, but the benefits way, way outweigh the drawbacks. Because now? You’ve got your group of serious-minded writers who adore you.

4.       Keep in Touch. When you’ve networked and you’ve done your part in critiquing other WiPs, make sure you keep in touch with these wonderful writerly people until your WiP is ready for them. Let them know every so often where you are with your efforts, and when you think you might need them to beta read/critique.

5.       Plan. As you get to know your critiquerly partners (CPs), you’ll get a general sense of their strengths. You’ll want your critiquerly pie well represented. Some CPs might be better with plot, some with character development. Touch all bases with your betas, and try to do so in logical sequence. Maybe you send your WiP to one or two betas to start, so the next set of betas can focus their specific efforts on a cleaner WiP.

6.       Ask for what you’d like. CP #1 is great with emotions and character depth, so tell her how much you appreciate her talent, and ask her to pay special attention to this in your WiP. Maybe you think you need extra focus on characters X and Z. Ask her. She’ll be happy to give feedback, especially with the green light you’ve flashed her.

7.       Wait. Patiently. It’s a good idea to let your CPs know your overall timeline if you have one, especially if you’re sending beta reads out to phased groups. However, you can’t control what is going on in everyone’s lives. If you haven’t heard from a CP in a long while, check in to make sure they’ve received it without pressuring them to finish. Once you’ve gotten your feedback, wait again before you revise. Let the ideas sink in. The solutions may be utterly obvious, but maybe not. Maybe you’ll come up with a better solution if you let it stew. Put your critiques in the slow cooker and let the ideas waft a while.

8.       Drool with profuse amounts of gratitude. Your fantastic CPs have just read your 50,000-or-so-maybe-more word WiP, have focused as hard as they could on open opportunities in the pages, loved your characters almost as much as you do, and have taken the time to write up their thoughts. It’s a hard thing to do, and it takes skill. Love them for it, and then let them know how much you love them for it.

What else do you do when you send your WiP out for beta reads? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Critiques for Log Lines

(Or, Let the Log Lines Roll)

If you haven't already heard, Authoress is putting a whole bunch of log lines up today for critique on her blog, Miss Snark's First Victim. Authoress recently talked about crit styles in her very own critiquerly interview.

What's a log line? It's a brief description of your WiP. An elevator pitch version. Authoress is hosting this log line critique session in preparation for her Baker's Dozen Agent Auction.

What's the Bakers Dozen? It's where some lucky blog readers get their log line plus the first page of their WiP read by agents. Not just one or two agents. A dozen or so participate. And then they bid for the entries that they want. For example, an agent might bid to see the first three chapters, or even the entire WiP. *cue rays of sun and cherubic music*

Why is this good from a Not an Editor standpoint? Because you can see how people critique. It's always good to take note of different critiquing styles. There's a whole lotta them. And you can also practice some critiquing skills.

And? It's just a bakery full of excitement and chocolaty awesome sauce. With sprinkles on top.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Online Workshops with Crit Groups

(Or, Extra Benefits of Crit Groups)  

A million pardons for repeating myself, but I lurve my online critique group at Write Stuff Extreme. We're a smaller bunch—a boutique group, as they told me when I first joined—with membership always at fifty or so writers.

About once a year, though, our group offers a workshop. Last year, the worshop centered on finding your voice. The one before that went into flash fiction, how it works, and how to write it. Right now? We're doing a plot-your-WiP workshop. So fun. Some of our participants are plotting new WiPs as they gaze longingly at November for nanowrimo. Other participants have WiPs already written, and they are analyzing these projects based on universal plot principles to see if any improvements scream out to them as we go along.

And yes, there's been a bit of screaming. In a good way. I guess Oprah would call these AHA moments.

Do you have an online group that might want to workshop together on plotting before nanowrimo? We're using Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer video series, sharing the results of assignments with each other. Consider suggesting some sort of workshop with your group. The results can be phenomenal.

What other things do you do with your critique groups? Have you workshopped something together?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why Writing/Critiquing is Like Online Games

(Or, A Hugely Overdue Meme)

I know that many of my blogging buddies completed the why writing is like *fill in the blank* meme months ago. Yes, maybe I was tagged, and yes, maybe I fell a tad short in completing the meme. A thousand apologies.

