Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beware the Silent Critter

The worst critique I ever got went something like this:
"Oh my gosh! I love your book. It is so perfect. Your main character is awesome! The love interest is so hot! I couldn't put it down!!! DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING!"

The best critique I ever got went something like this:
"I hate your main character--she whines all the time! And she is so stupid!!! How can she not see what is going on around her? And the bad guy is completely unbelievable because he has no motive. I want more action and less whining."

Let's face it. Without criticism, we cannot grow. I love my worst critique ever because every starting-out writer needs a cheerleader. But the amount of growth that comes from a gritty, honest critique is priceless!

Here's the honest truth (at least, this is how it happened for me and my agented friends):
An agent will sign you because he/she loves your book. But that agent will tear your plot/writing/everything to pieces to make it the best it can be!

So if you have cheerleaders instead of critters, keep them! They make writing worth it. But find some vocal critters and ask them to critique with their knives out! Ask for shreddage! Because how else will your manuscript grow?

Check out Elana's post for more on this subject.
Writing got you down? Need a little inspiration? Check out this post on the Query Tracker blog.

Tell me--what is the worst critique you ever got? And the best?

--Bethany

38 comments:

Danyelle said...

This is so true, and there's value in both, but it's important to understand the part each play. Cheerleaders are great. They help you when you get an awesome crit that makes you rethink everything. :) But, like you said, without those crits that make us reach, we would never grow.

Stephanie Thornton said...

The best critique I got was when a friend's mom tore my ending to shreds. She was totally right.

The worst critique? "This is great!" On a first draft. (From my husband AKA my cheerleader.)

Kristi said...

I love this post! I was just saying yesterday how one gal in my critique group shredded a section of my ms I had sent to her. I mean shredded -- like she didn't buy the motivation of the MC in a certain scene, didn't like a particular work I used, etc. She was harsh and thorough and I LOVED it! However, she also tells me what she thinks is great so I know the things that are working -- since she would definitely tell me otherwise. A great critique partner is PRICELESS! My book is so much better because of my group.

Tamika: said...

My mother is always the worst critique- she sounds something like your first example. But I love her!

My best critique was a professional one that I paid for. I still carry it in my briefcase.

Carolyn V. said...

The best critique was from my very dear friend who said, "You're going to hate me but..." She saved me tons of time and headache. I loved it. I can't think of a "worse" critique. Probably the ones that didn't say anything.

Tina Lynn said...

The worst was on my first MS. I think she may have used it for toilet paper at some point, but despite the pain it really was good information (just not specific enough). The best has to be from Roni. She rocks my socks. She tells it like it is, and she shows you how to fix it. Amazing. Love her.

Tere Kirkland said...

I love it when critiques start-- "You're going to hate me, but..."

Usually means I'm in for the truth. I can handle it, I swear!

One of my favorite crit-buddies just told me my mc isn't that likeable. BEST. CRITIQUE. EVER.

I already suspected she might not go over that well, so it wasn't much of a surprise to me, but it definitely made me think about what changes I can make to the manuscript.

Sometimes the most painfully delivered critiques--"I didn't even finish reading this because it was too boring"--are the most helpful in the long run, even if they aren't exactly constructive.

Great post!

Christina Lee said...

My currently critique group is great, but it was MY OWN sister that pulled the knife on me with my first manuscript, telling me she could not STAND to read on (she's always been BRUTALLY honest with me). So when she read my newest first chapter and said she loved it, it made me feel like I was finally on to something!

Alyssa said...

Any critique - positive or negative that gives me something specific and why is a good critique for me. Something vague and general doesn't give me much to work with. Something specific you liked - I can use more that in my writing. Something you didn't like - I can cut or modify.

Angie said...

My best critiques always come from Suzette. I trust her to be honest about what is and isn't working. I think having a critter you can trust is the most important thing.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post, and so true! The best critique I ever received was from Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse. That woman is brilliant!! The worst was from a friend who sounded very much like your "worst" example. :-)

C. K. Bryant said...

Oh, how painfully true. I have a friend that is so tough on me, but she's usually right. After making the changes she suggests and reading back through my pages, I'm amazed at the difference. I truly would not be the writer I am without her.

Sandy Williams said...

Yes! Sure, it's nice to hear people like your book, but it's So. Not. Helpful. I might not always agree with the criticism I receive, but I can a least take a look at the issue and brainstorm other ideas/approaches to getting my point across.

SOMETHING can always be improved.

Ann Elle Altman said...

I agree completely. At first your stunned but then you think... and those that use their brains will realize the benefit of listening...those who get offended and upset will never be good writers.
ann

VR Barkowski said...

I so agree! If someone reads my work and sees no room for improvement, I feel as though I failed - that the work was so bad it wasn't even worth offering a suggestion to make it better. Critiquing isn't about unconditional acceptance - that's what mom is for.

Christina Rodriguez said...

When I'm looking for someone to put the "brutal" in "brutally honest," I go to my family for a critique! They're blunt because they love....

Art school taught me to take some scathing criticism full in the face without blinking. The publishing industry helped me handle constant rejection. I do feel a twinge of pain every now and then, but I guess that's because I'm not a masochist!

