Friday, September 18, 2015
The Advantages of a Solid Critique by Jannine Gallant
Who wants to be told our books have issues--lots of issues? Uh, not me. I'd rather hear it's perfect out of the gate. Too bad that's NEVER the case. Usually I have mixed feelings when I send my finished manuscript off to my CP because I know she's going to point out everything I did wrong. Some things I agree with. Some things I don't. But, here's where both sorts of comments help.
1) Frequently I know in the back of my mind that something isn't working. Let's take my most recent effort, Wilde Side (Book Two in my new Borne To Be Wilde series), which Margo just sent back with pages and pages of (minor) suggestions. Minor is her word. My thought was, "Are you freaking kidding me!" The opening is a white water rafting trip with a congressman who is running for president, his aide (the heroine), the rafting guides (owner of company is the hero), c-man's male relatives to make him look like a family man to the voting public, and the media who are filming/writing an article about the trip. LOTS of people. Margo's comments were things like, "Who's this guy--I can't keep them all straight." Huge sigh. I was a little worried about this. Let me stress that someone is trying to kill the congressman, so I need suspects present. But I had too many extras. Solution: I ditched the journalist and his cameraman and stuck with only the two man video team. Of course one of my suspects was the journalist, so I had to rewrite some of his sections to switch him to video. (More heavy sighs.) But, it was easier than I thought it would be. The result was a tighter group with less confusion. (I hope!) My point is it took a fresh pair of eyes to see what I couldn't. And she was completely right about there being too many people.
2) Next up - repeated comments that this or that doesn't work, and I need to change it. My reaction, "Is she crazy? It works just fine!" After simmering down and mulling over the part in question, I asked myself why it didn't work for her. Let's take the part I'm "fixing" right now. My heroine and the congressman have been knocked off a cliff and are holding on for dear life. Comments about the rocks that knocked them over and facial expression that couldn't be seen from above abound. All of it seemed completely fine to me. I could picture the whole scene... Too bad Margo was picturing something completely different. I didn't have enough detail to make my vision clear. Adding in a few sentences should solve this problem, and I'm able to leave it the way I want it. Turned out to be an easy (but necessary) fix.
3) Sometimes she points out problems that I don't really believe are problems and suggests solutions to solve said problems that I don't want to do. I'm left stuttering to myself, "But...but...that's not what I want to have happen." We've gone back and forth about this one. Kidnapping occurs, and kidnapper has to haul his victim across a couple of states. Her comments are about how, "This is crazy because no kidnapper would give his victim that much opportunity to escape. Change the location they go to to someplace closer." I don't want to change the location. I set up this location with a ton of effort and have multiple reasons for not finding a new one. So, I looked at the problem behind the problem. The probability that my heroine would get away during this journey. My solution is to make the kidnapper colder and more aggressive. If he has to get gas or food, he gives her the old Vulcan nerve pinch to the neck to knock her out. If she has to pee, she's going to have to do it in the bushes not at a gas station. I sort of skipped to the end of the trip without filling in how they get there, but I need to go back and add these details to make my "must have" road trip work for a discerning reader. So, the drastic (my word not hers--she's still saying minor! LOL) changes she wanted aren't going to happen in this case. But, I will do my best to address the concerns that caused the suggestions.
So, whether or not you agree with everything your CP has to say, my advice is to look deeper into why she's saying it. Chances are there is something behind the suggestion that needs to be addressed. You may not want to solve the problem one way, but it would behoove (love that word!) you to dig into the underlying issue and give your story more clarity. And, if you're sending your poor little manuscript off to your editor with no critique beforehand, you can probably expect to have to address far more problems with someone you can't say no to. Do yourself a favor and get a CP who isn't afraid to tell you when your writing sucks and save yourself a lot of headaches down the road. I'd far rather fix problems my way than an editor's way.
I'll shut up now with the sage advice. Happy writing!
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