Since this blog is about critiquing, I have to throw that aspect into the meme. You know me—always breaking the rules. I'd apologize for that, too, except I don't want to give the impression that I'm going to try not to break rules in the future. Ahem. Bygones.


Why Writing/Critiquing is Like Online Games

About a year ago, I watched a video clip where Jane McGonigal (<-Harry Potterish last name. So cool.) gave a lecture about saving the world through video games. Jane uses World of Warcraft as one of her main talking points. Seriously. Her organization has already created some games centered on real-world issues, and I think they're onto something. I hope it works. While watching it, I realized that my gaming son is actually in training to be the ultimate save-the-world virtuoso someday. Jane is amazingly entertaining in this video clip. If you haven't seen it, block out some time to watch it. You'll get the gist of her philosophy after a few minutes.


One of my favorite concepts that Jane describes is how these online games provide participants with an epic goal (we must do this great thing!), create optimism (we can do this great thing!), constitute a social fabric (our cooperation brings success!), and result in blissful hours of productivity (we like achieving epic goals!).

Maybe you're already formulating in your mind how these four things relate to the writing/critiquing community. Here's my take.

  1. Writing/Critiquing provides us with an Epic Goal. Our goal? To create stories that show the best of our abilities, submerge people in another world, and hopefully make them feel something. Yes, maybe we're all writing our own epicness, but it's a common goal.
  2. Writing/Critiquing creates Optimism. Writers are fantastic when it comes to optimism (until they get stuck), but when we're writing, we typically believe that we can achieve what we set out to do. We can reach our Epic Goal.
  3. Writing/Critiquing generates a Social Fabric. Look at the number of blogs about writing, the online writing communities, and the conferences we have available to us. Furthermore, our critique partners are enormously helpful with the optimism and motivation behind our writing. When we're stuck and our optimism falters (e.g., stuck), our CPs are there to help us through. This bond is wonderful, deep, and so important to our Epic Goal.
  4. Writing/Critiquing results in Blissful Productivity. Holy schmoly, writerly/critiquerly friends. How many hours have we spent typing away on our projects? Or reading and critiquing someone else's projects? And we still can't get enough. We forget to eat. We forget to sleep. We like achieving our Epic Goals!


There you have it. Now, go save the world.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chapter-by-Chapter Critique Tips

(Or, Writing with the Door Open)

Stephen King advocates writing first drafts "with the door closed." He'd say that the first draft belongs only to the writer. Everyone has her own preferences, but because I participate in an online critique group with a place to post individual chapters for review, I've seen writers go pretty far with the door open.

Are there flaws in a process like this? Of course. For one, it's tough for critiquers to get an overall picture of the WiP. The flow that they would normally get by having the full work isn't there. In fact, if the chapters go up too slowly, then critiquers have a tendency to forget details from previous chapters. And for the writer, the temptation to go back and fix things rather than completing the project can be smothering.

However, I've also witnessed the benefits of this process in avoiding re-work and providing motivation. I like to get about 10,000-20,000 words into a WiP before posting anything, so I'm a part-closed, part-opened mix. But I like to post chapters pre-completion at this point for several reasons.

  • Huge Plot Holes: The process provides early feedback which helps avoid re-work later. It's overwhelming to have a completed WiP and then find out that a Huge Plot Hole exists, and will require tons of patching, reworking, and reshaping in order to pull it off. In fact, I've known some writers who completely give up on a WiP at this point.
  • Get General Thumbs Up: I like to know whether my characters are compelling, if the point of view works, and whether the story garners interest. Again, this helps me to avoid re-work later on. Or maybe, I have to abandon an idea until I come up with a way to fix it. But at least I'm not so far into it that I feel stuck.
  • Staying Connected: Posting as I go keeps me connected with my writing community. When I'm in my writing zone, I totally go into bear cave mode and not come up for air. Except if I take a few minutes to post a chapter here or there, critique someone else's chapter here or there, I stay connected.
  • Keeping Motivated: Staying connected also keeps me motivated. Is my critique group waiting for the next chapter? Why yes, yes they are, and they told me so after my last post. How lovely. And this? Helps me finish sooner.
Critiquing chapter-to-chapter posts, therefore, might have a different feel than critiquing full projects.* So, what can the critiquer do to ensure they are helping the writer get the biggest bang for her buck?

