Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Critique partner cage fight

I’m cycling through the final round critiques for LET IT BREATHE, and I’ve noticed something interesting.

More interesting than the fact that I used the word sorry 84 times and the word hand-job seven times, which is an imbalance I plan to rectify at once.

As I shared previously, I have two regular critique partners and three beta readers. I rounded things out this time by adding a third critique partner (my amazing agency sistah, Linda Grimes, who was worth every penny I didn’t pay her).

There’s a very deliberate balance in what each of these individuals brings to the table, and the idea of eliminating even one of them is like contemplating cutting off one of my nipples (assuming I had six nipples. Hey, I might. How do you know?)

One critique partner and one beta reader are particularly harsh when it comes to characterization. They have strong opinions, and aren’t afraid to share them. If my heroine is bitchy, they tell me. If my hero is wimpy, I hear about it.

These two come from vastly different backgrounds and often have different opinions, so when their critiques match up, I pay attention. That was the case with an early draft of MAKING WAVES, and the manuscript ended up much stronger as a result.

But what happens when they don’t agree?

That’s been the case with LET IT BREATHE. I suppose I could stage a cage fight between them, but I doubt they’d find that as satisfying as I would.

One of the two found my heroine too angry with the hero for past offenses and current difficulties

The other found her too understanding, too apologetic.

One adored a scene between the hero and the heroine’s cousin, describing it as her favorite in the whole book.

The other found it annoying and out-of-character for both of them.

In my earlier years as a writer, I might have found this frustrating. On some levels, I suppose I still do.

But in other ways, it’s thrilling. What better reminder that every reader’s experience is different, and that this whole business is so very, very subjective – with agents, with editors, with readers from all walks of life.

Since I’ve been at this for awhile now, I know to take a step back at this stage. Though I trust my instincts as a writer more now than I did a few years ago, it’s worth figuring out ways to smooth some of the edges.

The observation that my heroine is too understanding and apologetic is probably legit, given the number of times sorry appears in the manuscript. Can I tone that down a bit?

And can I find other ways to balance her sympathetic nature with her occasionally snarly urge to protect herself?

These are questions I’ll be asking myself as I go through a final round of revisions before handing this off to my agent

In the end, it’s true that you can’t please everyone. But it’s also true that if you plan to write for public consumption, you have to be willing to at least consider how readers from diverse backgrounds might be impacted by your story in different ways.

How do you find the balance between trusting yourself as a writer and making changes in response to feedback? What do you do when two readers disagree? Please share!

I have to go do something about that whole hand-job imbalance.


Linda G. said...

Wait...you mean you're NOT paying me? Darn.

Seriously, you more than "pay" me when you critique my stuff for me. You've got a great eye. :)

Also, I think I only counted six hand-jobs. *off to search for a hand-job*

Matthew MacNish said...

Crap. I just left that other comment on the wrong post. Oh well, I had intended to comment twice anyway. Ignore that last one, it was just for cheap laughs anyway.

I'm not nearly experienced enough as a writer to offer a definitive opinion about this, but I will say that you have to trust your own vision for your story. Sure, if you get consistent feedback from several sources about an issue, you should probably consider changing it, but how you change it is always up to you.

Like the hand-jobs. You could just simply toss a bunch more in, or you could mix it up, go with a few foot-jobs here and there.

Patrick Alan said...

I'm just concerned how many of those "sorrys" occur during the hand jobs.

Danica Avet said...

Okay, I've been struggling with my current WIP since November. NOVEMBER! I told my CP the bare bones of the story and she was like "that is so not romantic". But I was like yes it is!! So I told my agent about it and though she was sweet, she almost said the same thing. I ignored both of their suggestions and soldiered on with my original plot idea. Except I kept getting stuck and couldn't write it. Because it wasn't romantic! And they told me so, but I didn't listen. I scrapped the original plot and am starting over from scratch, but it's so much better now.

I think sometimes writers get so caught up in the "vision" of our work, that we forget the practicalities. That's what your CPs, agents, and beta readers are for.

Anna DeStefano said...

Critque partnerships are relationships first. Tricky relationships, because you're baring your creative soul with someone and asking them to do the same, and then you're sometimes telling each other how bad your writing looks in its bikini ;o)

I like the idea of taking a time out and breathing. I also typically only critique with one person at time. Mostly because my partners are all published, too, and we're looking for quick turnarounds on reads and brainstorming and coordinating multiple people can make that really hard. One-on-one, there's often less chance of something being misheard or misunderstood, so the emotional component isn't as much of a factor (as long as you choose that one person carefully ;o)

Even with the occasional difficulties, I'd miss my critique buddies if we didn't work together any more. They're part of my process, and I root for their success as strongly as they cheer for mine. We're truly a team when it comes to helping each other become and stay successful. I guess you could say they'r part of my writing heart ;o)

Sarah W said...

