The Wicked Witch of the Crits! (Part I)

Friday, October 13, 2006













LOL. Or maybe that should be mwahahahahahahaha!

No, I'm not taking sadistic pleasure in craving up others' work. But I'm participating in a couple of group crit circles and.... sometimes I feel like I should be picking out little bits and pieces of baby limbs from between my teeth when I'm done. Confronted with the final scope/range of my 'opinions' littering the landscape of someone's submission/chapter, I feel like I've been that mean.

But it's not meanness. It thoroughness. I like to give complete and thoughtful/analytical crits. Not hurtful or tactless, but honest and, hopefully, helpful. I can't stand 'soft crits'. I don't like to give them, don't like to get them, and don't like to see them given to others. They tend to be insubstantial and of little help. Example:

'Add a comma here'. 'Ooooo, I love this phrase.' 'Grrr, I hate this character!'

The End.


What the feck is that?

That's not a crit. That's commentary; it's feedback. All well and good, sometimes that's all that's called for or needed. But it's not a critique.

It's particularly disturbing in a group, where you see several people critting the same work. Five will send in fairly meaty crits. And then you'll see the soft lob crit.

Do they really think they're helping this person? Have they been around a few editor/agent blogs? Take your choice from any in my sidebar--->. Scroll through the archives, then ask yourself if you still want to hit 'send' on that so called crit. If you don't know *how* to give a good crit. Google is your friend; there are articles galore available. Or just lurk for awhile on a crit loop, you'll see different styles and levels of effectiveness.

And if that's not bad enough, there's a specific type of 'soft lob' that is not only useless, it's dangerous. This crit comes rolling in after a "harsh" one or several harsh ones. And the sole purpose of this soft lob, is to soothe the feelings and pour effusive compliments on the author of the submitted work. It also , by extension, aims to negate a lot of the opinions/advice given previously, without offering anything of *substance* as replacement.<--yeah, that last part is where the danger lies.

And just in case y'all are thinking I can dish it, but can't take it, read on:

Once Julie sent back a chapter uncritted, except that she'd Highlighted. Every. Single. Semi colon. lol. She refused to do the crit proper until I cleaned up that mess. :-P

Dee? Queen of *The Hero's Journey* and *Goal, Motivation, Conflict*. She will riddle your ass, and your manuscript, with questions pertaining to these elements until you just want to reach out and-- Oh, hey, Deedle! Didn't see you standing there.... (Smooches! lol)

And there's a reason why Sela is known as the Snarkalicious Diva over on Romance Divas. The lady pulls no punches with her crits. You'll get work back and be cruising along reading her comments/corrections, then suddenly there's this big blotch of red on your page, no, it's not the color of the font she used. It's your blood. She's just gutted you, and your flimsy assed, not-buying-it-for-a-minute-characterization, with her rapier wit/tongue. Don't even bother trying to backspace at this point to find out where you went wrong, your hands will be too slippery from gathering your intestines back into your body. ;-)

Cece? Someone should disconnect her 'Insert New Comment' tool in WORD. There's a twelve step program somewhere, I'm sure. lol. But make no mistake, they're never half-assed comments, suggestions or corrections.

Joyce (no blog or site, yet, but she finalled in 6th place!) gives killer(seriously, Kill-her. heh,heh) line edits.

There are others, who've been my victims, erm, ::coughcough:: crit partners from time to time. They've all given honest, helpful, tough crits, and I thank them. They've helped me to become a better writer. Partly because that was their *intent* and also because they're kick ass writers and knew what the feck they were talking about.

**Segue on 'intent': Sometimes the intent isn't to improve your work, sometimes it's to re-write *your* the way they would have written it, or so that certain things that *offend* them, are no longer evident, or because you did such a hatchet job on their stuff, their goiing to make nit-pick sushi out of yours. Or they really don't know what the feck they're doing, but feel they gotta make a half-assed attempt. Or they've got all these "opinions" and nowhere to stuff them, except the obvious place.... your work. ;-) These are all no-nos. Watch for them.

Which brings me to the flip side of the critique 'partnership'. Not only do you give as good as you get. But in order to receive... you must be open to receiving. Yeah, sometimes those crits sting or touch a nerve, but if you *trust* your partner(s) (or editor, first reader, agent, etc.,) and you *trust* your own judgement, then you'll be open to receiving the help you need, while discarding--no hard feelings-- what doesn't work. But if all you want are soft lobs, then maybe you should be exchanging crits with your bestfriend and/or mother. They'll never hurt your feelings. ;-)

I could go on and on about the different types of crits, the appropriateness of language, the nature of good crits vs bad ones, and how to recieve or rebuff one graciously--critting is actually a very complex, involved thing with many variables--but this post is getting hella long. I might do a Part Two to this post later and cover those issues.

And now that I've gotten that all off my chest... I have a few critiques to do.

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28 comments:

Julie Cohen said...

Heh. I remember the semicolons. ;-)

Yup, the key to getting and giving good crit is to be able to trust enough on both the giving and receiving end. And to be able to take it hard.

