Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Slushbusters critique

All the posts about critiques have made me think about the art of evaluating another's work. My fellow Slushbusters possess superhuman manuscript analysis skills. I'm going to brag on them* a bit, and I hope you'll leave a comment about the kind of critiques you give and receive.

There are several types of Slushbuster critiques:

Wording. A Slushie (normally Michelle) will point out that I've used a word umpteen times in two paragraphs. Or perhaps I've only used one sort of sentence structure, or have sentences of only one length rather than a mixture of long and short sentences. All the Slushies will point out awkwardly worded parts. If they had to reread a section to figure out its meaning, they let me know. I'll stick grammar and spelling in this part as well. Every critique group needs a grammar Nazi specialist. Nothing says amateur to an editor or agent like someone who cant put they're sentences together rite.

Practical stuff. Alison and Joan are the queens of finding spacial or physical oddities. For instance, if my character is in the middle of the room in one sentence, she cannot be at a doorway a few sentences later- especially if I didn't mention her walking there. It's so important to have people who can visualize what you're writing and discover inconsistencies. These critiques ensure that the world you've created makes sense.

Characterization. Steph makes a lot of comments about whether a character's actions/emotions are consistent or believable. Everyone points out when a character seems unclear or when a character has become a caricature. Sometimes, I can imagine a character so clearly that I can't separate what's in my mind from what a reader would glean from the text. Yay for Slushies who report what the text communicates!

Structure and pacing. Lisa often helps with the bigger picture. She once pointed out that the character arc I'd created over 6 - 7 chapters just wasn't working. Other Slushies will highlight portions of the story that move too quickly or have become bogged down. Other Slushies (Steph!) might ask if you should change your POV. After you've written the entire MS. (We've discovered that once you recover from your head exploding, the question can be a good one.)

Some of my favorite miscellaneous critiques:

I stopped caring here. Critique members have to read my entire submission, so they do. However, a reader will put the story down when it stops working. So it's really helpful to know when a Slushie became confused, or stopped caring- or just didn't care to begin with. It's not the easiest critique to get, but it's one of the most helpful.

Have you thought about...? This is a hard critique to do well, because it's far too easy to interpose your own vision for the story. In it's best form though, (I'm thinking of Steph, Alison and Bridget) it's a way of prompting the writer to explore new avenues for her story. We've had lots of good conversations spring from this line of questioning.

And finally, the good stuff!

I liked this part. This is hugely helpful, because it lets me know what worked. And if I know what worked, I can do it again. The more specific the praise, the more helpful it is.

I loved it! This one happens rarely, but, boy is it nice when I get it. It's what keeps you writing- to get to that point where the story sings.

You can do this. The truth is, we all need to hear this every time, especially when we're in a slump. If you're in a critique group, you're not coasting through your writing. You need to have others cheering you on through the hard parts.

So there you have it! A not-so-brief guide to Slushie critiques. I'd love to hear what sort of critiques have helped you in the past.

Also, thanks to all of you who read or follow or comment on our blog! You add so much to our writing experience. It's lovely to have you join us on this adventure.

*I should point out that all the Slushies have given each sort of critique. I simply wanted to highlight areas that each member is especially good at.


TerryLynnJohnson said...

I really like that "stoped caring here" comment. That's a good idea and would be helpful. I was very happy to recently get my first round of editing letters from my editor and see that she did include the parts she liked! I agree - it's awesome to get those.
My wonderful crit partner also gives me comments on suspense - if it needs to be dragged out longer. Also if an event rings true.
Sounds like the Slushbusters are an awesome crit group to be a member of.

Michelle said...

Sarah, you did a great job explaining what each of us tends to focus on. I would add that Steph has a unique talent for spot-on dialog, and Lisa has a talent for language. She finds and uses the most beautiful words. She's the only Slushbuster who has used vocabulary I've had to look up!

Also, you forgot yourself. You seek the character's inner journey, making sure the reader knows how the character feels about the action in the story.

Sarah said...

Oh, I love comments on suspense. It isn't always easy for me to figure out whether I'm my timing is right.

Michelle, thanks for chiming in. I knew I wouldn't be able to list everything that each Slushie excels at.

Lisa said...

Yes, Sarah often drives to the heart of the big picture and pokes at the character's emotional journey. Michelle will not let let a grammar gaffe slip by. Steph will blow your mind by very sweetly asking if maybe you've got the wrong MC. Alison will point out when you can do better than that. (It is both a cheer and a critique.) And thank goodness for Joan and Bridget, who know something about boats and ships and can point out to me that my characters are sitting in the "lee of the bulkhead," and I don't need three sentences to describe the place.

Thank you, Sarah, for writing this article. I was thinking of a similar one myself, but now I don't have to write it....I'll go revise my ms instead.

Donna Gambale said...

This is a fabulous post, one of the best breakdowns of the differing types of critiques -- and how each can help your story. Thanks!

Amy Tate said...

Oh how wonderful! Thanks for sharing. All five of us are meeting together for our Roanoke SCBWI meeting in the morning. It's the first time that all five of us will be together. I'm so excited! Ya'll are our inspiration. Now if only we could think of a name as cool as yours!

Sarah said...

Donna, I've learned so much these past few years. I don't think I knew there were so many ways of evaluating a MS until I joined this group.

Amy, I hope you have a wonderful meeting! I'd love to know how it goes. Perhaps you'll blog about it?

Michelle said...

Amy, that is so exciting! I agree with Sarah. You should blog about your first meeting as a group!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I found you through Comment Challenge! Thanks for posting these critiquing tips. I'm a leader of a critique group. This will be great to share with them. Thanks!

Sarah said...

Hi 6p01. I'm glad you dropped by. It's always nice to meet other writers.

Carmela Martino said...

Sounds as though you have a wonderful balance in your group.