Archive for 'critiques'



What Stace had to say on Thursday, August 27th, 2009
On Critiques 11: Bad Crit 10

Oooh! Your responses to our last Bad Crit were awesome. Why? Because you didn’t always agree with the ones I agreed with, but you generally seemed to have reasons for it. This is what’s most important; it’s about knowing for yourself what to go with and what not to.

For me, several of the “Show don’t tell”s were gratuitous. We need to know dinner was served, for example, but it really wouldn’t add much to the story to have a full description of it. It would have been fine to add another sentence or two, but not necessary. The fact is, the writer has to choose what really needs showing and what can just be told; most things need to be shown, but there are times when exposition works just fine. As another example, the “It was meant to disturb her. It worked,” was, to me, an excellent line; I thought it worked very well.

The serious lines were the ones about removing extraneous phrases, like “she thought resentfully” or “understood and” or the first time I mentioned commas. Also the one about spitting out the wine after she’d swallowed it.

So, this last Bad Crit is kind of a cheat. I debated whether or not to do this but thought, well, I’m going to do good crits of all of them anyway, and this really does need to be shown. It’s the worst kind of critique, in my opinion. So here’s the last one (I think I got everyone’s submission. If you sent one in and it hasn’t been up, please email me).
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What Stace had to say on Friday, August 21st, 2009
On Critiques 9: Bad Crit 3

Once again, sorry I was so inattentive this week. Thanks for hanging in there.

Standard disclaimer: This is a Bad Crit, designed to show how NOT to critique. It is strictly a learning exercise and does not reflect my actual feelings on the piece being critiqued. Please do not take any comments in the following seriously.

Okay. In today’s Bad Crit I’m doing something sneaky. I’m slipping two GOOD comments in there. See if you can find them:

You gotta have the right bait when trolling for vampire. What does this mean? You shouldn’t start a book with something that doesn’t mean anything.

I wore all black leather: corset and pants stuffed into lace up knee boots. That sounds uncomfortable. You should mention her being uncomfortable. Otherwise it doesn’t feel REAL. My makeup was all Gothy, with dark smoky eyes and glossy blood red lips. I felt like a hooker clown on steroids. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror — a tiger among sheep, hunting undead wolves. Are there zombie wolves in this?

“Mmmm.” I rolled my last three M&Ms in my mouth, savoring that chocolately flavor. But have they melted? And why is she eating M&Ms anyway? Is she a candy addict? You should tell us that. Then the chocolate soured in my mouth as I spotted Valerie St. Clair. Valerie owned the club, among others, and was a notorious fang whore. “Valerie St. Clair” sounds like a porn name. Are you making fun of the reader? She was also President of the Vampire Defamation League in Dallas, and a first class vampire enabler. Unfortunately, she knew my by sight as a vampire hunter, though not my name. I think a woman who owns a bunch of bars and moonlights in porn would have found out her name by now. She has connections.

My heart began pounding. Why? Is she nervous or scared? Don’t make me guess these things. How about “My heart started pounding from fear.”? Valerie employed vamps and werewolves. Zombie werewolves? If she spotted me, I was toast. The vamps could mesmerize me, and force me to betray my friends. If she’s that weak-minded she shouldn’t be doing this job.

I stopped and glanced left. Ten feet over stood a tall, dark man. Well, that really narrows it down. He wore a blue shirt and black leather pants. Dane was the unofficial leader of Dallas’ small cabal of vampire hunters. Valerie was to my right, across the crowded dance floor.

Dane indicated a man, and nodded. How did he indicate? Did he point? Mime? Dhampirs had a knack for picking vampires out of a crowd. More out of curiosity than anything, I checked out the vampire.

He was a tall, man dressed in an red silk shirt. I noticed his smile looked predatory as he danced with two bleach blonde Goths. The girls watched his face with open-mouth awe. They looked entranced to me, but he looked pretty enough to mesmerize some women without vamp powers. You need to show us how pretty he is, don’t just tell us.