I recently traded chapters with someone who hadn't read any of my stuff before, and she made one comment -- almost an aside -- that explained the problem I'd been having with one scene. I simply couldn't figure out why the flow seemed wrong.

All it took as a pair of new eyes.

Tina Lynn said...

I've actually tried the cage match. It was very entertaining.

Jill Kemerer said...

Great post! When my cp's disagree, I spend a little time analyzing their comments. One will usually strike me as being correct for my book. You bring up a good point--every reader will respond differently to our words.

Anonymous said...

I've had conflicting CPs as well. I just take a step back, read through the book again now knowing their thoughts and opinions and then decide for myself. Sometimes what I decide it right in the middle of them. :)

Jill said...

My CPs are always moving and other such things, and I rarely see more than one opinion at a time. But when I've actually managed to have several at once, conflicting opinions did happen, and it was funny if I didn't let it utterly frustrate me.

Yelena Casale said...

I just recently joined a critique group so I don't have a lot of experience with them yet. So far it's already been very helpful. I do think, however, that as important as it is to listen to the critique, it's as important to follow your gut feeling and not lose your voice in all the revisions. It's especially true if the critique is contradicting each other. Chances are you'll agree to one more than the other because that will be your gut feeling. But you'll probably be able to take away something from both.

The Novel Road said...

I approached critique reader selection in a different way, choosing friends that have strengths in different areas:

1\ University English Professor
2\ A Financial analyst
3\ A comedian
4\ A publisher

The University Professor concentrated of the writing and became a puntuation obsessed fiend, made a bit worse by sharing the book with her colleagues chiming in as she shared the book with them. They send e-mails and call the house from time to time.

The Financial analyst just looked at numbers, then gave the book to his wife, who shared the book with her friends resulting in long e-mails from my friend's wife... and her friends. (I did get a few dates out of this one)

The comedian made joke suggestions, lots of them. When I asked what he thought of a character, he said: Who? So he gave the book the book to a few friends around Hollywood. I get e-mails occasionally from people I have never met.

The Publisher was actually the first person to read the book. A friend of the family, who enjoyed it. He made suggestions and edit cuts. Then he gave the book to his son, who works in the movies business, who gave it to a few of his colleagues. I received a number of e-mails from people I've never heard of, a few those I still get confused by when I re-read them.

My only thought in all of this is: The next time I ask people to read my book, I will include a note not to "share" my book with people I don't know or at the very least don't share my e-mail address.

168 days till...:-)


Brooklyn Ann said...

I adore my CPs. There's so much they can do to help your work. And although I'm a romance author, I try to get at least one man to crit my work. The insights are gold!
Now I have 2 men reading project. After 2 chapters, one says says, "The premise seems to be that the guy wants to f*** her." Well...yeah.
The other guy says I have some comma splices but he can't wait to see what happens next.

Tere Kirkland said...

I've been there! I usually take a moment to breathe, step back, and take a look at what the crits might have in common beneath the surface. How can I make both of them happy?

Sometimes, it is a matter of compromise, but you have to be sure it's the best decison for you and your book. That's when the gut comes in.

Great post!

Nate Wilson said...

When two of my readers disagree, I make them have a battle of wits, Princess Bride style. Only instead of iocane powder we use roofies. Along with the initial entertainment, it's always fun to hear the inevitable "Dammit!" from the other room, when one of them comes to hours later and realizes they lost.

(Also, for true balance, you may have to include at least one instance of the phrase "sorry hand-job.")

Steph Schmidt said...

I don't know why I held out so long before getting my own critique partner. Been kicking myself up and down the stairs ever since because the feedback from another writer just cannot be compared to the other options (friends & family). I wish I'd had it sooner.

I can only imagine how much stronger a novel gets with more than one critique partner!

Jeffe Kennedy said...

My best friend in high school had three nipples, swear to god. The third was vestigial, directly below her left breast.

Funny, because I blogged on this same topic last week. Ultimately I think it comes down to trusting your gut. If everyone sees the problem, then yeah, there's a problem. If they disagree? Only the writer knows. And maybe the Shadow.

Claire Dawn said...

I guess I'd reread the bit and go with what my gut told me. The truth is that I'm not often blindsided by ppl's opinions. If I already felt my heroine was a little apologetic, I'd know that might be the problem.

Another thing is to consider the ppl doing the critique. If you're writing YA, and one's a teen and one's a 400 yr old. And the teen says tone it down, I'd listen to the teen.

Patty Blount said...

I'm with Claire on this. Listen to your target demographic.

I got lots of feedback on SEND but it wasn't until I talked to other teenagers that I made the biggest changes.