Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kick Critiquaphobia to the Curb

Most writers are afraid of getting feedback on their work, putting it out there for others to slash and trash, but if you hope to succeed in the ruthless world of publishing, it's necessary to take the first step and leap the chasm. No work is perfect and polished on the first run, or the fifth, even if you keep going back, combing through it line by line, word by word, reading it aloud. You need another person's perspective, several, because no matter how astute you are or how much of a perfectionist you are or how many A's in English you earned, you just can't be objective about your baby. And if you can't handle the possible rejection from reviewers, how will you deal with it from agents? Reviewers/critiquers who see problems in your work can give you constructive feedback so you can improve. Most agents will just pop a form letter in the mail because they don't have the time for that.

Not all but many of the reviewers who read my work point out things they don't like or something I have to fix, weak spots, breaks in continuity, unrealistic reactions, an overabundance of "huffing". You can't please every reader, but you can at least have your work as polished as possible before seeking representation.

It may take some time and research to find a place online or in your community where you can get effective and affirming feedback but do it. You want reviewers who will point out the good and bad. Having someone point out a couple spelling mistakes, but otherwise cheer and play Pomp and Circumstance doesn't help you very much. Neither does having someone trash it to bits because we writers are a sensitive folk. You need a good balance of suggestions for improvement as well as encouragement.

My book, Kings & Queens, is currently in a critique circle at The Next Big Writer. I thought I’d share the great questions we ask for each chapter so if you’re having others critique your novel, it will you give some direction as to what to ask them to look for in an in-depth review.

§ Do the opening sentences/paragraphs grab your attention?

§ Conflict – Can you identify what it is?

§ Plot – Is it believable?

§ Setting – Is there a real sense of time and place?

§ Characterization – Are the characters believable or do they feel like cardboard cutouts?

§ Dialogue – Is it tight and does it help move the story along? Did it need more/less? Is it stilted?

§ Point of view – Is it consistent?

§ Show vs. Tell – Are scenes conveyed through the actions of the characters or through the author’s voice?

§ Grammar & Spelling – Point out any grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors.

§ Style/Tone – Is the writing easy to read? Are word choices effective? Is the tone preachy?

§ Prose – Is there any purple prose?

§ Are the period details (dress, word choices, etc.) accurate?

§ Is there enough action?

§ Does the story move quickly?

§ Is the tension level high?

§ Are the protagonists strong? Realistic enough?

§ Is there a strong dramatic tone?

Give overall impressions of the chapter:-

§ What you liked most and what worked well?

§ What you liked least or feel could have been done better?

§ How do you think it could be improved?

If you want your work to be as good as it can be, to be better than you ever thought, take the risk and get the feedback you need. You'll then be able to look at your work objectively from different angles and develop a thicker skin in the process. Don't let critiquaphobia keep you in a standstill. Kick it to the curb. You can do it. Jump.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

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