Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Special Guest Post from a Contest Winner

Faithful readers will recall that in December, we hosted a contest on this blog to celebrate our second anniversary. We chose two winners, and each submitted sample pages and a synopsis for a spin through the professional editor's machine. Alicia's winner, Jill Stone, graciously agreed to provide us some feedback on the process.

Critique coping skills from a writer who is learning to love the red.

The critique, a rite of passage for any writer, has always been an uneasy process for me, so when I got word I had won a chapter critique from Alicia and Theresa at Edit Torrent, I looked forward to their insight and commentary with eager...wariness.

I’m strong. I’m tough. I’ve been in an on-line critique group for a year and I have a critique partner who is my biggest fan and worst nightmare critic. So I am used to critical commentary, right? Well, yes and no. I will be the first to admit that I was not entirely prepared for what I got back from Edit Torrent. A scene by scene plot and character analysis, as well as detailed remarks throughout the chapter. Nearly a month later, I still open the critique file and work on edits, carefully considering the editor’s remarks as I make revisions.

Over the past year, I have learned a few critique survival techniques, which I am happy to blog about. For example, the first thing I do is read through all the red, close up the file and take a deep breath. Let the process percolate, especially when contemplating major changes, like the suggestion below I received from the editor. Ready? Here goes:

“First, I think that initial scene could be trimmed or deleted. Unless those characters come in again {and there's no sign in the synopsis that they do), I'm not sure you want to waste the opening on them. The lack of setting and positioning suggested to me that you weren't really committed anyway-- the scene and characters didn't come to life, and you weren't really in any viewpoint, and it was impossible to visualize the scene.”

Excuse me while I let that ricochet off the inside of my skull and through my cerebral cortex. (My version of a deep breath.)

Let’s break it down, shall we? First of all, the editor is at a disadvantage because she doesn’t know the characters in the opening scene do have roles to play throughout the novel and are more than just colorful props. I write an assortment of eccentric minor characters into my romantic suspense tales and they don’t all fit in a four page synopsis.

On to the next comment about lack of setting and positioning. Now that is something I can work on. I like to open my stories in the middle of a scene and allow the reader to get to know the characters through their dialogue as the action unfolds. Will I ever be the kind of storyteller who opens with paragraphs of narrative that stage the scene? Probably not. (Being influenced by Elmore Leonard doesn’t help matters any.) But I can add a descriptive sentence here and there which will enhance the story and slyly reveal information to the reader.

“The characters do not come to life.” Here, I have an honest disagreement with the editor’s opinion. Enough said. “And you don’t really have any viewpoint.” I would say the majority of my rewrite time is spent on deepening my protagonist’s POV, so I shall continue on in that direction. It is obvious I need to develop greater brilliance in scene staging using dialogue, action and a few sentences of narrative. (I like to think of narrative as internal dialogue. I reminds me to tell the story through all the senses of the protagonist).

Also, I do not focus solely on what needs fixing. I learn from the positive remarks I receive, as well. The encouraging comments tell me what I am doing right. They underline my strengths as a writer and give me the confidence I need to take risks and find my own voice. How about these from Edit Torrent:

“I love the way the two detectives talk to each other. They are so cagey, and yet understand each other. Very nice! And their voices sound so right. Thanks for letting me read this! I think you have a great project here, and your voice is sure and your dialogue rings very true to me.”

Here are the truths I have come to accept about the craft of writing: A writer needs both praise and criticism in order to grow, and the critique/edit process is never easy. Let’s face it, how much better am I going to get as a writer if I receive a few grammar marks and a chat room smiley face at the end of the story? Not much.

My heartfelt thanks to both Theresa and Alicia for the time and effort they took with the chapter and synopsis. I will try to remember that red is good for me, and that someday there may be less of it.

G. Jillian Stone

There are fields in time that burn with desire. Meet me there.

Jillian is currently finishing the second manuscript in The Yard Men Series. Set in late Victorian London, Scotland Yard detectives have never been as wickedly sexy or as brilliantly clever. To read more about her latest work in progress, THE SEDUCTION OF PHAETON BLACK, please drop by her website:


Anonymous said...

You lucky bugger getting a critique from our girls. I'm both jealous and happy for you.

Well. . . i'm prob about 80-20.

