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*.