Thursday, July 18, 2013

Critique Comments versus Author's Ideas

As writers we want and need critiques of our work. But what is a writer to do when the critique and suggestions totally changes what the author has in mind for a piece? What if  the author disagrees with the critique and refuses to revise the piece in any way? My experience is certainly more limited than that of a seasoned author but here is how I see the purpose of critiques and what an author should be able to take away from any opinion of their work.

A good critique will give positive suggestions on making a written piece stronger and more marketable. That doesn't mean that there won't be negative comments and comments that an author does not agree with. However, a good critique should show the author a view of the work looking through a wide lens and from a different angle, neither right or wrong...just different.

A good critique should never be all negative nor should it be all positive because in reality the work being critiqued is not ready to publish so not perfect. Comments stating " I like it" or "it doesn't work for me" are not specific enough to improve on so become meaningless to the author. A comment like " I think the character needs more emotion" or " the climax is weak, can you increase the tension here?" gives the author a starting point to improve the work.

An author should not feel obligated to change an entire manuscript based on the results of one or two critiques unless it will improve the work. The author should consider other points of view when deciding what needs to be revised with a conscious effort to leave the personal and emotional aspect out of the revisions. Developing a tough skin and the ability to cut, revise, and reshape a manuscript without hurt feelings comes with experience but is a must if one wants to be published.

Critiques offered by agents and publishers should be considered slightly more valuable because at this point the manuscript should be almost ready to publish. An author working closely with an agent or publisher benefits from making some suggested revisions for the purpose of pleasing the one who will make the effort lucrative. Even to that end, the author still holds the key to what changes will be made and what remains in alignment with the character, plot, and purpose of the work.

Authors need to find a solid group of critique partners, one or maybe two, that can be counted on to be honest, objective, and noncompetitive when helping to improve a story or article. Relatives, spouses, adult children, and neighbors may not be the best choices because of their lack of objectivity and their feelings of loyalty to the writer. It is better to have a critique partner that is also a writer and one who understands the pieces of a story, a story arc, and character development.... one who can spot a flaw with a manuscript and give suggestions for improvement. Those critiques will help an author grow and improve, and in the end isn't that what we authors strive to achieve?


Shirley Corder said...

Good post Terri. As a South African writer, I rely heavily on having critique partners based in America. My natural English is "British English" but most of my writing is for American markets.

D.E. Malone said...

In the effort to 'fix' a manuscript, sometimes writers forget it is THEIR work instead of their critique partner/group. I was guilty of this when I first started getting critiques, correcting each and every 'mistake' and addressing all comments. Pretty soon my manuscript was barely recognizable. I think with experience you learn to zero in on the points which will improve your work and toss the comments that don't. If two or more people express concern about a certain element in the story, I take notice. If inconsistencies in character motivations are pointed out, I pay attention. All commentaries should be considered, but in the end, you as the writer has the freedom to address or ignore the criticism.

Karen Cioffi said...

Terri, great post. While critique groups are essential, the author needs to have a sense of what's a valid critique and what's not. Dawn has a good point, if a certain aspect of your story is being targeted by a couple or more of the critique members, then pay attention.

Sometimes, since we know our intent, we can't see a lack in clarity or other issues that the reader spots. Remember, the reader doesn't know what you're thinking.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great post Terri. Some critiques should just be ignored. Have a critique group that you trust their opinion even if you don't always agree is invaluable. If you trust your partners, then consider their opinion but it it doesn't seem write, it's important to remember that it is your story.

Kathleen Moulton said...

Terri, you've given me alot to think about. Thanks!

Debbie A Byrne said...

Great post Terri. Wise words.

What to Do During Dry Spells if You're a Freelance Writer

 by  Suzanne Lieurance Once you get your freelance writing career going, you’ll probably find that it can be either “feast or famine” most o...