Past him was an open alcove. A place built into the club for vampires to take their prey. Don’t people notice them carting dead bodies out of the alcove? Also, where are the zombie wolves? We could take him out so fast, so easy. Valerie was still across the club, and slowly moving away from us. I nodded at Dane, and got the whole thing started.

The club was dark and tightly packed. The music was loud and rather disturbing. Little Goths and Gothettes frantically danced to it. I smiled and pretended to enjoy it as I slipped through the crowd towards the vamp. But more disturbing than the music was the vampire pheromones in the air, and they grew thicker as I closed on the vamp. Vampire pheromones? That is such a cliche.

Vampire pheromones were the most potent aphrodisiac known. I could defend against their hypnotic eyes, but not against pheromones. I haven’t mastered the fine art of not breathing yet. I bet a zombie werewolve would have had that down pat by now. So my libido reared its ugly head.

I stepped up behind the vampire and spoke into his ear. “They’re pretty, but I think you need a real woman.” How tall is he?

The vamp turned to regard me. I hid the fact I averted my eyes by looking the two Goth girls up and down. Up close, they looked mid-teens. How? What were they wearing? Way too young to be in the Black Rose, much less cavorting with the undead. The fact they didn’t protest my poaching attempt proved he mesmerized them.

The vamp was still trying to catch my eyes, so I turned my head and flipped my long, black hair back. Back where? My exposed throat drew his interest. His dark eyes locked on it as he licked his lips.

“Give me what I want, and you’ll get all you want, and more,” I said. What does she want? I don’t get what she’s implying here.

“I am Yves Picard.” His accent was French, thick and sexy as Hell. Is Hell really sexy? He took my hand and bent to kiss it. “What is your name, pretty lady?”

As he kissed my knuckles oh so lightly, I looked over and above him to find Dane and another of our group. Gabe stood next to the closest alcove, watching me with a playful smirk. So is Gabe another member of the group? The bastard was enjoying himself too much at my expense. Why is she in a group with bastards? They should be all good friends. The alcove’s curtains were open, so I nodded before returning my attention to Yves.

I must always tell the truth when speaking to a vampire. They can tell when mortals lie. Every time. How can they tell?

“My name is Sable. Sable Hart. Another porn name Pleased to meet you, Yves.”

Feeling safe, I looked him full in the face. Why does she feel safe? Most of the time vampires don’t bother enthralling their victims, if the victim was eager. Eagerness filled me, and I was aroused by the vamp pheromones. How? Explain her arousal. I sucked in a deep breath, filling my lungs with pheromones so my revulsion didn’t rear its ugly head. Why is she revolted?

Yves was aroused, too. He pumped pheromones out in his excitement. I felt my belly erupt with butterflies and my nipples stiffen and tingle. My mind went straight to thoughts of wild and wicked things I wanted to do with him. When our eyes met, he thrust his power into me. Heh heh heh I gasped and tensed, and then he released me.

Yves smiled, exposing his fangs. He seems awfully dumb to just agree to wander off with her. “A woman indeed. Shall we find a more private place to…speak?”

I nodded, and pointed at the empty alcove. I didn’t trust my voice yet.

He smiled he’s already smiling and placed his hand at the small of my back, and ushered me towards it. Dane I just realized his name is Dane, like a Great Dane. Is he the zombie werewolf? Is this clever foreshadowing? and Gabe were speaking near the alcove as we passed. I saw no indication they even noticed us.

I turned to face the vampire as he pulled the curtains closed. My partners couldn’t just charge in. I had to distract the vampire until they slipped in stealthily, and dispatched him. But Yves had other ideas.

The vamp pressed up close, grabbed my hair and yanked my head to one side. All I could see were his long, white fangs.

“Hey. Why so fast? We have this little thing here in Texas called foreplay. You should try it.”

“I feed, then we play.” He’s awfully demanding. She should walk right out of there.

Dane and Gabe couldn’t see what was happening. Immortals aren’t exactly pressed for time. Just my luck I seduced the hungriest vampire in Dallas. Is she sure about that?