  1. Focus on helping the writer to avoid re-work. Find out where the writer has the most difficulty with first drafts, and help her when she's falling off her wagon. Is the plot faltering? Characters flat? Scenes unnecessary? Does something completely pull you out of the story?
  2. Don't worry about the perfect diction or polish. This is her first draft, so she won't need to know every comma misplacement or every participle that dangles. Save those suggestions for the final edit. However, if there is a glaring grammar infraction that happens again and again, then go ahead and let her know. It's easier to fix a repetitive issue before it happens rather than to go back and fix each and every one of the infractions later. This goes back to the number one, saving the writer work later on.
  3. Try to keep past details straight, which is more challenging because of the passage of time between chapters. If you're not sure if something was mentioned earlier, take a quick peek. Even if this detail was mentioned, if it doesn't "do the job," let the writer know.
  4. As always, take a minute to say what you liked to help keep the in-progress writer motivated, even if you simply write the word LIKE in the margin at the end of a fantastic line. Those tiny compliments always work for me.
Again, chapter-by-chapter critiques are not for everyone, and that's okay. Can you think of anything else I've missed for chapter-by-chapter, in-progress critiquing? Let me know.



*Some people post chapter-to-chapter but have the whole WiP completed before they start. The chapters usually go up faster, and this type of critique works more like a full WiP critique. Therefore, the above suggestions may not apply.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with YA Author Beth Revis

(Or, Critiquing = Developing as a Writer) 

If you read Authoress's critiquerly interview, you'll know that she has raved about today's guest. However, you may not know how frexing excited I am to have the author of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
because I love the sky (see above—I mean at the top of my blog, silly), and it's hard to imagine never seeing it again. Anyone who can make me think of this fact months after I've read her book ranks way up there (no—I mean figuratively).

Not to mention that it took me about two months to stop saying frexing as an expletive. Okay, okay. Maybe I still use it. Especially when driving.

As I hinted at last week, please welcome Beth Revis. (*cue the squeefulness*)

Beth Revis's debut novel, Across the Universe, came out from Razorbill/Penguin in January 2011.
A former high school English teacher, Beth can't help but blog about writing, grammar, and
publishing at Writing it Out. She is the founder of the newly popular dystopian blog, the
League of Extraordinary Writers, and blows off steam by trying to come up with something
witty in 140 characters or less, lusting after books on GoodReads, or wasting time on Facebook.
Beth is represented by Merrilee Heifetz at Writers House.



NAE: From whom, as one of your critiquers/beta-readers, have you learned the most, and what did you learn from him/her?

BR: I didn't learn this from any one critiquer, but from years of working with crit partners and beta readers, and it's this: when you critique someone else's work, you become a better writer. It's so much easier to see the fault in other people's work than in your own--so reading others' works with an eye for looking for fault will help you see it in your own and naturally develop you as a writer.


NAE. What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?

BR: Whenever possible, phrase your comment as a question. Questions are naturally non-aggressive, and by phrasing your comment as a question, you are more likely to help the person see the crux of the problem rather than get defensive. For example: which would you rather see in a crit:

1. This character is boring--you should cut his whole storyline.


2. Do you absolutely need this character? Is he essential to the main plot of the novel?

I'm not saying to treat people with kid gloves--you can go on to explain your question and be brutally honest--but by opening with a question, you're leading the writer to come up with a solution that works.

NAE: When you critique someone's work, what is your general process?

BR: line-edit as I go, but when I have a larger comment, I'll make a number in the document, then add a longer note in another document. Then at the end, I add overall comments about the main things: plot, characters, pacing, etc. So, if you get a critique from me, you get two things back: a line edit, and a longer (often around 10 page) letter that deals with broader issues.


NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

I mostly just keep notes of anything that makes me want to put the book down. It can be grammar, it can be characters, or plot, or whatever.


Thank you so much for stopping by, Beth. It's been a pleasure. I'm loving your response to the first question—so true. So the reason for this blog.

