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I Really Liked It, But…

I joined the Dwarves just over a year ago and they were my first experience with a critique group. Luckily they seemed to like me and have kept me around even though I moved across the country. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first met up with the group but I was pleasantly surprised overall. The first meeting I went to I was given the option as to whether or not I would like to give critiques to the other members. I thought it was a test, so I did them.

I am still not sure to this day whether it was an actual test, but my critiques failed miserably. First of all I had never met these people and I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I believe that I started every criticism with “I really liked it, but…” I recall feeling rather flustered when Snarky snorted around the fifth time I said this. Luckily Snarky has grown on me and I no longer hold it against her (or do I? All those murder plots we sit around and talk about? Bet you never knew you were on my list Snarky! Bwahahahaha!). Seriously though, I deserved the snort.

Now I am at a point where I can tell my group, hey guess what ya’ll I didn’t really like all of it. Mind you this was a year ago and if you asked me whose I really liked and didn’t,  I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that, just like when you’re reading books, you’re not going to like everything you read to critique. Now comes the hard part: do you not like it because it’s not your genre of choice? Do you not like it because you’re not a fan of first person?  Do you not like it because if you read another book about demons/vampires/Aunt Flo/Steve/zombies/BDSM you’re going to scream?

All of these are valid feelings to have about a book but then you have to ask yourself if it’s relevant. I myself don’t read a ton of Science Fiction. So if I’m critiquing SciFi I have to question if the reason it’s not clicking for me is because it needs work or if it’s because it doesn’t have the same flow as an Urban Fantasy (of which I read a lot). If there are more holes in the plot then a colander then my input is valuable. If I dislike something because it’s not my bag it’s not helpful to the writer.

Another thing I brought up is not liking something because of the choice of POV. Not enjoying a certain POV is fine, but again unless the POV makes it impossible to get into, it’s a style choice. The one I would argue not to use is first person present tense. I write in first person past tense, and I have never met a reader who enjoyed present tense. It’s jarring. Not to sound too PC but if that’s your style choice you can tell me to shove it where the sun don’t shine and I will accept that as your choice.

The last example I used is probably the hardest to tell someone. Clichés! Dum, dum, dum! (dramatic music). When a person is writing commercial fiction it is hard not to fall into a cliché because we are often writing to a formula. I myself could read a million books about demons/vampires/Aunt Flo/zombies/BDSM as long as there is a good twist to the story. The dwarves are a very talented group but there are times when we all need to be reminded to spice it up.   

Personally I think that joining the critique group has helped me tremendously not only as a writer but also as a reader/critic. It is easier to find flaws in your own work when you are able to see it in others. The key to getting the most you can out of a critique group is to put your big girl (or boy) britches on and be willing to listen and implement. If you are unwilling to do so or if the people in your group are unwilling to do so it’s probably not a good fit. That is not to say that you should take every piece of advice, you are the creator of your own world and you have total control over said world. What it is saying is that nobody has the perfect manuscript, and if you’re unwilling to offer or receive productive feedback a critique group would be pointless. So remember don’t feel the need to sugarcoat everything. People want honest opinions, that is not to say being a total dick is appropriate either because I’m sure your mama raised you better than that.

 

Disclaimer: Dwarves, despite the fact that many of us write about zombies, vampires, demons, etc. I was not passive aggressively calling anyone out so when my spies tell me what ya’ll talk about at the next meeting it better not be me. Okay, I know the rules, if I’m not there I’m fair game, but it shouldn’t be about oh “that bitch hates zombie books,” because we all know that isn’t the case. 

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