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Friday, April 15, 2011

Ripping Me A New One

Yesterday, I got back my 10-page critique by the very awesome Leah Clifford, author of the YA novel A TOUCH MORTAL. (I have her book in my TBR pile, by the way!)

I didn't know exactly what to expect. My biggest fear was that she'd put a big red 'X' on each page and tell me I needed to start over. Not that I REALLY thought she'd do that, but this was my first 10 pages of my very first novel and I was so nervous!! But honestly, I really wanted her to rip it apart. Just tear it to shreds and show me all the novice mistakes I was making. I could take it. Make. It. Bleed.

She did.

And it felt ... surprisingly good. Almost therapeutic. I had gone over these pages SO many times and was to the point when my eyes couldn't focus because I'd read the same words over and over. I was just tired of this intro and wanted to keep pushing forward with the rest of the story. I felt like I was wasting precious writing time and I didn't know how to make it any better. Though I knew it needed it.

I LOVE my critique group. So much. But having a fresh set of eyes - especially from a person who has seen her own novels get ripped to shreds by her editor - pour over my work is incredibly valuable. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity this early in my writing. She crossed out unnecessary words and phrases, asked a lot of great questions and pointed out parts that didn't make sense or contradicted something else. She helped me see my writing through a reader's eyes.

Here are Leah's major critiques:
  • Show, don't tell - Instead of telling the reader what someone looks like, describe it through action. My critique group has made this comment before. This one is hard, and I know I will get better the more I write. I just need to pay more attention to that.
  • Character voice should match her age - My main character is in her thirties. Being 26 myself, I didn't want her to sound too young. I was worried it would sound like a YA novel. I guess I overcompensated and she comes across as much older. Oops!
  • Watch out for repetitive words and sentence structure - This is my achilles heel. I use "because", "and", "so" and "but" A LOT. I also use commas too much. This will be a hard habit to break. Just writing this blog post while keeping this rule in mind is proving to be a challenge! Also, I used the adjective "soft" about four times in my first few pages and had no idea. Hmm, what are some synonyms for "soft"?
  • Every scene needs a purpose - I have a scene in the beginning that I really like because it introduces my main character's best friend. I think the scene is pretty funny and I love their relationship, but really it doesn't progress the plot in any way. I'm going to try to rework it so I can keep this scene. I need to make it have a purpose. Or cut it (ouch!).
I'm letting Leah's comments simmer for a while before I go back and edit. I might even wait until I get further into my WiP so I can use these lessons as I move forward. Once I've practiced and gotten more skilled, I'll attack the dreaded intro again. I just don't feel like I'm ready yet.

Have you had any really good critiques that ripped you a new one? What major lessons did you learn?



  1. Other people's eyes are amazing at catching what we can't see ourselves, aren't they? That's why I love my crit partners. They're worth their weight in chocolate. :)

  2. Keriann, I won a critique from Sarah Wylie (she's repped by Suzie Townsend at FinePrint and her book All These Lives is coming out in 2012) back in November. OH MY WORD! It was such an amazing experience. As polished as I thought my work was....well, it wasn't. Sarah managed to make it shine sooooo much brighter.

    Like you, I definitely fell into the repetitive word trap. (Starting strings of sentences with "she", reusing the same adjective in the same paragraph--yikes). All things that I didn't see. And my crit partners, as amazing as they are, didn't see it either. Because they're probably too close to my first chapter, too, at this point. Poor ladies have seen it 12 times already!!!

    I'm glad you've got some good revision notes. You're going to feel so much better once you dive into the rewrite. :)

  3. I don't actually agree with the whole "every scene needs a purpose" thing. A plot progressinf purpse. Many of the most beloved books of all time have scenes that do nothing to progress the plot, and some of -those- scenes are among the most beloved. I'll give just one example:

    Tom Bombadil. His inclusion in The Fellowship of the Ring serves no purpose in the story. It didn't make it into the movie because of that. It also caused a -huge- uproar among fans that he was cut out.

    Sometimes a purpose can just be to establish the personality of the character. Or to have fun. If it's well written, people won't care if it furthers the plot or not.

    Just saying.

  4. I got a full critique from a published author, Robyn Bavati, and it was amazing! I got a lot of "show, don't tell", too. She also pointed out how I use a lot of directional stuff that isn't really necessary, like "She walked to the door and opened it." instead of "She went outside." It's really helpful.

    Also, I agree with Andrew to a point. I think there are some scenes that can lighten the mood, give the character a bit of a break, etc., as long as they don't last too long. But, even those scenes can double as pushing the plot forward in some way or another.

  5. Thank you all!! That's interesting to hear that maybe not every scene has to move the plot forward. I really liked the scene between my MC and her BFF. It's nice to hear that maybe I don't have to cut it after all. It'll probably be easier to tell once I have the whole manuscript completed.

  6. I'm glad she gave you some helpful advice. I also like to let critique simmer a bit and try the ideas out in new chapers and scenes before going back and changing things.