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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Do You Share with Crit Buddies?

(Or, All I Need is a Laptop. And Maybe Some Wine.)


My laptop has issues. It's already three and a half years old, and I use it every day. The left mouse key (or, is it a touchpad key?) is in dire need of a new spring, and I've actually switched the left and right button functions since the "click" function is kind of important in my writing efforts. And sometimes? The certain letters act up every once in a while. By acting up, I mean "don't work," not unless you press on it several times, and then you might get a whole row of that letter. At times it's just the letter J, but other times, it's the letter S. The battery doesn't stay charged anymore. 

But I'm not complaining. Because I love my laptop. Lots.

Because my laptop is how I connect with the writerly/critiquerly buddies. There's just something about a group of people who are as dedicated to the art of writing that fulfills me in a way I don't get anywhere else. 

And they get me, my writerly/critiquerly friends. They see my worst writing and my best. So I tend to—you know—share things with them.

Like today when I posted a new chapter on my online critique group board? I also posted an image of the Fountain of Time from Chicago's Washington Park, where this chapter takes place. Oh, and the poem by Henry Austin Dobson that inspired the monument. These two things aren't really well known, but they meant a lot to me when I wrote the scene. And I love how much my crit group appreciates the reference.

This is just one more thing that is so great about online crit buddies.

What have you shared with your writerly pals that you knew they'd get like no one else?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Ever "Eye of the Critiquer" Blog Awards

(Or, Summer's Best in Critiquerly Linkage)

Since the launch of Not and Editor in March, I now tend to get really excited when I read other blog posts on critiquing and critique partners. The critique process is so important in the overall writing process, so I've decided to create a blog award for some of the terrific posts out there.

Don't laugh at my graphics. Unless you insist. It's really not meant to be spooky. Unless you like spooky.

Eye of the Critiquer Blog Award
(Yes, this is my eye. I'm watching. I'm always watching.)

While researching some of the blogs with posts about critiquing and critique partners, I noticed a story arc, and so I've organized the award-winning posts into categories. SOooooo, here they are.

How Critique Partners Bring value: Beth and Ashley March have some convincing reasons for pursuing a critiquerly relationship.

Tips on Finding a Critique Partner: Tori Scott guest posts on Rusty Fischer's blog about using twitter, and Juliette Wade has a few ideas on what a writer should look for in a CP.

Different Types of Critique Partners: Jessica Silva talks about her alpha and beta readers.

Beware! Critique Partners can do Harm: Roni Loren discusses how writers can suffer death by critique.

Parting Ways: Suzan does a fine series about the CP relationship, but in this post, she talks about the dreaded break-up.

To my well-spoken blog winners: there are no rules to winning. Feel free to post the bling on your blog. Thank you for your informative posts.

Note: Again, I'm always looking for critiquerly posts. If anyone happens upon such a post, send it my way. I'll award Eye of the Critiquer every once in a while, so help me give the props where the props are deserved.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Giving “It's Not Quite There” Feedback

(Or, You Have Something Stuck in Your Teeth)  

We've all been there: when someone has—er—something ooky stuck in their teeth. And you? You're the only one courageous enough to even think about telling them. Because if you don't, who knows how long they'll go around talking to other people before they realize for themselves that it's been there, in plain view, since their last meal? They'll know you saw it and didn't tell them. Sure, maybe you'll feel a little uncomfortable, especially if you don't really know them very well. But you have to. You do.

Even so, you probably wouldn't say, Eww. You have something gross right there. Probably spinach. Did you have spinach today?

Wouldn't it be easier if they just came right out and asked you if they had something stuck in their teeth? The pressure is way reduced. Why yes, yes you do have a little something.

When a writer asks for feedback on their project, they're—stay with me here—asking if they have something stuck in their teeth. The writer may feel somewhat exposed in opening their art to criticism, but they'd like the critiquer to tell them about any spinach issues before someone else sees their work.

And yet, the deft critiquer would never say, Ewww. You do! It's spinach. Never eat spinach while you write. No, the skilled critiquer hands the writer a mirror and helps the person find their own spinach. (*dramatic pause, as if the preceding sentence has deep, proverbial meaning*)

Here's a list that will help you determine your critiquerly deftness.

  1. Cite Grammar Rules: It's rarely helpful to edit a grammar transgression each time it happens when it happens over and over—the writer then relies on the critiquer to find these mistakes every time. A quick google search will return a reputable grammar-rules website for almost any grammatical situation a critiquer might need. Is it lay or lie? Grammar Girl knows. Possessive Pronouns? Not to worry. The Basics are explained. To comma or not to comma? GrammarBook provides rules and examples. With critiquerly feedback mostly e-mailed or online, providing links to these rules is easy and it does two things. Thing the first: it takes the critiquer out of the middle. The critiquer didn't make up the rule, doesn't own the rule, and isn't throwing it at the writer to pick on them. The critiquer is just the person who noticed the possible grammar spinach mistake. Thing the second: a link to the rule provides the writer with a more complete explanation, and most writers—when discovering a tool to help them improve their art—will read more than just that one rule. Therefore, the critiquer has provided the writer with yet another way to improve on their own.

  2. Cite Common Writing Improvement Suggestions: The same concept for grammar rules applies to writing tips, for the same reasons—the critiquer is there to help the writer grow, and not to take out the red cyber pen and light up the page. Feel free to recommend writing craft books that you've read to your critique partner. The best gifts I've gotten from critiquerly writers are referrals to writing craft books. Is the prose too purple or adjective-ridden? The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman may serve as a fantastic reference for your critique partner. Does their plot fall short? Refer them to Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Can't pinpoint the overall theme? Have them try Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. As with grammar rules, writing rules are also easily found online as well. The upper echelon of critiquers share the best tools in their belts with other writers.