I find critical crits are better done in person, though. You can say things more easier than typing, and some crits don't translate well over comments in a blog. One doesn't want to come across as terribly rude.

L.T. Elliot said...

The worst crit. I ever got was one like yours, telling my my MC sucked rocks and they had no interest in spending any more time with her. It hurt like hell but I still treasure that critique. They were right.

lotusgirl said...

The only critiques I don't like are the ones that are disrespectful. (I only ever got those on a query site where things are pretty anonymous.) All the crits I get now are wonderful either because they cheer me on or tell me what is wrong with what I've done and sometimes how to fix it.

Jackee said...

:) Very true! On all points.

The critiques I hate the worst are the vague ones. So unproductive.

Jemi Fraser said...

One of my crit buddies said "so, where exactly is all this taking place?" Until then I hadn't realized I hadn't described any of the settings at all! Not even hints. :)

Jeff King said...

I agree 100% with you on what helps in a critique... you want to know what’s wrong, what sucks, what was slow or weakly written. Not the “I love what you’re doing” spill, I wish I had critiques to share, maybe in about 6 months.
thx

cipherqueen said...

Best Critique: "I don't thing you're very good at your craft. You really need to work on showing more than telling, and your dialogue doesn't feel realistic..." followed by four examples of showing vs. telling.

Slight sad face there. I mean, I did understand the difference at the time.

Worst Critique: "I like it."

Favorite Critique: "This reminds me of a day on a porch with chocolate and kittens in my lap..."

DL Hammons said...

The worst crit I ever received informed me that I should giving up writing novels and consider writing screenplays instead. It hurt. It hurt BAD. But I resolved myself to learn more, absorb as much as I could, and try again because deep down I knew I had what it took.

A year later I sent that same critiquer another sample of my work. She praised it to no end and couldn't believe the gains I had made. Yes, it hurt BAD back then, but I wouldn't have made the strides I have without it.

Excellent post Bethany!

Michael Rivers said...

This is so important to remember.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Best critique I ever got: I hate (the hero) so much I would have put the book down and never opened it again.

Don't worry he's much improved now. ;)

Sharon Mayhew said...

Wonderful post! Talk about the truth. You have to have people who around you who tell you how your work is flawed...or it'll never get better.

Jen said...

I'm not to the point of having a crit group, for now my husband reads my work to keep me focused and positive. I'll revise once and then let a crit group take a look, from there I expect criticism, and good info for it!

Amber Lynae said...

This is a great post Bethany. I know that we need those mean old critters there to keep us from settling for less than our best.

elizabeth mueller said...

Hi Bethany! Oh so true. Ego stroking doesn't help me grow, especially when my work is not editor approved. Imagine the disappointment? Great post! :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I definitely prefer the critter who tells me the truth. I can't grow as a writer if they just pat me on the back and tell me it's perfect. The ones who have me sweating, wondering how I'm going to fix the problem, are my fav critters. Otherwise I might as well just give it to my non writing friends to read.

Of course after several rounds of critting and rewrites, you hope you eventually get the feedback where the ms honestly is ready to go.

Mary Campbell said...

In the beginning it was nice to hear good things - now I want to know the bad. I want to know how to make it better - bring it on critters.

Lydia Kang said...

So far no really bad critiques. Vague and general is probably the least helpful. But the more detailed about the suggestions for improvement, the better!

G said...

Worst one that I've gotten is currently being beaten to death in the chat rooms going on 13 months. I won't say what it is, because I don't want to gross anyone out.

Best one was when one of my short stories was compared to Tom Robbins.

Natalie said...

My husband always gives lame critiques. Stuff like "This is so awesome Nat! You'll sell if for a million dollars."

My best critiquer, oddly enough, is another family member, my brother. He goes through line by line and tells me every sentence that sounds clunky and every plot element that doesn't work, plus he fixes my terrible punctuation. He pretty much rocks.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I had a friend read my novel and tell me not to change a thing. I wondered if she had read it at all! Two other friends gave me such great feedback. They wrote questions in the margins, pointed out plot holes -- and neither of them were writers. So guess who I turn to when I need a critique!

Lizzy Mason said...

Great post! I also left you guys an award on my blog today for being so very amusing: http://lizzymason.blogspot.com/2010/03/awards-week.html

Thanks for keeping me smiling!

Dominique said...

My worst critique was probably "Give me next chapter." My friend said that after reading it. While it was gratifying to know she liked it enough to want to read past the beginning, it didn't tell me what wasn't working in the story.

"Your main character sounds like a bitch." My sister said that every other chapter for one story. And it was helpful, because while she was supposed to be snarky and have legitimate grievances, I wanted her to be likable.

Personally, with critiques, I like what a friend of mine calls Compliment Sandwiches. "This works. This should be changed. This other things is nice." It takes the sting out of the criticism and positively reinforces the good behavior.

AchingHope said...

Haha... I know. I got that all the time in this one class I took "Oh! Your paper is perfect!" Ugh! No it's not. I finally found someone who can rip my paper to shreds, and he's nice about it to. Yes!