Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Critique or Pass

Critiquing is the best giveback writers can provide each other. Every writer should participate.

There is a peer in my on-line critique group I love to swap crits with. I've appreciated all of his earlier pieces, and he gives great crits—so he's a relationship I'd like to keep primed. He posted something that was too long for my short attention span, but I eventually guilted myself into giving it a swing.

A long intro to pose the question, when should you withhold your comments? I did a crit one night when I had a badly sprained knee, and was pretty heady on Vicondin. I gave an overly harsh crit. I was propelled to get the crit out when I wasn't in the mood. I've felt guilty for that crit ever since.

Back to the first incident. I had procrastinated doing my on-line friend's crit, plowed into it to find two pages of introductory telling. Nothing hinted there was anything on the horizon that was going to meet my tastes.

Force my way through it, or bow out gracefully? I tell you, tact isn't my greatest asset. I ended up sending him a note explaining I wanted to do his crit, and gave him my reasons why I didn't. He was a gentleman, and appreciated that my reasons in fact gave him valuable feedback.

In a face-to-face crit group I participated in for two years, there was a degree of pressure to crit all submissions. I look back at how poor a process that is. I've never met anyone who likes every style of prose. If a piece lies outside your comfort zone, it's likely you aren't going to give worthwhile feedback… unless you stick to grammatical nits.

My recommendation for new participants to the crit process: when in doubt, pass. You do not want to be that literary writer who insists to the SF guy that he must explain what FTL stands for. (Any SF reader knows what it means.)

Write every day!


1 comment:

  1. Bowing out of a crit when one has developed a trusted relationship with another is either lazy or shallow or both. (Is that harsh enough?) No one has to be an expert or have a PhD in Creative Writing to spot bad writing or bad storytelling. If it is, it IS.

    I’ve never bought into the need for genre-specific expertise or interest, either (See the first sentence: “Lazy”). I’m not too worried about knowing what “FTL” is or pronouncing Ms.-Weird-ass-character-name (So when the clock ticks over to the twenty-fifth century, the name “Susan” goes out of fashion?). Those are sometimes cheap Halloween costumes for often horribly bad writing. (Why do folks think making it weird automatically gives the writer a leg up on good writing?)

    I’m looking for a compelling story, strong verbs, active voice, etc. and making it real, even if it’s a fantasy of some future time and place. Hell, isn’t every story a fantasy to some degree? Hell, even hell is.

    Granted, we all have different tastes, but my complaint with most folk is that their preferences are far too narrow for their own good: “Oh, I don’t read historical romance.” Why? “It’s just not …(fill in the adjective).” I’m not a professional musician, but I like to look at sheet music, fascinated by the runs of notes and rests. In fact, I learned a lot about writing from music, another art form that has many and highly visible tools directly applicable to good writing. I’m not a mathematician, either, but I find beauty in the composition of an equation -- the ultimate short story -- action, balance and conclusion, all in a matter of a few letters and numbers. And I’m not into historical romance, but one that’s well done will show me how characters behave under the thumb of a society’s often artificial prescriptions. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it might make be a better writer.

    If I bow out of giving something a good going over, IF WRITING IS THE FOCUS, then I’m (see first sentence, again.). If I get turned off early, something’s wrong. Period. Maybe it’s bad writing and doesn’t get there fast enough (read “superluminal”; it’s a sexier word than “FTL”, the way it dances around on the tongue and teeth.). I’m not into horror, either, but if the words don’t scare me, something’s wrong. Genre readers may expect certain constructs, themes, etc. but if it bores the crap out of anyone who’s a writer with a critical eye, game over.

    We do our friends a disservice by taking a pass. Always. They busted their ass to get it down and polished up… and we take a flyer? Next time, this “friend” gets the cheap stuff, and the asshole that told me straight up gets the twenty-year old Glenlivet.