What Stace had to say on Monday, August 10th, 2009
On Critiques 7; Bad Crit #1

Okay. Before I post the bad crit I just want to say again that this is deliberately obtuse, insulting, and useless, okay? The comments below IN NO WAY reflect my actual feelings about this piece, which is quite good. But my goal here is to use these as an exercise; you can leave in the comments what specifically is wrong with each critique comment. And yes, my goal is also to make this amusing. But in the main it’s a learning exercise. So please keep that in mind, and thank this brave author and those whose works are yet to come for volunteering to let me be ridiculously rude about their work.

“What is your name?” Who’s talking here? I don’t get it.

The first time they’d asked, she’d demanded a lawyer. The third time, she’d begged for her father. The fifth time, she’d cried as fear and hopelessness wrapped themselves so tightly around her she couldn’t breathe. What about the second and fourth times? That doesn’t make any sense. Don’t skip things.

She’d lost track of how many times they’d asked her now. Ten? A dozen? Enough that her voice sounded hoarse as she gave them the truth they refused to believe. “Sadie Warren.” But who’s asking? Where is she? You should start by immediately telling us where she is.

The man in the middle, the one in the pristine lab coat, made a note on the clipboard in front of him. What does he look like? I can’t picture him in my head. Also, “pristine” is a weird word. The woman on his right peered at it and cast a glance back at the tall man by the door. He straightened and scratched the back of his head. “Where were you born?” Why does he care? Why are they asking these questions? It’s best to start with a few paragraphs that explain exactly what’s happening. Also, is this modern day or what? Good writers put datelines at the start of every book.

Another question she’d answered too many times. “Georgetown University Hospital.” Is that a real place? It doesn’t sound like a real place. You shouldn’t make things like that up because it’s like lying. The slim metal cuffs that locked her wrists in place tingled, and Sadie tensed against the agony she’d come to expect. Her vision wavered, multiplying the number of people watching her and giving the walls odd, overlapping angles. Is she on drugs? This is weird. Also, why haven’t you told us yet what she looks like? I think you should put a mirror in the room or something that she can look at herself in. That’s a good trick to describe characters. Also, the walls having overlapping angles is physically impossible.

Then the pain came, a sharp shock from the collar around her neck that jerked her body tight, followed by an echoing pulse from the steel around her wrists. Exhaustion turned her scream to a hoarse whimper of protest, one everyone in the room ignored.

It wasn’t as if she was human, after all. What? How can she not be human?

A badge flashed under his jacket as the man by the door walked toward the table. He leaned over it, his green eyes clear and flat, like glass. Does he have a glass eye? How does he see? “Sadie Elizabeth Warren’s medical records list a diagnosis of glycogen storage disease. I’m told the condition requires enzyme replacement therapy.” BORING.

“Daily injections.” It came out as a whisper, her voice showing the strain of however-many-days of sleep deprivation and tears. “I’ve had them my whole life. I was home schooled because of it.” I don’t see any reason why this would be the case. Diabetic kids go to school. I think you need to research this more. And she’d enjoyed the luxury of the best tutors money could buy because of her father’s seven digit paycheck—a paycheck stamped with the same logo stitched into the clipboard-holding scientist’s lab coat.

The man didn’t take his eyes from hers. “How long has she been in custody, Gilbert?” Who is Gilbert? Why is he calling her Gilbert?

“Seventy-two hours, sir.” You need a dialogue tag here.

“And how long before she sees adverse effects from missing her medication?” And here
“Should have already happened.” Gilbert flipped through the papers on the clipboard. An organized doctor wouldn’t need to flip through the papers. “The techs put her on the treadmill for an hour this morning. That much exercise should have given her severe muscle cramps, even rhabdomyolysis.” Now you’re just being silly.

There was no pity in her captor’s flat, cold gaze. No sympathy, no understanding…and no forgiveness. Well, duh. He’s kidnapped her. Even if she convinced him of the truth—that she was a victim of the lie her life had become and not its architect—it still wouldn’t matter. A simple blood test had already revealed the truth someone had spent twenty-six years hiding from her. But why? You should explain that here. This moves too fast. You need to explain everything as you go.

Sadie Warren, elder daughter of the country’s premiere voice against the polymorphic threat, was a mimic. See, if you’d described her already, I’d know that, because she’d be wearing that white make-up they all wear. Or you could have had her do the I’m-in-a-box thing, so I would know.

And now her life was forfeit.

The cuffs on her wrists tingled again, and she whimpered before the pain this time. It didn’t help. Anguish seared through her, setting her nerves aflame as she shook so hard the restraints cut into her skin. This reaction isn’t strong enough. She should start crying, because girls cry at stuff.