I could so go on with innuendo here, but I'm sure it's getting too obvious.

Jaye said...

LOL. I still cringe, and laugh out loud, every time I remember getting that chapter back with all those blinding neon yellow splotches. lol. And boy were you just fed up with me, because you'd been gently rapping my knuckles on my semi-colon abuse from day one. :-P

Thanks for having the patience, and giving the doses of tough love where needed.

er, yes, you could make this a marathon session... plumbing the depth, delving into core, until reaching an ultimate peak of fulfillment... speaking of which... working on a love scene, are you? ;-)

Amie Stuart said...

HEY I remember the semicolons!

LOL you make me feel like a bad CP cuz I have't read anything for you in ages! *headhang* But I'm with you. I don't need a soft lob!! that makes no sense but I have to go order pizza

raine said...

(Note to self...hold onto intestines, and avoid cps with green complexions...) :-O

I'm always worried about unintentionally trampling on someone's voice. It's a tricky balance...

Jaye said...

Cece, I haven't sent anything out to any of my regulars. ;-) I've been participating on the loops because it keeps my hand in the game, but with no pressures to submit, and I crit as I feel up to it. Still trying to regain some equilibrium in RL. If anything, I've been the bad cp. :-/

Jaye said...

Raine, I'm *very* respectful of voice. That *might* be why I'm not big on doing line edits. I only touch those if there's a problem with clarity or the grammar/spelling typos are so glaring, even I can spot them. *g* And even then I use a light touch.

But when it comes to more 'big picture' stuff, like pacing, repetition, etc., I really roll up my sleeves and dig in there. ;-)

You don't give too shabby a crit either. I'm pretty sure I've cornered you a time or two. heh.

raine said...

I do seem to remember something about semicolons...
(duck, swoop, run...)

Jaye said...

lol. brat!

I personally think the poor semi-colon has been much maligned. ::sniffs:: Give it up for the semi-colon, folks. Show some love. ;-)

julie Cohen said...

And some respect, by not using the poor thing in the wrong place. It's misunderstood enough. There should be a NAPCSC--national association for the prevention of cruelty to semicolons.

Jaye said...

Hey, I'm sensing an intervention! Is this what this is?

Jaye thinks of her secret stash of semi-colons (an alliteration of them, apparently, *g*), the ones the cps haven't deleted, yet. A fine tremor of fear runs through her at the thought of going cold-turkey. From now on, she'll have to dole them out very carefully, so they last...

Elle Fredrix said...

Hi Jaye…

Just popped in to check out your blog, and I’m loving it.

Great post on CPs. Makes me appreciate mine all the more. (even though there were a few smack downs for her use of semi-colons back when we started--and yeah, I’m directing here so she can read this herself!)

If someone isn’t prepared to offer constructive criticism in a critique, they’re wasting my time. Why is that so hard to understand?

Congrats again on finalling in the RJ contest.

lainey bancroft said...

I refuse to comment; on the basis that I may; okay; so I definitely will; incriminate myself!
(Nice Elle, did ya tell them my age and weight too?)

Great post Jaye! And you're right, there's a world of difference between feedback and a proper crit. A critique is bound to hit a nerve because its poking holes in your 'baby' and soothing someone's feelings isn't going to mend that.
It is very complex, but I think its important to be brutally honest, without being brutal

Sasha White said...

I suck at crits. :)

I'm good with *feedback* though. LOL I thinkit;s because I feel as if I don;t know what I'm talking about when it comes to writing. I know what *I* like, and what I don't, but thats about it.

However, I like cirtique partners who are just the opposite. Ones that are very craft oriented and make me think beyiond what I like.

Dee said...

You DO know there are people who passed out cold at the idea that I'M a queen of GMC, don't you? LOL! I insist it be in there, but God help you if you expect me to have a system for installing it, lol.

And I think you're selling yourself short, kiddo, lol. You're my conflict hero. I have nightmares about what Kyle and Lucas would be without your input (even if I DID have to explain to hubby why were were on the phone for four hours while you kicked my ass from here to Timbucktu, lol)

I, must, however, remain silent on my pimpdom of the semi-colon. My favorite part of it is using it in such a way that even my Editor cannot get rid of it.
(Come on, that deserves a mwahahahaaahah!)

Smooches,
Dee

Amie Stuart said...

I hear Wal Mart just slashed their prices on semi-colons; better stock up

*snick*

Cece
~who would never pressure you to submit--pinkyswear!

Jordan Summers said...

A good critique partner is worth their weight in gold, but it is hard to find good ones. I critique with a few people since my main partners are up to their eyeballs in deadlines.

JENNA said...

The CP relationship is a hard one. People go and get a life on you and you're left wondering how to find a new CP who'll be honest. So many people are soft critters, and that's not what I need.

As our writing has improved, critting takes me longer. I allow myself to read it through once (because I like the story) and then I go back and hunt for places to make it better. I think that is a good technique for people who are trying to learn to give better crits. Go over it twice, once as a reader, then once critcally.