With no choice, I dug up under my stiff, thick leather corset with both hands. Sucking in my belly for more room, I got hold of the two pieces of wood. The corset was thick enough to hide the four wooden stakes are there two or four? I’m confused underneath, each eight inches long, flat and thin. I’d consider mentioning these back when you describe her clothes, to add to the tension. I yanked out the stakes, startling Yves. He pushed away and looked down even as I thrust one up under his breastbone.

I missed the heart, of course.

“Ugh!” Yves reached for me. “Die!”

I kicked up and around, catching his reaching arm and blocking it aside. My kick caught his arm solidly enough to turn him aside. Girls can’t kick that hard Thrusting the other stake into my right hand, I spun around and drove it into his back and right through his heart. Girls aren’t that strong either That did the trick.

Yves dropped to his knees, and pitched face first to the floor. Dane, then Gabe, came in at that time. Some help they are, yeesh. I expected more from a zombie werewolf.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, August 13th, 2009
On Critiques 8: Bad crit 2

A couple of quick things before we start:

1. HUGE thanks to everyone who delurked Tuesday, or just left me birthday wishes. I am slowly replying to every comment, but it’s taking a little time. Please be assured I WILL reply. I don’t always reply to every comment here–I used to, but I just don’t have time anymore–but the birthday/delurking comments are different.

2. HUGE thanks to those who replied to Monday’s bad crit! Yes, your answers were overwhelmingly correct. That crit nitpicked; it gave awful advice (Have the MC look into a mirror? Yeesh!); it tried to rewrite the story, it was generally awful.

So let’s do another one! Hee!

Again, the general disclaimer: Thise crit in NO WAY reflects my feelings on the piece. It is meant for entertainment value ONLY and is not a serious crit; it’s a learning exercise. (Today I’m trying a different Bad Crit tack, btw.) That’s all. And let’s please thank the brave submitter for agreeing to let me viciously rip what I hope are funny holes in their work.
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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.
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What Stace had to say on Thursday, August 6th, 2009
On Critiques 6

Sorry this is so late. I overslept a bit this morning, and we finally, finally got Princess registered for school, and so went to take a little tour of the building. So I’m just now really sitting down.

So. On Monday I ask what your thought processes were as you critiqued last Thursday’s paragraphs, and I think the responses are great. Pretty much all of you said you read the paragraphs over once or twice first, then started thinking of places that felt not-as-strong to you, or places that didn’t work.

It could be argued I tipped your hand a bit by specifically telling you something was wrong and insisting that you find it, but then, most of the time when we’re given work to critique that’s exactly what we’re being asked to do.

So I think it’s great that you guys gave such thoughtful initial critiques, and then did a bit of thinking about your process as you gave it. I also think it’s great that a few of you commented that you hadn’t found anything wrong–nothing jumped out at you–so didn’t comment at all. That’s also fine.

I’ll be *very* interested to see your comments later, when given a piece to critique by someone who isn’t me and with whom you thus won’t have any familiarity.
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What Stace had to say on Monday, August 3rd, 2009
On Critiques 5

So thanks to all who played along and left comments/critiques to my little snippet on Thursday. I’m going to address a few of the comments specifically in the post, but more important than the specific comments is the Ultimate Lesson (yes, this series is just like a Very Special Episode) I’m hoping you’ll all see:

Critiques are subjective.

See, I actually rather liked those two paragraphs. They weren’t perfect at all, and I’m going to talk about my feelings on their specific problems in a minute. But I was fairly pleased with them, which was one reason I was so happy/curious to see what you all made of them.

To refresh our memories, there were the paragraphs:

Lucy pulled her ragged jacket closer around her shoulders, but it didn’t help much. The wind cut through her like shards of ice, whipping around the lonely buildings to shred her soul. Up ahead home waited for her, warm bright rooms and her mother’s smiling face. But here on the street only the echoes of her footsteps kept her company.

She passed through the square of pale gold light on the street made by the pub window. Inside men shouted and laughed, lifting pints, slapping each other on the back when one of them hit a bullseye. If she only had some money, she could walk in and have a drink too, defrost her aching extremities by the gentle coal fire.

