Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When Critique Is Good

I have a lot of negativity about critique on this blog, and it's come to my attention that it isn't entirely helpful for people sifting through a plethora of critique comments. Sometimes a critique won't be bad. It will seem helpful, even constructive. If you turn your head and squint, you can even see where taking that comment might improve your manuscript.

The problem is, you have 8 comments like that, or 20, or a few hundred. If you make all those changes, it won't even be the same story. How do you know which ones to follow?

Good comments are the ones you agree with. I'm not talking about immediately. Immediately, at least if you're half as thin-skinned as I am, you'll want to say, "Nuh-uh! You're stupid!" and lock yourself in your room to pout. When that impulse has passed, though, and you've given the comments some space (over the course of days, not hours), you'll read them and realize they have a point, and that you can work with this.

Good comments are the ones about which there is a consensus. Not all those offering critique will have the same, exact observations. But, if the majority of them say your plot is based on a cliché, it's time to think more creatively. If people are supposed to like Handsome McAlpha and half the comments are that he comes across as a jerk, you'll need to bring out his likable traits earlier in the story. If most of the comments fixate on one scene, even if they don't agree what's wrong with the scene, they've noticed something is off, and you'll need to look more closely at that part.

Good comments are the ones that inspire you. Maybe the comment gets you thinking about the story in a way you hadn't, before. Maybe a critique comment points out some foreshadowing you hadn't noticed you'd slipped in, and now you want to fulfill that promise. Maybe you weren't married to your ending, and a piece of feedback gives you a better one. If a comment makes you want to change your story, even if it's not in the way the person commenting intended, use it, and see what happens.

Of course, you don't have to listen to a single comment anyone writes or says about your manuscript. If you think it's perfect the way it is, feel free to ignore them. But, write down the comments, or save them somewhere they won't be staring you in the face all the time, and go back to them when they don't sting as badly. The news that you're not pouring sheer perfection into your keyboard will always sting, but it'll hurt less as you reconcile yourself with the idea that writing isn't about the first draft, or even the third or eighth. It's as much about polishing and recognizing when it's done as it is about generating ideas and writing them down.

Remember, while you may be a part of your reading audience, so, too, are those critiquing your work. They're a much better reflection of your manuscript's reception, out there in the big, cold world than the perfection you believe it to be. Critique partners, writing groups, and those who critique online are an invaluable resource. More often than not, they'll offer good comments, and help your story put its best face forward.

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