Jaye said...

Hey Elle, Thanks for dropping in, glad you enjoy the blog--I tend to goof around here, but every once and awhile I come up with something fairly articulate. ;-) A good cp is worth their weight in gold. I hate getting 'fluff' or, conversely a mess of 'corrections' that are all about how the critter would have written it, or makes me wonder ifd the person just being deliberately obtuse. Thanks for the congrats!

Jaye said...

Lainey, my sister in arms; you feel my pain; you also share my love, for the semi colon. *g* As for the 'poking' touching a nerve. Absolutely. In fact, could be the more defensive you feel about something, the more chance there is that the critter has a point. Might not be exactly the point their making though. Maybe they don't get a joke, and ask if it's necessary, but you love that joke! You don't want to cut it. They just don't get your sense of humour ::grumblegrumble:: Then later on you realize the joke has to go, not because you cp doesn't get it, but because it misdirects the emotion of the scene, or slows the pace, etc.

er, that was all 'general' you, not specifically, you. ;-)

Jaye said...

Sasha, every time I've asked you for a crit you have *always* come back with the disclaimer that you don't really do analytical/craft crits, but that you would read through ms and give your honest unvarnished feedback. And that's what you've done. Feedback is important. It can't all be about the mechanics and analyzing. In the end, you want to know, that as a writer, you were able to transport your reader, make him/her believe in the story, care for the characters, etc. Some times a story can be perfect in terms of crafting, but dead on arrival in terms of magic. Other books might be riddled with so much that is wrong,wrong,wrong-- from characterization, to plot holes, to cheesy cliches, yet people still LOVE IT! Dependable, honest, reader feedback will tell you this. :-)

Jaye said...

"You DO know there are people who passed out cold at the idea that I'M a queen of GMC, don't you?"

Dee- Then those people are in denial. lol. Ya know, those phone calls never seem that long. lol. We never seem to say all we want to.... ;-) You have secret ways to use the semi-colon so that it cannot be removed?! Share!!

Jaye said...

::ignoring Cece's non-pressuring::

;-)

Jaye said...

Jordan, I just said this, but it's worth repeating. A good cp is invaluable! I found that having a loose association of crit buddies works best. Folks get busy with real life demands and either don't have the time to crit, or are too stressed ::coughcough:: to and need a bit of a break.

If you have a group of cps to call on, it makes it easier on everyone. Sometimes you can be working very closely with a couple of partners, next time with someone else, or sometimes by yourself for awhile until you're ready for feedback. (And vice versa). It's all just an ebb and flow. Depending exclusively on 1 person can result in someone being left in a lurch. Not deliberately, but sucks nevertheless.

Jaye said...

Jenna - "The CP relationship is a hard one. People go and get a life on you and you're left wondering how to find a new CP who'll be honest."

I must be prescient. *g* I sort of touched upon your comment in my reply to Jordan. Oddly enough I can't read and then crit. If I know I'm suppose to be critting, that little editor in the back of my brain will be on full alert (plus I'd be afraid that I would forget an important point, if I kept reading ahead.) Also, it could be because I know, as you said, that critting, done right, takes time, but I don't necessarily have the time to read and then crit. So I'll crit first and foremost. I can read when the book comes out. ;-)

Sela Carsen said...

Huh? What? Who? Me?

I am SWEETNESS AND LIGHT DAMMITALL!! And don't you forget it!

I've gotten crits from several of the folks on your list and not a sour one in the bunch, most especially your own!

And I will bend myself into a pretzel to avoid using semi-colons. *shudder* They're skeevy!

Jaye said...

"And I will bend myself into a pretzel to avoid using semi-colons. *shudder* They're skeevy!"

Et tu, Sela? ::Bites knuckles:: How did I ever survive being critiqued by the lot of you? lol. I feel like a carnivore in the midst of vegitarians. ;)

THIS! Christine said...

Well shoot, now I don't know if I'm a critter or a feeder. I know for sure I'm not a lobber, just ask Dee or Sunny Lyn. Those two, unfortunately, get the, X unplugged opinions.

I'm very lucky to have a huge pool of CP's to draw on, all with their own strengths... I'm not sure they feel as lucky, but I appreciate them. Even reading their crits of other's works has immeasurably improved not only my writing, but my critting abilities.

X

Jaye said...

X, based on what I know of Dee, I don't think she'd have much use of a lobber, and she holds you in high esteem as a crit partner.

I probably should have not combined "commentary" & "feedback" in the same category. Commentary is the: "I love this! Can't watit to read the next chapter!" type of stuff. Great for the ego, not much use in improving your craft.

Feedback, on the other hand can be: "You've lost my interest. The pace in really dragging here." Or: "Where did your heroine's backbone go in this chapter?" Or: "I think you missed an opportunity during this argument to heighten the conflict." Or: "I love how you've used the weather as symbolism here. Really intensifies emotion. You could do something similar in that other scene when they're inside." Stuff like this is very useful.

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