Writing ain’t for sissies and don’t you forget it. It’s for hard-ass old broads like me … an ex-hippie … grandma in spanxs with a whole lot to say.
My second reader and I met through the Women’s Fiction On-Line Chapter of RWA. For the purpose of this post, I will call her Miss L. We enjoy each other’s work and no one pulls any punches.
While a constructive critique need not hit you in the stomach, it must be honest and real. I can get “nice” from one of the memoir writers in our local group. Each of them smiles, looks south to their neighbor and I see it in their face. They haven’t the slightest idea what I am talking about, but … “that was nice honey.”
I love most of these hard-working, vintage writers but they need not substitute for my mother and try not to hurt my feelings. Actually, good old mom would have said, “For Pete’s sake, what the heck are you talking about?”
Miss L lives in New Jersey, writes romantic comedy and has become a trusted BETA reader for me because she doesn’t sugar coat or say what she thinks I want to hear.
Here is part of her critique …
Anyway, re Lizzie I have 2 critiques . . . The first is my personal critique, from the vantage point of a reader:
I love the story … you dazzle with your gift for showing the idiosyncrasies of family dynamics. I also love your writing style. It’s charming and coy, in fact it reminds me of Virginia Woolf (some of her work), who is one of my favorites.
There are only 3 big negatives for me.
In the first part, Miss L points out three specific areas where I might consider giving more information, making the MC, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Brogan, more likeable and getting into her inner thoughts and motivation.
What I love in particular about this critique are the rock solid specifics. Miss L never uses generalities when critiquing a story … it is never an “interesting plot.” For example:
But every time she’d speak with her father or brothers and even James about business, I was scratching my head wondering what the hell was going on.
This is something I can locate and revise. Miss L continued:
Now then, my 2nd critique is from a different viewpoint – not as a reader, but as an agent or editor. I spent a good amount of my time at the luncheon not only pitching my work, but questioning agents and editors about what they look for in manuscripts.
It started when one of them said, as many others have said in the past: “It’s all about the writing. If someone is a good writer, I’ll take the book on.” I asked her to define good writing because I’d been told on numerous occasions from agents, editors, professional writers, English PhDs, etc. that I’m an excellent writer, so why hasn’t someone taken on my book when Dan Brown, who is an excellent story-teller but a piss-poor writer, is published? What do they consider good writing?
I went on the hunt asking questions from many others that day. So, this critique if from the vantage point of what they gave me and from what Donald Maass said during his keynote speech that day.
On its own merit, this can be seen as very good advice. She continued:
The plot is largely episodic and because of that there is not enough tension and conflict in the book to create a solid hook.
As you can see, my critique is different from what I think an agent or editor would say. I went off asking questions at the luncheon because of a conversation I had last month when I interviewed Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sperry for an article for the NJ Writers’ Society Newsletter.
Their most recently published book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. They were telling me that many really good writers are not getting published these days because their writing is not similar enough to the top 20 books being sold right now and that publishing houses are really too scared these days to step out and try anything different.
They believe that we’ll start seeing more successfully self-published writers because of that publishing house issue.
This brings me to the topic for Part II.
Do I want my book to read like the top 20 books being sold right now? Or as I am beginning to call this syndrome … Do I want to Donald-Maass-tasize my work and become the next, best, greatest thriller writer … or create a new and incredible fantasy world there demons and angels fly through space with winged dragons?
Alas, I do not write young adult coming of age or fantasy. I think PK Hrezo is doing a bang up job with her latest young adult WIP. None of my books contain vampires, werewolves or shape-shifters. That is my great friend Lara Dunning.
If I don’t want to write like any of my blog friends, why would I want to write like the top 20 writers?
The suggestions Miss L made when she read and critiqued my WIP as a reader are far more valuable to me than those she suggested as an “agent.”
None of us would want to alienate any agents lurking about, but personally, I want an agent to read my style and hear my voice.
The books I’ve written so far have elements of romance, suspense and humor, and in Lizzie I put a plot together with several ghosts, an angel, a large opinionated family, and two lovers … one here and one in the hereafter.
I don’t know when we began to believe that every book is supposed to leave us breathless, chase us from one chapter to another, move with the speed of lightning striking our posterior and drop us from a hot-air balloon with no parachute.
Wait … Harlen Coben is publishing a young adult novel.
Does that mean that J.K. Rowling will write a serial murder thriller?
I’d love to see how Danielle Steele would do an urban fantasy or perhaps Margaret Atwood could fashion a romantic suspense for our entertainment.
How did I go off on this tangent? It doesn’t matter. You get the point.
My BETA reader, Miss L … gave me a critique as a reader and then as an agent and she liked me better as a reader. What does that say to us?
Remember, the primary activity of most agents is to read and I think the clients they want are the ones whose stories they enjoy.
Do you write to please yourself and trust with the few million readers left on the planet that some of them will find and enjoy your stories?