I’ve belonged to private crits groups, anonymous email ones, and a couple of sites devoted to writers helping writers. I’ve found, for the most part, the help to be useful in fixing errors my glazed-over I’M THE QUEEN OF THE WORLD! eyes have missed. No writer has mastered the art of perfection though we try. As with most people’s opinions, you have to take it with a grain of salt. Is the person giving you advice on your manuscript pointing out your logic errors? Are they finding the plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon? Or are they the kind that either rewrite your manuscript or give you a pile of inane drivel that has nothing to do with what you wrote?
Today I’m talking about that last part. It’s an annoyance to a level that is face palm worthy. The site I invest the most time in for posting and critting work has seen its shares of ups and downs in membership. I’ve watched as people I adore leave in a huff or to get away from the distraction the place can be. I’m sad to say, in my experience, some of the people that come in are a bit on the touched side.
Granted, critting is serious business and a new person, who let alone has trouble showing their own work, must first offer their opinions on a complete stranger’s manuscript. Daunting, right? Still, it’s part of the learning process. In order to get, you must give and hopefully learn from how others do things. I know I have learned some new tricks of the trade and broken free of my covered shell over it.
In order to help our fellow man, I offer my humble suggestions to get you eased into this quid pro quo environment.
Grammar is good but readability trumps it.
Yeah, I said it. This isn’t to say I don’t find grammar important–far from it. I’m saying the overall concept/plot/characters are far more important. What good is having all the punctuation, tense, and proper meanings if the story reads like a college term paper? If you’re going to get down and dirty, you’ve got to comment on more than the grammar fail. Tell the author what worked for you, as a reader, and what left you baffled at the altar while your spouse-to-be makes out with your best man/maid of honor…or both.
Don’t focus on just the negative.
Even the worst writer has a golden nugget factor in the story, even if it’s the overall concept (though poorly executed) of the story. Let them know that! Tactfully, mind you. Some can take harsh criticism akin to telling them to stick their manuscript in a shredder, take the clippings and allow a pack of wild dingoes to ‘do their business’ on them before using it as garden compost. Others pretend they can while secretly they’re in the corner ruining their eyeliner. Best ere on the side of caution.
You know, or should know, the connotation of ‘but’. Example: “I really think you’re pretty, Mary Sue, but your sister Bobby Jo has those real fine sea green eyes I could get lost in for days”. This is what I call the back-handed compliment. You give praise at first yet when the word ‘but’ is involved, it negates the feeling of accomplishment the person thought they had in your initial ‘before the conjunction’ words. I find the term ‘however’ a little less jarring. Example: I find that dipping one’s toes in the cool water of the creek refreshing however the algae that sticks between my webbed feet is a little icky. See? Isn’t that better?
Leave the rose-colored glasses in the desk drawer.
If a critter says this never happens, they’re telling a tall tale. It happens to the best of us. We’re chugging along, gobbling up chapter after chapter of someone’s manuscript and just loving what we see. In fact, there seems to be nothing wrong with it and it’s best they send it to the first literary agent they accost in a dark alleyway.
If this ever happens, take a step back from going through the chapters and take a break. Read a book or crit something that’s not this particular author’s if you can. Once you’ve looked into the mirror and realize those glasses are perched at the end of your nose, you’ll be able to toss them off and start anew.
Don’t list a whole bunch of writing books for the aspiring author (or worse–published author) to get to ‘hone their craft’.
Okay, we get it. You think these books merit some attention. However, pounding someone over the head with an arm’s length worth of reading material when they haven’t asked for it just smells of pompous ass to me. These books are more like guidelines than hard and heavy rules. While I find reading them (I’ve indulged in On Writing by Stephen King, Lessons in a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft and The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing by David Morrell, and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass) give perspective, it’s not going to make you a literary genius no more than writing 5,000 words a day is going to make you the best writer EVAR!
Well that’s all my addled brain can come up with for now and I hope this has helped in some way. As I’m sure I haven’t covered everything, please feel free to add your own bits of wisdom in the comments section. I’d love to read them.