If you’re very new to writing fiction (and my blog posts will focus on fiction, BTW.), then you may not have had your first critique. Or maybe you have...and you’re thinking the person who did it is some bitter witch with a personal vendetta. In the case of the latter, you may be huddled in a motionless, fetal ball, thinking you were crazy to ever believe you could write in the first place. If so, wait. Don’t go there. Not yet anyway.
Virtually all writers use critique partners (a.k.a. ‘critters’), even the big names...if they aren’t already using ghost *ahem*, I mean co-writers. Critique partners, or ‘crit partners,’ as they’re known, are fellow writers who read a sample of your work and make suggestions for change. Their comments can range from spelling and punctuation corrections to advice about broad issues, like scene sequence, pacing and plot. And they typically do this for free, in exchange for a similar-size critique of their work from you. (*Do your homework before paying for a crit. If you’re willing to swap, you can usually get what you need for free. And save a LOT of $$.)
What if you’ve already gotten one or more critiques, and now you’re sitting there finishing off a box of tissues—staring at your lovely chapter that looks like someone turned their toddler loose on it with a box of map pencils—and muttering every curse you know about your ‘critter’? (I’m sure you’re calling them something else, but hey– this is a family show. = P) What do you do?
Well, the first thing is: set it down and walk away. You won’t get anything positive out of it if you’re upset. Go for a walk. Eat some chocolate. Even wait a day or two. Then go back to it. Resist the urge to get your hackles up, and read the comments with an open mind. You might just learn something.
Fact: Writing fiction is different than penning a creative writing paper for senior English class. But that’s a whole ‘nother post of its own. Still, it’s a fact you’ll have to get through your head if you’re going to succeed.
Now that you’ve read through your critique and made a mental note of recurring mistakes/comments, go get some books on the craft and learn more about fiction writing techniques...maybe even make some of the changes suggested and go back and read the revised version. I bet you’ll see improvement, and see that your tormentor was right.
Processing critiques is as much of a learned art as doing them. You have to assign weight to the comments, and that’s rarely an easy thing. Two things that can help with this are: 1. Establish a group of regular crit partners, so that you can get a feel for their comments and more easily spot which one’s you need to pay attention to and which ones you can likely ignore. (Yes. At the end of the day, it's still your work. Just because someone makes a suggestion doesn't mean you have to take it.) And, 2. Make sure to get several critiques for every submission. If one or two people out of five mark something, you can probably ignore it. But if four of the five nab you on the same thing, then you’d be wise to heed their advice.
Bottom line, most critters aren’t out to get you. And they're not perfect either. They’re just writers like you, trying their best to help you improve. I’ve gotten crits that range from (literally) making me cry and want to never open my laptop again, to those with a few overly-positive comments that I knew were not a true reflection of the quality of my work. Neither extreme helps.
It’s a fine line we critters walk. We have to be painfully honest with someone about a collection of words they treasure as dearly as a child without crushing their spirit in the process. But when we see them improve and succeed, it’s a feeling to which nothing else can compare.
If you want to find critique partners, they're everywhere...like writers’ guilds, organizations and groups. Try places like Absolutewrite Forums. They have a thread for posting free critter and beta ads. Aspiring Christian Fiction writers can try ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). They have an awesome large crit group called ‘Scribes’ that is free to members. They also have smaller groups, too.
When you find a prospective crit partner, it's customary to do a 'test crit' to see if you're even compatible. That's where you swap a chapter or two (by attached email document), and then decide if you want to swap a couple more, keep swapping through the whole MS, or politely bow out and say 'thanks, but we're not a good fit'. Whatever you do, don't be afraid to jump in and get your feet wet.
Oh, and check out the list of Critter Lingo below. It will help you process those critiques, and spend less time typing when you do one of your own.
Critique partner = writers who swap portions of their work, usually for line-by-line style critiques.
Line-by-line = Going over a portion of writing with a fine tooth comb, looking for mistakes – very detailed.
Beta Read/Beta Reader = reading a portion of writing – sometimes a whole manuscript – for broad issues, rather than more detailed things like wording, grammar and punctuation.
POV = point of view (e.g. first person, third person, omniscient). Also known as 'whose head you're in.'
a.k.a or aka = also known as
BTW = by the way
GWS = goes without saying / not needed for clarity
Example: Bill touched the man’s neck and felt for a
FWIW = for what it’s worth
MOO = my opinion only (This one is kinda silly IMHO. The whole crit is MOO.)
IMO/IMHO = In my opinion / In my humble opinion (MOO's cousins)
WIP = work in progress
MS = manuscript
KWIM? = know what I mean?
LOL = laughing out loud
ROFL = rolling on floor laughing (Hopefully this is in response to a funny part of your story, and not some mistake you've made.)
Tighten the writing = trimming words and phrases from your writing so you don’t waste words and or bore your reader with unnecessary information.
Filter words = words like thought, felt, and realized, that are virtually always unnecessary and only serve to distance your reader.
*If you spot any errors or have anything to add to this list, please post a comment or contact me.
For more craft lingo, visit this Writer's Glossary. It covers everything from genre to query to POV.