So how honest are you with your critique partners? And, are you still friends?
So my very excellent friend and critique partner, Alicia Dean, and I thought we would bring you something different in the way of a blog post. We are inviting you into the world of our critique group we call the Phantom of the Rewriters. Below is a transcript of our latest session where I offered my opinion of Alicia’s upcoming Suspense/Thriller, Without Mercy. Prepare to cringe. Honesty is tough.
KLW: Alicia, the story is pretty good, but I found it lacking emotion. There is a LOT of telling.
Alicia: Ah, okay. Well, I know your style is a little different from mine, you’re more into drama and emotion (translation: Kathy is a drama queen, but don’t tell her I said so), and my voice is darker and a little dry, perhaps. I’m sure there was some telling. I did struggle with this story.
KLW: True, but even with your style, you’re going to have to show more emotion. Here is an example of what I’m talking about. We need deeper POV here, so here are a couple of suggestions:
Alicia: Hmmm, okay. I see what you’re trying to do here, but my character wouldn’t think in those terms, not the ‘Ha, the escaped convict look sent them running every time. It’s just not his character.
Also, in the part below, I like the changes at the beginning, but where you’ve tweaked his thoughts to say ‘the shorter hair irked him’ doesn’t really work, because he’s not irked. I think some phrases are okay to be ‘told.’ I don’t think every thought carries an emotion and therefore, emotion doesn’t always need to be conveyed. Just my opinion, but I know my stories often lack emotion. (and Kathy’s are often overly emotional. But then, she likes theater, and I don’t. Amazing that we’ve managed to remain friends).
KLW: Yeah, yeah. I do love a bit of drama! However, he needs to feel something, whether or not he’s irked. Here’s an example where her reaction didn’t come across quite right. “Sighed” Really? Pretty mild considering the surrounding action.
Alicia: Yes, sigh isn’t the right reaction. I think my characters sigh too much anyway. Good suggestions on rewording. Here is how I fixed it:
KLW: Better. Now, this part, couple of big holes here:
Alicia: Duh! Uh, right, China wouldn’t have seen what Layla brought in since she was already there when China arrived home. And, yeah, the knife. They don’t just disappear into thin air, right? Uhm, see, I was just testing you. Yes, that’s it. Just making sure you’re paying attention. Yay! You passed!
KLW: (RIGHT, just testing me. Talk about drama!) Whatever! Moving on…here’s another example where we need emotion:
Alicia: That won’t work here. This is Gunnar and he is very unemotional. He’s robotic and matter-of-fact. Amusement wouldn’t curl his lips, or any other part of his body.
KLW: (Rolling eyes). Fine! I’ll let that one slide. (What, does she think this is HER story?) So now we get to the good stuff.
Blurb: How far will a mother go to protect her child?
When a seemingly random bank robbery turns out to be a sinister plan, single mother China Beckett is thrust into a nightmare. A group of mercenaries take over her life, threatening her young daughter and everyone they love. Each time China makes a mistake, someone dies. She’ll fight to the last breath to protect her child, but with no idea who to trust or what these people want from her, that might not be enough.
As the lives of China’s loved ones are jeopardized, she must take action, although she has no idea where to turn—and time is running out. But then, a startling truth is revealed and China discovers that the only person who can save them might be a ghost from the past.
Excerpt: “The robbery was only a small part. You will know more when the time is right. Right now, all you have to know is that we expect complete obedience.”
“Obedience? You invaded my home. Threatened my life. My daughter’s life.” China ran a shaky hand through her hair and shook her head. “You want me to do what you say and won’t even tell me why you’re doing this. This is too bizarre. Too much. I can’t—” She sighed, shook her head again. “I can’t do this. I don’t understand why.”
“Perhaps this will help.” Royce motioned with his hand, and Marcel came around to place the laptop case on the table. He slid out a computer and booted it up. His stubby fingers clicked a few times on the keyboard before he turned the laptop around facing her and Royce.
The screen filled with what seemed to be a live feed of a coffee shop. At a small round table next to the window, a professionally dressed man and woman leisurely sipped from cups. Only a few other patrons were in camera range. One was a teenage boy who stood behind the couple, staring up at the menu; the other a young mother with two small children at a table nearby. China frowned. She didn’t know any of them. “I don’t know what you want. What am I supposed to be looking at?”
“Which one?” Royce asked.
Royce tapped a finger on the screen, first on the man, then his female companion. “Which one do you want to die?”
Bio: Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She has three grown children and a huge network of supportive friends and family. She writes mostly contemporary suspense and paranormal, but has also written in other genres, including a few vintage historicals.
KLW: So now that we’ve shared a little of our brutal attempts to help one another, how do you and your crit partners fare? Do you still have crit partners? Are you still friends? I know that I’m very lucky, blessed to work with such talented authors unafraid to blast my work if it needs it and vice versa. True friendships are cultivated through honesty, and that’s a gift worth cherishing. Happy Reading ~~ Kathy L Wheeler
This sounds a bit like our critique group! There are 4 of us!
Glad you found the post interesting, Susan. We do meet face to face and discuss some of the bigger issues, then we also send a revised track changed document to one another. You do fine with the edits I send to you in track changes, so I’m sure you could handle this. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
Interesting! I am looking for a new CP but (given my limited computer skills) do not know if I could handle the electronic back and forth–have always done it face-to-face before. Thanks for posting!
Very interesting! I am looking for a CP myself–always have worked face-to-face with partners before. All done via electronics makes a difference–but not sure it’s one I can utilize w/my limited computer skills. Thanks for the insight.