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What Stace had to say on Thursday, July 30th, 2009
On Critiques 4

So having had my unscheduled little rant on Monday about the importance of critique, and a little bit about why having your work critiqued is important, let’s discuss today why it’s important to critique. (I know you guys are waiting for the Mean-assed examples, and for more nitty-gritty stuff on how to critique etc., and we’re going to start that next week. I want to get the theory down first as a sort of base.)

We all know getting critique can improve our work. Critique partners or beta readers can ask questions we didn’t realize were there, or point out weak areas we didn’t see. They can helps us show not tell or clean up dialogue or whatever, depending on our own individual skill levels.

But what often seems left out of the gotta-get-a-crit race is how important it is to critique others, and how that process helps us become better, more critical, more thoughtful writers.

How many times have you bought a book because it looked promising, only to discover, a chapter or two in, that it wasn’t at all? For whatever reason, it didn’t appeal to you. Maybe you thought the characters were wooden and insipid, or the writing didn’t sparkle, or the plot was cliche, or too many characters were introduced at one time and you never could keep them straight because they all seemed exactly the same, or maybe the writer kept using the word “unctuous” over and over again until you wanted to slap him or her in the face repeatedly with a bowl of oxtail soup.

There’s almost nothing in the world more disappointing than a bad book.

But bad books can teach us a lot. Bad writing can teach us a lot. Because your work came from you. Yes, we can and should learn to distance ourselves and be objective enough to see it as a piece of work separate from ourselves. That’s important.

But the way to learn that distancing and objectivity, the way to learn to take critiques, is by giving them.

When it’s someone else’s doc open on the screen, we’re not emotionally attached to it. We can view it for what it is: a piece of writing. Not somebody’s “baby.” (UGH.) Not somebody’s soul. Not their heart. Just a piece of writing, which can be judged on its own merits.

Does that mean we can forget that it’s a real human behind that piece of writing? No, of course not, and as we’ll see when we get to the mean-ass crits, it’s very possible to really hurt someone. Comments like “This sucks. Give it up,” are no help to anyone, especially not–surprise!–you.

Because when you look at something and simply dismiss it, you’re not learning anything. You’re not putting on an editor monacle and really studying why something doesn’t work. And sure, sometimes a piece will have so many problems you don’t know where to start.

But most won’t, at least not if you’re finding appropriate partners. Most will be close. And what you’ll learn in trying to make them hit the mark will teach you how to fix your own work.

Maybe the word “was” keeps leaping out at you in this particular piece. And it irritates the fuck out of you for no discernible reason (this happens. See my “unctuous” example.) It drives you do crazy, in fact, that soon all you can see is “was.”

Then you open your own book. Lo and behold, you have “was” strewn about like crayons on a playroom floor. Oops! Maybe you should try to rework some of those sentences, huh? Figure out a way to show all those things you “was”ed instead of telling them?

(That’s not to say “was” isn’t useful or should never be used. It’s just an example. But we should be careful about “was”ing.)

Here’s an example:

The night was dark. (Hey, it’s an example. Shut up.) Lucy was walking down the street, past the pub, which was filled with drunks playing darts. Lucy shivered. It was so cold outside, and her feet were (ha!) so sore. She was desperate to get home, but it was still so far away.

Now. This is not great. It’s rather dull. And something feels off about it, at least to me. There are a few issues with it, but all those wases jump out at me first. So how do we eliminate them?

We figure out how to show the dark, cold night, the pub drunks, Lucy’s desperation and sore feet, without telling them. Perhaps we try something like this:

Lucy pulled her ragged jacket closer around her shoulders, but it didn’t help much. The wind cut through her like shards of ice, whipping around the lonely buildings to shred her soul. Up ahead home waited for her, warm bright rooms and her mother’s smiling face. But here on the street only the echoes of her footsteps kept her company.

