Monday, February 11, 2013

Take daily with a grain of salt

Lately I've been working with several critique partners and groups. It's a good thing because (1) it means I have to keep producing and refining work for their review, (2) critiquing other people's work puts me in a mindset to edit my own, and (3) getting a wide swath of opinions prevents me from getting too stuck on one individual critique.

Evaluating advice can be a chore, not in the least because advice, by its very nature, is often intended to convince the recipient to do something that he or she is not already doing. Sometimes this results in an "aha!" moment, but sometimes it's a "wtf?" moment.

A person's emotional reaction is often telling. When I find myself not only disagreeing with advice, but also feeling perturbed by it, I try and ask why.
  1. Am I ticked off by the tone of the advice? Some people rub me the wrong way. I rub some people the wrong way. It happens. If I realize that this is the source of my frustration, I find it helpful to mentally reword the advice and imagine it coming from someone whose company and counsel I enjoy.
  2. Am I ticked off by the content of the advice? Maybe I genuinely think that dogs make great narrators. And sometimes they do. But it's important to consider the context of the advice--what about my talking dog doesn't work for the critic? If the tactic I'm trying to employ is the exception rather than the rule (like non-human narrators), what are the exceptional examples in other fiction where this has worked, and why did it work? What does my work have in common with those examples? It may be that my idea is the exception for a good reason and that my execution is, well, less than exceptional.
  3. Am I ticked off because the person giving the advice doesn't really "get it"? Back when I did theater (theatre, if you prefer), Fearless Director used to tell us that the audience is always right. It's not an audience's job to be disposed to find me entertaining, but rather, it's my job to reach through the fog of work/school/exhaustion/illness/personal problems to entertain them. There's an art to realizing who your audience is--i.e., readers of contemporary romance may not be the best test subjects for your military scifi novel, or vice-versa. And you can't please everyone--some readers will pick up on certain developments in your story more quickly than others. But if I'm getting feedback from more than one person that something in my story doesn't make sense, chances are I'm being too opaque. It's pointless for me to tell those critics that they didn't read closely enough or that I was *actually* doing something clever there, because the bottom line is that it didn't come across. I have to meet readers where they are, not where I think they should be.
Giving and receiving good advice is almost as difficult as writing. I have to separate the advice that works best for my story from the advice that works well elsewhere without using that as an excuse to discount everything. 

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