The second woman in the room, a tiny brunette sitting on Gilbert’s left, cleared her throat. “Your restraints have been attuned to your magical frequency. If you cease attempting to access your powers, the shocks will stop.” Her words were devoid of any real compassion. She may as well have been giving an intelligent rat hints on how to navigate the maze and reach the cheese at the end. I don’t like rats. That’s gross.

Sadie forced her eyes open and stared up into the cold, unwavering gaze of the man with the badge. “Please. I don’t know how. I swear to God I don’t. I don’t know what’s going on, or why this happened, but I’m not impersonating Sadie Warren. I am Sadie Warren.” Maybe if she took off that white make-up they would believe her. Why not have her ask for some tissue? This is a silly miunderstanding.

He drummed his fingers on the steel table and pulled a small, spiral-bound notebook from his pocket. Why not give him a black bag? Real doctors have those big black bags. “Albert Warren has told detectives that his wife and daughter visited Europe twelve years ago. Upon their return, they seemed ‘different’. Is that where you replaced his daughter?”

Her vision blurred again, disorientation keeping pace with her growing panic. This time the room faded, followed by the rise of the roaring in her ears that always heralded one of her vivid hallucinations. Hallucinations should strike without warning. That makes for a better story.

Hallucinations. That’s what her mother had called them. And later it had been déjà vu when something happened and she got the sickening feeling she’d experienced it before. Every quirk had its explanation, reasons given with such conviction she’d believed them until adulthood had made her question why her mother was so determined to pretend everything was just fine. This is just dull exposition. I don’t think she’d be thinking about her mother if she was really scared.

Sadie’s answer had been to decide she was dying. It had explained everything, from the way her mother couldn’t quite look at her anymore to the fact that her body and mind seemed to be falling apart. Well, that’s just silly. Obviously Sadie isn’t very smart.

Sad to realize dying might have been preferable to the truth.

The roaring intensified, accompanied now by an uncomfortable pressure, as if something inside her was building toward a terrifying release. What are the others seeing here? You should dip into their POVs. Readers like to be in all the characters’ heads.

It came riding a burst of pain so pure she almost couldn’t process it. For one heartbeat, she floated outside of feeling entirely, wrapped in icy numbness as she caught the edges of the hallucination. Of the vision. Well, which is it?

A man, his face carved from stone and his eyes cold. Nothing remarkable about his features, nothing that would make him stand out in a crowd. That’s not much of a vision, then. A shadow, unless you were a twenty-six year old woman who’d spent the last year dreaming about him. So who is that? Is that Sadie? Clarify. This sounds like all women have visions of him.

In dreams, she’d seen warmth in those eyes. She’d known the touch of his hands and the heat of his mouth on her skin. I don’t think people experience physical sensations in dreams, so this is wrong. She’d heard her name whispered in a low, rough voice as she clutched at muscled shoulders and cried out in release. Release? What does that mean?

She’d fucked him offensive! Even if your character thinks in such foul language you should keep that filth out of your book. a dozen times in her dreams, but she’d never seen him like this. Hard. Deadly. In her mind, he lifted a hand and she caught a glint of metal, the cold steel of a gun.

The vision exploded, shattering the image and slamming her back into her body, back into the room where four people watched her impassively while she screamed. And still the pressure built, twisting tight as her restraints sent jolt after jolt of electricity through her body. I think she’d be dead by now. You should use something besides electricity because I don’t like electricity.

Science triumphed over magic, but too late to stop her tumble into unconsciousness. Her lips moved as she slipped into the darkness, but she didn’t have the breath to give sound to the whisper. So it was only in the silence of her mind that she heard the promise her vision had given her. A name to go with the face.

John. You should name him Viktor. That’s a better name for a hero. John is too boring.

…okay, so, you tell me. What’s wrong with this crit?

I may be back to rant tomorrow. I have some things to rant about. But I will definitely be doing a short non-series post tomorrow.


8 comments to “On Critiques 7; Bad Crit #1”

  1. driftsmoke
    · August 10th, 2009 at 9:43 am · Link

    Presuming the critiquer is not just a mean-spirited soul, out to hurt others … 😆

    The summary version:

    The myth: If you comment on or argue with every single sentence in the piece, the author will see what a good, conscientious critiquer you are.

    The truth: When you comment on each and every paragraph, you end up saying stuff just to be saying it, not because you really see something wrong. The result is that you make a lot of unnecessary comments that don’t have any potential to help the author. Result: Either the author totally messes up her piece because of your comments or you alienate the author from ever wanting to work with you again.

    The purpose of the crit is to help the author — not to boost your own ego.

    (I am using “you” in a general, not an attacking, way)

    I (probably wrongly) associate this kind of crit with a critiquing newbie. I made this kind of crit when I was new to critiquing. 😳

    When I first started learning to critique, I stumbled upon a critique website. Most of the critiques I read looked like this one. In my inexperience, I thought this was The Way To Critique™.

