Monday, September 26, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of A Critique, Part Three

Last week, I talked about how to give an effective critique. This week, I want to go over how to incorporate feedback into your own work after you’ve gotten a critique.
Remember the critique I told you about last week? The one with this underlying message: Nothing about your story is good, and my way is the only way to make it better. Even though the critiquer never said this outright, her statements and observations were made with such confidence and assurance that it’s easy to believe she knows what she’s talking about—which makes that underlying message even stronger, and puts an incredible amount of pressure on the author to follow her advice.

In my opinion, this kind of critique is far more dangerous than one that rants. The arguments appear sound, and the lack of emotion makes it difficult to dismiss. But does that mean it’s valid? Not at all.

This was just one person’s opinion, and she didn’t have the same insight into my story that I did. Fortunately for me, I knew the heart of my story and recognized right away that she didn’t see it, so I actually stopped reading and set her critique aside. But what if I hadn’t been so sure of my story? This critique was so compelling and sure of itself that it could have led me in the wrong direction, and then I’d have been struggling to write a story that’s half mine and half someone else’s. That never works.

Which leads me to another point: if you don’t know the heart of your story, you are not ready for feedback. Let me say that again. If you don’t know the heart of your story, you are not ready for feedback. Here’s why.

If you don’t know what your story is about, then how can you improve it? So many new writers pound out a first draft and then send it off to a critiquer, eager for ideas to make it better. That’s admirable, but it’s also dangerous. If you don’t know the heart of your story and you get a critique like I did, you could find yourself in a whole mess of trouble. You might end up abandoning your story down the road. But if you know what your story is about and where it needs to go, then feedback is a good thing.

And now, finally, we get to the real question. How do you incorporate feedback into your story?

The very first thing to do is read through the comments, then set them aside for a few days. This will allow your brain to process the information, as well give your emotions time to settle. When you come back, you’ll be more open to the idea of change.

For the suggestions that you know won’t work, simply move on. Or, take a closer look at what’s behind the comment and see if the critiquer misunderstood a part of your story, which you could make clearer. Make a note of this. Also, make a note of the things you like, agree with, or ring true to you. If you’re not sure, then add it to the list.

Once that list is complete, go through it with a critical eye and compare it to the heart of your story. For the things you know will work, turn them into a Revision To-Do List, or some similar way to track the changes you intend to make in the next revision. For everything else, take a good, hard look at them. Do they really, truly mesh with your story? There might be some fantastic ideas and possibilities in this list, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work. It might be difficult, but let those things go.

Sounds good, right? Well, what if those brilliant-but-doesn’t-quite-work ideas came from an agent or editor? Then what do you do?

I’ll be talking about that next week, as well as what it means to write for yourself. :)


Jessie Harrell said...

again, you've got some great tips and pointers here! Thanks for sharing this informative post.

Kelly Hashway said...

This is why I always think it's a good idea to let a critique partner's comments sink in for a while before making changes. Some comments might seem spot on and I'll immediately agree. Others make me think my CP is crazy. So in those cases I have to step away and think about the suggestions. Are they crazy or am I holding too tightly to the words I've written. Time usually answers that.

Catherine Stine said...

Agreed, a critique partner should NEVER announce how to plot, only suggest what is working and what to revise. And one secret to getting to the heart of a story, is to write the synop in two lines. You can't do it without uncovering the story core.

angel011 said...

Great tips!

Beth MacKinney said...

Thanks for your post. Consider what others have to say, but to thy own self be true. : )