I find the hardest thing in a crit is when they rubbish something you thought you were awesome at or did really well. Two examples from my latest crit:

1)Near the end, my killer/hero breaks down and cries. I thought it was pretty powerful and showed another side of him. None of the readers brought it and thought it a bunch of BS

2)A bit after this, the killer kills the person he has been chasing for the entire story. the death was short and sharp. suddenly he was dead, it was over. it shocked the killer/hero into a revelation about himself. But the readers felt cheated by how quick it was.

So the strengths of my stories are suddenly the weaknesses. What does that say for the weaknesses of the story? It hurts! And i was getting ready to send it out to Writers of the Future.

Anyway i hope this crit helps you make your story all it can be!

Jami Gold said...


Thanks for sharing your experience.

John, I hear you. My initial feedback reader's reaction after the big showdown with the bad guy? Eh. Apparently, he was disappointed in the lack of blood. ;)

Jami G.

Stacy McKitrick said...

You're right about how good comments really lift you. It's something I need to work on when I critique others. I cherish the good comments, so I need to give someone something to cherish, too.

Thanks for sharing. It's given me insight into my own critiquing.

Edittorrent said...

I think it's important to let people know what they're doing right. Though, I'm chagrined to admit, sometimes in the mad rush of getting things done, I focus too much on what needs to be fixed.

John and Jami, a detailed, inch-by-inch villain death/defeat scene is usually not a bad thing. Readers want vindication, revenge, punishment, justice, a whole host of things that can be accomplished in such a scene. Books are one place, too, where it's safe for us all to revel in the suffering of the bad guy. I mean, we understand implicitly that revenge appeals to our basest nature. That doesn't make it less appealing. You understand what I mean? It's okay to be grim in shocking in such a scene. It's okay to dwell in it.


Genella deGrey said...

Ooooh! I don't know about everyone else, but I LOVE sexy historicals! Your work sounds like something I'd totally read!
Keep me in the loop!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Jillian.

The red from Theresa and Alicia is a huge jumpstart for you. I bet you've leapfrogged six months ahead of your writing. What a boon! I'm sure the red will lessen sooner thanks to this experience :)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let all of you who know that I have to remind myself to critique the good along with the bad, as well!

By the way, I love this site and have learned so much from the tips that Alicia and Theresa blog on.

:) Jillian

Edittorrent said...

John, that's interesting. Why did they think the guy crying was faking or whatever?

I recently got critiqued (not my writing-- it was a teaching thing), and I realized that I loved getting the laudatory comments, and hated getting the negatives... but the evaluations I actually paid attention to had both praise and criticisms-- well, really, more suggestions for improvement. Hmm. Good lesson!

Riley Murphy said... is good for me? Um, if you're bleeding out a poison! :) But hey, I guess that's one analogy you can use to digested all those redlines. Geez, come to think of it, every time I read the red words: passive - telling I feel like throwing up! So, yeah, speaking from a writer’s bulimic point of view? Purging is actually a good thing. Huh.

Jill, thanks for the insight.

Murphy :D

Anonymous said...

Hey Alicia

Not sure why. One asked how old he was, thought it was a teenagers response. One thought it was too abrupt.

The killer and the badguy have a standoff where the kiler tries to convince the badguy to give in. the badguy says something about his estranged daugter (ex wife took her away he never saw her again but he thinks about her every minute of every day. He had hired a gumshoe to track her down and found her but just before he was going to go and 'rescue' her he got pulled onto this mission, so its a touchy subject) and he flies off the handle but the rage turns to sobbing when he thinks of everything he has lost in his quest to do his duty for his government (eg he talks about not being there to hold her when a boy breaks her heart or walk her down the aisle)

I thought it was awesome, but others didn't. youchies.

Dave Shaw said...

Nice writeup, Jill. I still have to do mine. Coming soon...

John, maybe on the crying thing, you just need a little foreshadowing that this guy isn't made of stone? It might be that the breakdown seemed a little too out-of-the-blue for your critters. Just thought I'd mention that, in case you hadn't thought of it already.

Jami Gold said...

Theresa said: ...a detailed, inch-by-inch villain death/defeat scene is usually not a bad thing...It's okay to dwell in it.

Yes, you're right. And that's what I eventually figured out. I couldn't change the method of death (i.e. adding more blood), but I could draw it out more. I found that in my first draft, I tended to rush through the big emotional scenes. I've had to push myself to open those up more.

In the end, that was a good critique lesson for me to learn. Even if I can't exactly utilize a suggestion, I try to figure out why they made that suggestion and use that to jump-start other solutions.

Jami G.

Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

It was brave of you to write this post and I'm sure it will have helped many aspring authors. Best of luck with the rewrites!