She passed through the square of pale gold light on the street made by the pub window. Inside men shouted and laughed, lifting pints, slapping each other on the back when one of them hit a bullseye. If she only had some money, she could walk in and have a drink too, defrost her aching extremities by the gentle coal fire.

Now. This isn’t great either, for another reason. Can anyone tell me what it is? Go on, critique this paragraph.

When you’ve done that, think about it. You’ve just read this opening looking for flaws. You’ve been specifically looking to find something wrong. You’ve (hopefully) taken your undoubtedly very warm feeling toward me (ha) out of the equation and examined the openings just as openings, and tried to decide the following things:

1. Is it well-written on a basic level? (i.e. are there no obvious grammatical flaws or spelling errors; is the character named Lucy throughout, does it make sense, etc.)

2. Is it well-written on a more advanced level? (Are the sentences clunky; are words repeated; do all the sentences start with “she” or “it” [that’s one of my personal bugbears].)

3. Did you get a sense of character, place, and/or time from it?

4. Most importantly, would you keep reading?

There’s more, of course, and we’ll get to it in time. For now, take a look there and tell me in comments what your thoughts are. And be honest! You’re not going to hurt my feelings.

In fact, as a bonus today I’m going to offer the sum total of my wisdom on accepting critiques. Keep repeating this to yourself:

My work is not me. My work is not me. My work is not me.

Have fun!

What Stace had to say on Monday, July 27th, 2009
On Critiques 3

Okay. I had a different post planned for today, but I’m in a mood now, so I’m going to rant a little bit. And maybe when I’m done ranting we’ll get to what I actually planned, which was different from what I originally planned. Muahaha, the nefarious twistiness!

Here’s the thing. A critique partner or beta reader will do different things for everyone. I personally think that the better we get and the more confident we get, the less we actually need critique and the more we just need a second pair of eyes; this is something I’ll be discussing later.

There’s another name for this beta reader person, once you’re published. That name is EDITOR.

See, when I write a book, and make it as shiny and perfect and clean as I can–and yes, I am the judge of that–I send it to this person who works at my publisher. That person is called an “editor,” and that “editor” will actually read my book, every single page, and will then point out things that perhaps aren’t clear, the occasional pacing issue, or simply an area my “editor” would like to see expanded or feels was expanded too much. Maybe she (my editors so far have all been women) feels I didn’t hit a certain emotional place hard enough. Maybe she feels I hit it a little too hard, and the scene has become a bit depressing–or rather, more depressing than usual, ha.

What’s my point? My point is that A) Working with beta readers or critique partners is a good way for some of us to get used to dealing with editing suggestions (I never had a problem doing so, and I love edits, but some do); B) Every single book on the shelves–every decent book–has been through this process and has thus had at least one other person making suggestions to the author, suggestions we usually take; C) That that extra pair of eyes is necessary to make a book the absolute best it can be; and most importantly D.

D is that it is my job to make my editor’s job as easy as possible.

How do I do that? By turning in the cleanest, tightest manuscript I possibly can. I accomplish this by working hard. By writing and rewriting, editing and editing, by thinking of hardly anything else for weeks on end. I accomplish this by neglecting my family so I can write, reread, edit, change, rip out, add in, polish polish and polish some more.

And I accomplish it, when I’m done with all of that, by sending the ms out to a few people I trust, to see if they spot anything my editor might spot. Anything I can fix before I turn that book in. Any slow spots or areas where I know the story so well I forgot I was writing for people who don’t, and so have neglected to fully explain a character’s reasoning or whatever.

My book is one of dozens my editor may be working on at any given time. I want to make her job easier. If I may, I’m going to tell you something one of my editors once said to me: That she was looking forward to my ms because she knew my work would be clean and tight, that it wouldn’t require a lot of heavy lifting.

That’s the kind of shit I live for, people. And that’s why I have beta readers–aside from the simple fact that it’s FUN to share your work with your friends, and that often in exchange you actually get to read their mss too! I love my friends and I love their work. Why wouldn’t I want people I trust and admire to read my books? Why wouldn’t I want to read theirs? Do you have any idea how good it feels to actually be able to discuss your work with someone? And if all that reading fun means I also get to have a reputation with my editors for turning in clean work? (Which I would have anyway, as I generally change very little based on my betas’ comments?) So much the fucking better.