Hi Linda, yes, if you want brutal, Kathy is your gal :). Actually, we all try to be brutally honest with one another. Like I always say, I’d rather hear it from a critique partner or beta reader than from an editor or reviewer, right?
KB, sorry you’ve had trouble finding good critique partners. Yes, it is very difficult, we just got lucky. You definitely don’t just want a cheering squad, but it’s natural for people not to want to hurt feelings. They just have to understand that being frank is being helpful. Best of luck with finding a good group!
I’ve been shopping around for a crit group or partner for a while. I wish I could find someone like the two of you. I’ve tried three groups that meet in the Tulsa area and may have found one that suits me–but the meet in the atrium of a hotel. It’s a bit tough to hear in there and it’s also not too private.
The funny thing is, whether it’s a beta reader, a crit partner or group, or even an editor, they all try to soften the blow with apologies up front. I keep telling them that I want honest feedback, not vague platitudes. The ones who get that have helped me immensely.
I belong to a small critique group and wish they were as “brutal” as you! Thanks SO much for sharing this.
I have to respectfully disagree that Anna loves Alicia more than me. I’m CERTAIN it’s the other way around. Christy is great at seeing things in characters that Al and I miss. (HAHAHAH, did you see your nickname?) And we have another crit partner too who is a little more big time who looks certain other things over… Oh no! I used “certain” twice in the same paragraph. But I think I can fix it:
CERTAINPOSITIVE it’s the other way around.>
Yeah, this seems about right. LOL! And yes, we still all talk to each other. The only time I really say anything is to get clarification if I don’t understand the correction or why it was done.
I will point out when what I learned about grammar or punctuation is different than what someone else learned. Sometimes that doesn’t go over too well. But otherwise, we’re all good.
Thanks for another wonderful post.
Margo, funny how that works, isn’t it? We might disagree, might even curse under our breath (or above our breath :)) but it’s great to have someone to point out the things we miss. We’re just too close to our own story to stand back and look at it as we should.
Linda, exactly. We do balance one another out. Our other partner, Christy, has a style different from either of ours and brings her skill to the ‘table’ as well. She’s great at finding areas where character actions don’t make sense and where unanswered questions need to be addressed. (We have another CP, Betty, but she’s only recently re-joined, and I’ve forgotten her critique methods, it’s been so long since we’ve worked together. But, I do remember that she had great suggestions to offer).
Jannine, Haha, you might be right. Did an editor really rip you a new one? Like Kathy did me? 😉 Just kidding! Sometimes a new one needs to be ripped. You are correct, though, about having someone else share their view of your characters helps to see them in a different light.
Aw, Anna, thank you! We are crazy about you too! I don’t know what we did, but I think we spent a lot of time scribbling notes that no one could read (at least, in my case they couldn’t). Pssst, you are crazier about me than you are Kathy, right????
Thanks to all of you for stopping by!
Calisa Rhose tried to post but she couldn’t get it to go through, so I’m posting for her.
You guys sound like me and one of my former cps. No we are not former because of our critiques, but other life things. 🙂 lol We still look things over for one another in a pinch after almost ten years of friendship.
The editor in me has to ask about the third correction in that first paragraph. Do you mean to suggest his lower lip is running along his chin, as opposed to the scar doing this? Adding ‘that’ does this, whereas using ‘and’ defines the scar and lips in regard to his chin clearly.
Thanks for sharing your process. Great blog idea!
(Thank you for stopping by, Calisa. Glad you like the post idea. I actually left it as ‘and’ rather than’ that’)
This is awesome. I am so glad you are still friends, because I am crazy about both of you. What in the world did we do before track changes came along? *Sigh*
Linda, that is exactly right! We balance one another out. Which is what makes it work.
VERY interesting. Based on your responses, Ally, you would probably have taken the missing knife and used it to good purpose on my editor after I got round one back on the last book. LOL I think we each have a specific vision of our characters and their reactions, and others don’t always see them the way we do. So, maybe we need to make our characters clearer. Also, there’s the matter of how we personally respond to things. Kathy wants more emotion because she tends to respond that way. Maybe you don’t in the same situation, Ally. What this kind of critique does is make us think in ways we might not have without it. Great look at the process, ladies!
Very interesting peek at your critiquing method and the types of changes discussed. At first your styles seem contradictory, but I think they end up balancing each other out. Thanks for sharing.
Great insight ladies. The first time I sent a very vocal (through Track Changes) and slashed up manuscript back to my new CP, I wondered if she’d ever speak to me again. Three years later, she still is. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for stopping by, Julia and Diane. Yes, Diane, that is the way you have to look at a critique partner’s suggestions to make it work. I always at least consider what they have to offer, although I don’t always use it. However, I use much of it, and without their input, my stories would really suffer. It’s also helpful to have friends and beta readers who take a look, and I appreciate you reading WM for me. Your feedback was great!
Thanks, Diane and Julia. The key is remembering that everything you offer is a suggestion. I take a lot of pride in my friends successes knowing I was helpful along the way. And also know that my successes are not just my own.
Great post, ladies. Critiques are hard. I think we tend to be more gentle with strangers (or those we don’t know well). I want honest opinions. I might get upset by what I think is unfair or not right, but try to keep it inside and not try to defend. That’s really, really hard. I have holes in my tongue. LOL When the comments are written, I’ll go back and see if it will work. Sometimes my crit partner is right and sometimes not. I have to remind myself it’s my story and I know how the characters will act or speak.
Wow! Great to see into the process of how professionals critique each other … and the friendship survives. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more.
It’s kind of strange having this out there for the world to see all the red! Whew!
I agree, Kathy. I am blessed as well. Thank you for hosting me on your blog!