If you're a YA fan and haven't had a chance to read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and even if you're not a SF/F type of person, pick up a copy. We're talking serious must-read. But hurry, because A MILLION SUNS, the sequel, releases on January 10, 2012. 


January 2012




Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Managing Feedback that Hurts

(Or, Extra-Snarky Review? Bygones.)

In 1997, I had a favorite show, Ally McBeal. It was one of those lawyer/trial shows meets Sex in the City meets an adult version of Glee. Both ridiculous and serious. Loved. It. Unisex bathroom and all. Anywho, one of the partners of the law firm, Richard Fish, went around verbally cutting down his subordinates at every conceivable juncture. But the only apology from him was one word: Bygones. And it was rendered right after the verbal slaying.

When I worked in the Corporately World, I dealt with about a hundred e-mails a day. *cue the shuddering* I worked in a global company and because of the differences in time zones, e-mails were the only way to communicate efficiently, and these messages served as black-and-white proof of "conversations/agreements." Sometimes, though, in the fast-paced, get-it-done environment, I had to deal with some pretty snarky messages. In fact, they smarted enough for me to wince at times, especially when the snarkiness centered around something I'd done, that I put my name on and took pride in.

These emails left me with a What Do You Mean You Hate It Are You Stoopit reaction. I wasn't alone. My co-workers also received like-worded emails, and we'd collectively commiserate on the misfortune of working with Corporately Stoopitness. However, snarky emails flew like autumnal flocks, and after a while I came up with a strategy.

  1. Never respond to a snarky email right after reading it. Have a cup of (*insert favorite work beverage here, diet coke works for me*). Or wait until after lunch. Sleep on it if necessary (though not during work hours). But here's the magic I'd discovered: the email doesn't sting quite so much after giving it some time to settle.
  2. After an appropriate amount of time has passed, re-read the message while imagining a non-snarky tone. Use Elmo's voice if necessary. Consider whether Stoopit had just been careless on the delivery, and didn't really mean to snark all over your day. Sometimes the snark turned out to be a self-inflicted figment of my imagination.
  3. Go back and do some investigation. Maybe my work was not as perfect as I thought I was, or maybe my initial conversation/email was abrupt. If whatever I'd done had been at all unclear, incomplete, or otherwise misunderstandable, then I'd fix it. Pure and simple. Boom.
  4. If there was something in the snarky email that was unclear, that perhaps could go snarky or not, I'd follow up (taking care not to set off an email war). To do this, I used questions. Do you mean this or that?
  5. Sometimes, the person was being snarky just to be snarky. But maybe she had a bad day. Perhaps she hated me. Or. Maybe I'd just pick up the phone and talk it out. (I actually made more career-long comrades this way than I can count. Usually, the person was having a hellish moment and lashed out, and she needed someone, AKA me, to talk to about it.*)
  6. Rarely, when no reasonable resolution to the issue could be found, I had to accept Snarky Emailer as my arch rival and try to avoid her in future corporately dealings. Bygones.
Receiving a snarky critique on my writing, I must admit, stings thrice as badly as an average, snarky corporately email. Sure, I want feedback and I'd like to improve and all, but I don't want to feel Stoopit. Or sad. Or like I'm wasting my time on writerly efforts. It can hit my Achilles heel more acutely when it's on a public forum. Because now? Every can see that Snarky Reviewer thinks I'm stoopit, and how-o-how does one recover from such humiliation? Well, everyone has their own way of dealing with things, but taking from my corporately experience (I just knew it would come in handy—erm—eventually), here's a few ideas.

