Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Constructive Criticism

Today we will discuss criticism. No one likes being told where the flaws are in their story. This is one reason it is recommended to get some distance from your story before going back to edit it. When you look through the pages that took you hours to craft, the post-NaNo glow will have worn off. You will spot errors – some that should have been apparent the moment you wrote it. The more you read, the more horrified you become regarding your work. It is this feeling of “this is wrong!” that I want to address.

During the month of November, we stopped listening to the Inner Editor and kept kicking Doubt out the door. Now that your draft is complete, it is time to listen to both of them. You will be bombarded with their feedback and might even be horrified with parts of your story.

But without listening to them, you cannot make your draft better. You cannot mold your November work into a manuscript worthy of another set of eyes without questioning the character’s motives every three days and deleting those extra adverbs.

You may be wondering how this has anything to do with criticism. Once you’ve given yourself space from your story, you’ll see your mistakes. This is good, since seeing the mistakes means they can be fixed. Accepting that your November baby needs work is essential. When your beta readers contact you, they will be pointing out the same thing.

Your wonderful beta readers will read your work and give you feedback. They will see more mistakes that you haven’t caught. They will question your secondary character’s background, why the horse appeared without warning, and why you spent three paragraphs describing alien technology that wasn’t needed vanquish the bad guy.

You will disagree with your beta reader on some things. But their words will cause you to think. They will make you answer questions you haven’t asked yourself. They will ask questions about parts you left out without meaning to. Their feedback will help you.

Now, we don’t point out to a child who’s handed us a picture of a rainbow that the colors are wrong. They are basking in the glory of creating something. But you’ve reached the point where you’ve learned that it takes more than the simple joy of creating something in order to make your story presentable. You must question everything, and you must enlist the help of people to help you do the same.

Please keep in mind that their feedback is not attacking you. Your story, your baby, is not perfect. It is your beta reader’s job to point out where it is not perfect. Where there are flaws. They are there to help you catch typos, punctuation errors, plot holes, historical inaccuracies, tangents that don’t connect, and scenes that don’t work.

Beta readers don’t tell you these horrible things so you will sit in a corner and cry. They do it with the mind set that you want your story to improve. And in order to make some things better, you have to redo some things, regardless of how long it took you to begin with.

Each suggestion they make is just that – a suggestion. You don’t have to take their advice. If they don’t like your ending, fine. This is why I suggest enlisting more than one beta reader. If more than one person points to the same section as a trouble spot, chances are it needs work.

But the section that one person touts as unbelievable may earn praise from the next reader. This is where you just have to go with your gut and the majority of your votes. If one person didn’t like your ending and the rest loved it, chances are you’re good.

When my beta readers checked in, I got two different reactions about the ending. One person didn’t like who I picked as the groom, and spent most of the ending upset because their choice was not it. Another beta liked the ending, but agreed that a certain aspect of the ending needed work. I was able to take both of their comments and did a partial rewrite, making the consequences for one of the characters more believable.

Hearing how much work you have ahead of you is never a fun thing. But if you don’t know where your trouble spots are, it’s always nice to have someone point you in the right direction. There may be a few tears when three people point to the scene that you were so proud of three weeks ago as one that needs rewriting.

Remember that writing is an art. It takes a lot of practice to be any good at it. You are allowed and expected to make mistakes. The trick is to find your mistakes and correct them in a way that pleases your future readers.

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