    (I’m not trying to imply I’m an expert at critiquing now … at all)

    It took me a while to realize I was wasting my time (because it takes scads of time to do a crit like this) and alienating people, to boot. Most importantly, I was helping no one.

    The pathetic thing is, I didn’t know I was doing it wrong until I got a few completely unhelpful, though well-meaning, critiques just like this one.

    Oh the lessons we learn in life. 😕

    Broken down, this critique:

    Tries to rewrite the piece (and the suggestions are bad–head hopping, using cliché devices like a mirror describing point-of-view character)

    Is argumentative

    Is obtuse (of course, we already knew that was in there on purpose)

    Wastes the author’s time on nitpicky crud that will vary from reader to reader

    And that’s all I can think of.

    Stacia, I want to thank you again for this workshop. As a fairly new author, I encounter a lot of information out there in internetland. Sometimes it feels like overload, and I feel as thought I’m running in one hundred different directions. One reason I read your blog is that the stuff you say, even when it makes my ears burn, makes sense. 😉

  2. BernardL
    · August 10th, 2009 at 10:19 am · Link

    There are some legitimate comments in the crit, but they are obscured by the tone of course. :)

    One which I can attest to from experience is an editor no-no is: ‘What are the others seeing here? You should dip into their POVs. Readers like to be in all the characters’ heads.’

    Unless you are a NYT’s best selling author, you can forget all about head hopping POV scenes. :)

  3. hagelrat
    · August 10th, 2009 at 11:39 am · Link

    totally subjective, I love this sort of start to a book, other people hate it. Also sticking a mirror in the room is lazy, it has it’s place as a technique but seems to be the default for describing a character if you don’t know how else to do it.
    Presumably it’s not a critiquers (is that even close to a real word?) job to suggest better names and such?
    Ok I should fess up, I review not critique. I could be inclined to add subjective comments but I would hope to go for things that are actually useful to the author. Way too many comments too, not every sentence needs a comment surely?
    I would imagine that it would be more useful to pick out things that are particularly strong or stand out as trite or poor.

  4. Felicia Fredlund
    · August 10th, 2009 at 3:50 pm · Link

    Most of these comments were just like that critique I got from a friend as I told you on the blog post prior to this one.
    And as the other says, the “critiquer” wants the author to use common, cliché ways of telling the story, which of course would be boring.
    And Hagelrat, I actually like these kinds of beginnings too. Mysterious, and getting you hooked because you want to understand all this.

  5. Cora
    · August 10th, 2009 at 7:07 pm · Link

    Like others said before me, the critiquer comes across as having very little experience with writing and makes bad suggestions (headhopping, the mirror thing).

    What is more, the critiquer has very little experience with this genre (it sounds like some kind of urban fantasy to me), hence the inability to grasp that mimic refers to something other than silent actors with white-painted faces or that the medical stuff might actually be relevant.

    Finally, the critiquer also wants to rewrite the story his or her way, hence the complaints about names, bad language, etc…

    The only thing that’s missing is pointing out supposed grammar errors which are not grammar errors.

  6. writtenwyrdd
    · August 11th, 2009 at 7:24 am · Link

    I disagree that commenting on everything is bad; it depends on how in depth the line edit is you are doing!

    But despite the deliberate awfulness of your crit here, it was pretty funny!

    The focus of the comments in the deliberately bad critique seems more on individual words than the whole piece or its meaning. Very shallow. The critique needs to be about how to communicate the message of the scene, who is doing what, who is saying what, and to help the writer clarify their message. The poor critique can sometimes also be an attempt to rewrite the story the way the critiquer would choose to do it, too.

  7. driftsmoke
    · August 11th, 2009 at 10:55 am · Link

    I disagree that commenting on everything is bad; it depends on how in depth the line edit is you are doing!

    For the record, I completely agree with you. An in-depth line edit by a critiquer 😈 who understands an author’s work is very different from a Bad Critique. Not even the same ballpark.

    However, I’d say the fake author of Bad Critique (if such a person existed) would probably think he did a great job commenting on every single paragraph. Fake Critiquer was probably not being purposefully malicious. In fact Fake Critiquer, probably thinks he really helped. I guess the point is learning to know the difference. 😳

  8. Marian
    · August 13th, 2009 at 6:24 am · Link

    Some of the responses reflect the critiquer’s personal choice rather than an actual problem with the text – e.g. a dislike for the name “John” or the word “fucked”.

    A few of the comments also reflect a too-literal reading of the text, and some are just out of touch with reality. An organized doctor wouldn’t need to flip through papers? Dude. That’s what doctors’ secretaries are for. :)

    The crit was funny, though!

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