  1. Don't respond to it right away. It's always nice to get back to the critiquer and thank them, but sometimes, it's not possible at the first pass. Especially when the comments feel unnecessarily snarky. So have a cup of (*insert favorite writerly beverage here*). Eat a meal. Sleep on it. Listen to Mozart. Dance a jig or two.
  2. Re-read the critique to see if the snarkiness is self-inflicted. It's hard to know what the true tone of the writer is behind the review without telepathy (which has always been an issue for yours truly), so try to read it in a simple, calm tone.
  3. Go back and see if there is anything valid in the feedback. The critiquer read your work and put some thoughts together. They may be way off, or they may be right on. Figure out which it is and revise as appropriate.
  4. Maybe she didn't mean it? Sometimes the critiquer left off in the middle of a thought, so a statement came across the wrong way (I've done that!), or maybe they meant to be funny but it came across as mean-spirited. Follow up with her. It might be worth your while.
  5. Maybe you like her. For a critiquer you've known for a while and with whom you'd rather maintain a writerly relationship than not, you could approach her and find out what is behind the comments. Maybe it reminded her of something difficult from her past. Or maybe she was especially crabby that day for other reasons.* Maybe she didn't take the time to re-read her comments before sending them off, and didn't realize how it affected you.
  6. Maybe she's bad news. Some critiquers leave people skills behind during reviews, who are Snarky For The Sake of Snark. When this is the case, it's best to just part ways. And that's okay. What you need for your work is constructive, thoughtful feedback. Take the high road, thank them for their time, and then pursue other critiquing relationships.
Spending too much time and energy on the Snarky For The Sake of Snark reviewers is a waste of your talent, time, and energy that could be better spent on your writing craft. Move on and don't look back. 



*Not that I condone displaced snarkiness.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Authoress

(Or, Giving Your CP Homework)

She loves cashews, organic chocolate, and looks fabulous in a red hat. I'm sure many of my readers are familiar with today's interview guest from her blog, which happens to be one of the best hand-on critique blogs I've come across. I love her wit and energy, and that she loves to celebrate (if not create) success stories when aspiring authors find their perfect agent. To give you an idea on how wonderful she is, here is an excerpt from her Twitter profile: "I want to bring out the best in others as well as myself."

Gah! Such a sweetie. And a large portion of the aspiring author world recently celebrated with her when she landed agent Josh Getzler (so funny how she appears in his leading client list with her anonymous name). I threw confetti. And ate a cashew (well, we were out of cashews, so I ate a peanut while imagining it was a cashew).

Did you guess yet (I mean, without looking at the title of this post)? That's right. We have the quintessential madam of anonymity and class here today: Authoress.

Authoress and Jodi Meadows

  Authoress writes MG and YA fantasy and science fiction. She has an adoring husband
and a stash of organic chocolate that keeps disappearing. (The chocolate, not the adoring
husband.) She is also a classical pianist, a trained soprano, and an unabashed foodie, and
is represented by Josh Getzler of Hannigan, Salky, Getzler.
You can find her at Miss Snark's First Victim, and follow her on Twitter.


NAE: Who, as a critiquer/beta-reader, have you learned the most from, and what did you learn from him/her?

A: I've got two answers to this question!

First and foremost, above and beyond, I have learned the most from Jodi Meadows. (I probably sound like the president of some rabid Jodi Meadows Fan Club, but her influence on my writing has been immeasurable.) She took an early draft of my YA dystopian and showed me pretty much everything I had done wrong, from a preponderance of unnecessary prepositional phrases to the fact that, during the climactic scene, it was completely unclear what my protagonist was actually doing. (That was probably because I wasn't quite sure myself.) She is also the Mistress of Worldbuilding, and she pushed me to create a believable world with rules that didn't break themselves.

(She has been known to send me "writing assignments." Oh, yes. Like, "Send me 500 words about the history of your world." This gal is tough!)

So, truly, as I expanded my critique circle, I began to incorporate Jodi's methods while developing my personal critique style. As well as, yanno, applying what I'd learned to my own storytelling.

My second answer is Beth Revis. Beth's a gifted critiquer/editor. In fact, if she weren't already a bestselling author, I'd say she ought to be an editor. She's just THAT GOOD. And I'm including her here for a very specific reason: Back when my dystopian had garnered what felt like a thousand "you're a great writer BUT" rejections, Beth did a detailed critique that showed me, for the first time, HOW my story was broken. It takes a keen eye and a special talent to pick out what a gaggle of agents claim they "just can't put their finger on."

So from Beth I have achieved a heightened awareness of story arc and what makes a plot work. I'm totally not where she is, but one can always aspire!

NAE: What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?

A: Read good critiques! Naturally my blog is an excellent way to do that. But it's important to get good critique on your own work from someone you trust, too. I've received, on numerous occasions, emails from people asking for help finding critique partners. Thing is, that's like asking help finding a spouse. You've got to click on both a personal and artistic level before you can critique each other's work. And that's a relationship that takes time to develop.