  3. State Reactions as Reactions, Not Fact: Opinions are commonly disguised as fact every day, everywhere. When it happens in the critiquerly feedback realm, it can unfortunately come across as judgmental and perplexing. For example,"This section is confusing" is an opinion disguised as fact. And really, what does it mean? "I'm confused in the dialogue section because I'm not sure who is speaking" or "I couldn't get into the scene at first; consider working a transition sentence just before it," are statements that are clear, non-judgmental, and much more helpful. Here's another caveat to this rule: positive opinions stated as fact, while uplifting, are also not as helpful as they could be. "This is so great! You're a genius!" sounds wonderful, but if the critiquer wants to be more helpful to the writer, they'll add why the section is great. "The emotional build really works and the peak in this section brought me to tears; well done" is more clearly stated and it tells the writer exactly what they're doing right.

  4. Re-read Critiquerly Comments for Tone: After working in the Americana business realm for ten plus years, I've learned that every business email has to be re-read for tone, and the necessity for this step is the same—if not amplified—in the writerly/critiquerly realm. The best critiquers re-read their comments to make sure that the tone is helpful, friendly, and approachable. How do you know if your notes are tone-appropriate? Pretend you're in a bad mood and read your comments to see if the person on the receiving end can misconstrue the tone or message, and tweak as necessary. Throw in some personality—it renders the tone amicable (see 3 Feedback Traits I Adore).

  5. Ask the Writer: "My goal is to provide helpful feedback. Let me know what worked and what didn't work for you." This last step helps ensure that all the work the critiquer has done has helped the writer, and it closes a loop. You may not get a response if your feedback hasn't been helpful or if the writer has had a Negative Reaction* to it. However, you'll always get a response when you've helped the writer improve.
*A critiquer cannot control every Negative Reaction by a writer. However, if a critiquer frequently receives Negative Reactions from writers, then the above five tips might help.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Autism Service Dog: Fundraiser

(Or, My Other Passion)

I promise this will be my only post on this subject, and I already feel uneasy doing ANY personal posts off the writerly/critiquerly topic, but this one is—well—way important to me. I'll try not to get all mushy.

As many of my earliest readers know, my 4-year-old son is autistic. He's a fantastic child and a true blessing in our lives, but he can't communicate. If he wanders off (as he so loves to do), he wouldn't be able to tell people his name. He's getting too big for strollers, doesn't like crowds, and craves heights (Yes, heights. Like, climbing. Oy.).

Luckily, he's been approved to receive an Autism Service Dog from a non-profit [501(c)(3)*] organization, 4 Paws for Ability. These service dogs are wonderful with autistic children both therapeutically—they are true friends, can calm down a child who is agitated, and will follow a child's verbal and non-verbal commands; and for safety reasons—they are trained to track children who wander off, and can be tethered to a child while walking through crowds or public places to avoid a lost-kid situation.


Because 4 Paws for Ability** is a non-profit organization, part of the deal for service dog placement is fundraising. Of the $22,000 it takes to train a service dog, each family is required to raise $13,000. I'm very lucky, because a have huge support from family and friends to help with the effort. We're planning a benefit event in the Chicago area on November 13th. Right now? We're looking for donation items to raffle or auction off.

BOOKS would be great for raffle/silent auction baskets. Especially signed books. Or gift cards, or anything that you've seen at past benefits. If you know of anyone with such a stash, please contact me (mkaley3 at gmail dot com).

Since some of my writerly/critiquerly friends who cannot attend this event have already asked, I've set up a website for tax-deductible charitable donations here, or you can join Drew's FaceBook group and donate there, but pleasepleaseplease don't feel obligated. I have a long way to go, and I'm sure we'll get there.

After all, I'd do anything for my Drew.

Thanks for reading.

Drew in a time out for climbling: he's really broken up about it.

* Tax ID for 4 Paws for Ability: 31-1625484
**4 Paws finds many of their dogs at local shelters, which I love.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Critique Partner Want Ads Launch

(Or, Critiquers Unite!)

Oh, yes. We will unite!

But first, kindly indulge me for a teensy moment. I just saw the Paul McCartney in concert at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. I'm a wee star-struck, because this sixty-nine-year-old man? Rocked it. Seriously.

Live and Let Die. Let it Be. Hello, Goodbye.

And not that looks matter, but if they did, he looked fantastic.

I believe in yesterday, Paul. I do. Sigh.

Ahem. On with the Critique! Partner! Blitz!

My friend Mary Frame mentioned a while back that aspiring writers need somewhere to go to find critiquerly assistance, and she suggested (in her infinite, if not goat-like wisdom) that I add a page to this blog for such a purpose. A classified ads, of sorts, for writer/critiquers to find willing and able writer/critiquers so that WiPs can be exchanged.

So of course, I had to turn Mary Frame's stroke of brilliance into reality. The page is added, and we're launching it today.

Please don't list your want ads in the comments of today's blog post, but on the actual Looking for a Critique Partner? page. (Found under "Pages" in the right column.)

The wants ads will remain open indefinitely, so keep checking back, or wait to post until you're ready. I'm also planning to run a quarterly CP want ads blitz, starting with this one. Tell your friends. Tell your CPs (yes, it's healthy and good to have multiple partners). Tell the members of your critique groups.

Bring cookies.

Oh, and happy CP hunting.