Once you’re contracted, one you’re published, it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the people who depend on you, too. It’s not “asking a committee” or wimping out. It’s the business of professional publishing. Period.

But that does bring me to an interesting point, the one I originally planned for today, which is, who the hell is giving you such crap advice?

Here’s the thing. Finding people willing to crit you is good. And a lot of this is covered when you see theirs; you get an idea of their skill level and thus how reliable they actually are.

But some people post work online, like in the Share Your Work forum on AW or any number of other places. And those are great places, they are. But watch who you listen to.

Not everyone who offers you comments will know what they’re talking about. Some people get bugs up their asses about silly things that don’t matter. Some people will argue based on nothing. (Years ago I posted an excerpt from a historical. I got excellent feedback, and really appreciated it, except the one or two people who insisted my years of meticulous research were incorrect. This also happened in a nightmarish way later and elsewhere, at a place that no longer exists, but that’s not really a story I can share here.)

My point is, yes, you need to trust yourself, and you need to be careful who you listen to. Just because someone sounds like they know what they’re talking about doesn’t mean they do. Just because they have several people who agree with them doesn’t mean any of them know what they’re talking about. Check their credentials. Are they published? In your genre? By whom? For how long? Do they normally make sense? Step away from the work and the crit for a while and come back to it.

Does it still seem unreasonable? Forget it. Don’t take every bit of advice you’re offered. Learn to pick and choose; it’s part of the process.

.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
Summer Series: On Critiques 2

Be gentle with me today, everyone. I spent an hour this morning with the Hair Butcher of Alpharetta, and am feeling a mite traumatized. I should have realized something was wrong when I saw her Laura Ashley-esque dress and little wedge heels; this woman would not understand what it means to want to look like a whorish punk rock Barbie. And no, she did not. The good news is, apparently I’m a better hairstylist than I thought, as all she really did (at first) was to trim–barely–the layers I myself cut. It was when I explained I wanted MORE layers that the trouble started. But oh well. It’s only hair. It grows. And I can put enough gunk in it to fix it in the end.

Anyway. Enough about me.

As I said the other day, I have plenty of crit submissions; six or seven, I believe. I am going to try to do them all, interspersed throughout instead of at the end. Thanks so much to all who submitted.

So. Last time I gave you all a bit of background on my fantastic crit partners. Today I’m going to talk about finding partners, a bit, and next week we’ll start doing the crits and talking about how what we need from crits changes as our skills develop. Next week we start getting into the nitty-gritty, in other words.

Kait Nolan left a link in comments on Monday that I want to post here. It’s Crit Partner Match and it looks pretty good to me.

But it occurs to me that with the exception of Anna, none of my critique partners were found specifically to be critique partners. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Crit Partner Match service–I think it’s incredibly clever, actually–or any of the other services about which I’ve heard good things, like CritiqueCircle.com.

My suggestion? Join Absolute Write. Or any other writer’s forum that has beginning and professional writers as members; that has a good mix. Romance Divas is another, if you write romance. As with any forum, AW or Divas are not for everyone. Hang out for a while. Join some conversations. Get to know people a bit.

For the love of all that’s holy, do some research before you join such a forum. Don’t join a forum called (to pull a name out of my mullet) “Professional Writers” or some such faff without checking the members out. Are they actually pros, or are they all self-published? Are they PA “authors”? Do they actually know what it means to be professional, in other words? What kinds of people do they seem to be? This may be simply a quirk of mine, but I avoid any forum where I see more than one member discussing their own God-given talent. Or offering to trade Amazon reviews. Or discussing promo ideas like slipping bookmarks into their utility bills so “the person opening the envelope sees it.” (Those are all opened by machine, AFAIK, anyway.) Do you know what I mean? You want a cp who knows what the hell they’re talking about.
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