So, yes. Invest time into finding someone with whom you resonate on both levels. Don't just throw your work out there to strangers (e.g. critique sites, which can be very good, but can also be detrimental, because the relationship aspect can be missing).

NAE: When you critique someone's work, what is your process?

It depends what each person wants, and what stage the manuscript's at. One thing's for sure--I never go through twice. I prefer to work as I go, so if I'm giving a detailed line edit, I add my comments/corrections right in with the text, usually in red (I hate track changes--I mean, HATE--so I usually don't use it). When I'm finished with the line edits, I write an editorial letter outlining my main impressions. I don't go into a lot of detail in the letter, since that's what the line edits are for.

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

I am admittedly a grammar nazi, so grammatical errors JUMP at my eyeballs. I don't focus on them, though. I pay attention to things like believable dialogue, clean sentences, and pacing. Plot arc is not my strength, so I'm more likely to comment on the believability--or necessity--of given scenes. As a critter, my strength is definitely the WRITING CRAFT over the story craft. (Which is why it's important to always have more than one person critique your work.)

Question Added by A: Where should your blog readers send their gifts of artisan chocolate and pedicure spas?

A: To Jodi Meadows, of course. She knows my address. *grin*


Thanks, Authoress! 

I love how Authoress brought up Jodi Meadows, whose critiquerly interview can be found here. You can read them both side by side to see how each critiquer compliments the other. And Beth Revis, too, whose critiquerly interview can be found, er, well. Wait for it. It's coming sooner than you think.

As Authoress would say, *grin*.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Part 3 on Critique Pointers

(Or, Newbie Tips for Critiques with Badda Bing)

There are a few ways for new critiquers to begin their beta-reading, advice-hurling, critiquerly journey. One way is to read critiques that other people do (highly recommended). This post gives some ideas on critiquing dialogue, emotion, and areas where the reader might be pulled out of the story. This one contains some tips on critiquing characters, plot, and sensory details. And now? We’ll go in for the kill. The badda bing. We’ll talk about world building, pacing, and Intern’s favorite topic: scenes.

Find your inner mobster.*
: the best definition of badda boom, badda bing left in the comments wins…my undying respect.

1.    World Building: Whether the setting is imaginary/alternate universe, historical, contemporary/realistic, there is a specific time and place where the MC resides, and it sets the tone for the entire story. To help your crit partner with this part of story craft, ask yourself the following.

~Do you find yourself drowning in descriptions and metaphors or wishing for more?
~Can you see the setting/world in your mind?
~Do you have enough background to understand the rules of the world, especially when rules are broken?
~Have you entered the world and do you feel like the story is possible within that reality?

2.    Pacing: This part of story craft is difficult to explain, but pacing can be seen as the manipulation of time in a story to maximize the impact; or, the rhythm/beat of tension (badda bing), actions, and emotions. Your crit partner may benefit if you ask yourself these questions.

~Do the short, tense moments take up more space than longer, not-as-tense spots? (They should.)
~Is high tension paired with SHOWING, while less tension is paired with TELLING (yes, it’s okay to tell in these places)?
~Do they have spots of tension that appears at regular intervals (e.g., new information/realization, change or deepening of emotion, action/reaction)?
~Do you, as the reader, always want to know what happens next?

3.    Scenes: It is the sequence of scenes that lead to the rise of tension, climax, and resolution of the plot. Every one must be essential. Consider these questions (also see INTERN’s 10 reasons to rewrite a scene).

~Does their scene move the plot forward or keep it at a standstill?
~Does their scene reveal something about the character(s) that cannot be revealed in a different place/scene?
~If the writer is forced to give up the scene, would it leave a huge hole in the story/plot?
~Does their scene strengthen the theme or introduce a crucial symbol in a way that no other scene can?

Remember that the more you critique for specific things, like world building, pacing, and scenes, the easier it is for you to find opportunities to improve your own work. Happy critiquing, writerly friends!

Upcoming post: Thursday’s critiquerly interview is a full scene of awesome sauce. Bring chocolate.

*Posting this image does not constitute a book recommendation. And we should all take care not to kill our CP’s writerly spirit.