Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why you should never argue with a critique partner

Critiques are tricky things to both give and receive, but there are some problems that can be avoided from the start.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make (especially those new to the critiquing process) is arguing with their critique partner or their critique group. I know it's tempting to frown at someone who just gave you a less then stellar review and tell them why they are totally wrong. You're not helping yourself or you story if you do this. It's also rude to the person doing the critique. They have spent their precious time reading and rereading your story. Thinking about it and trying to come up with something helpful to say. Instead of a 'thank you' they get a 'you're wrong'. Not a good way to encourage them to come back and read more.

The thing with critiques is that they are opinions (with perhaps the exception of spelling and grammar). Someone can look at a scene and say they don't like it because it feels boring and another will say that they like it because they thinks it's contemplative. Which one of those views is 'correct'?

So you really can't tell someone that their opinion is 'wrong' because that is their opinion. It may be different then yours, but that doesn't automatically make it wrong.

Now you can take that negative opinion and dismiss it (they really didn't get what you were trying to say anyway), but remember one thing: A normal reader (or agent or editor) is not going to email you and ask what you meant. Their going to take your book, put it back on the shelf and walk away.

As writers we have one shot to get the point across. If you need to explain to someone why they are wrong about what they think of this chapter or that character then, to put it bluntly, you've failed as a story teller.

Go back to writing craft 101 and learn how to make people understand what you're saying the first time, don't blame people who are trying to help you see it this time.

To look at a critique the right way you need to take it, thank the person who gave it and look it over. If you see something you don't agree with, take the critique and set it aside for a few days. Cool down and look at it again. Keep an open mind. What is the point they are trying to make? What would the story look like if I changed that? Is the problem they point out the real problem, or is it something deeper that needs to be fixed? Don't get so fixated over your love of an idea that you refuse to listen to someone who's trying to tell you it doesn't work.

If only one critique partner points out a problem, you do have some latitude on what you want to do about it, but if two or more people point out the same problem you NEED to fix it.

Really think about what your critique partners say. They are trying to help you and your story (and if they're not then you shouldn't have them as partners). So don't dismiss the things they point out, because if one critique partner sees it, then readers will see it too and they are not nearly as forgiving.

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