Critiques That Rip: Why Criticism Trumps Praise

Yawatta would like to invite MONICA SHAUGHNESSY as a guest. She has a very entertaining post to share about how to interpret constructive criticism from critique groups/partners. Her blog is http://monicashaughnessy.wordpress.com if anyone would like to check her out. Thanks again Monica!

Quick, what’s the worst thing you can hear during a critique?

“Your dialogue reads like an Xtranormal video on horse tranquilizers.”

Nope.

“Your plot has more holes than Homer Simpson’s underwear.”

Try again.

“I couldn’t find anything wrong. I liked it.”

Bingo.

Now don’t get me wrong. Hearing that someone else likes your work can be a real ego booster. And at times, we writers need some of the good stuff to keep us going in a rejection-happy industry bent on destroying our optimism. Trouble is, if you keep hearing “I liked it” too often from fellow critiquers, you’re 1) in the wrong group or 2) in the right group, but everyone knows you’ll key their car on the way out if they tank your story. Either way, seek help immediately.

If, however, you ARE hearing things from your early readers, and you’re choosing to ignore them, then do so at your own publishing peril. I’ve been in many, many different critique groups over the years, both through SCBWI and through online classes, and those resistant to criticism are usually one of the following writers:

  • Shrinking Violet: Attends group once and only once, having relied on Grandma (without her reading glasses) and her cat, Mr. Snickles (with his reading glasses), to review her work in the past. Any negative comments will cause her to wither, abandon her literary pursuits, and take up knitting cat hair ponchos instead.
  • Blustery Gus: Attends group regularly and loves to hear his words read aloud. During comments, he lets rebuttals fly, fiercly defending his work, justifying each over-used comma and cliche, even if he suspects everyone else is right. Why? Because he CAN’T be wrong. Everything he writes is worthy of being cross-stitched in gold letters across Larry Kirshbaum’s pillow.
  • Inspector Clueless: Attends group, usually sporadically, because that’s what Real Writers do. He nods when people comment on his manuscript, but returns next week with the same glaring mistakes. He doesn’t understand the fuss over sagging tension and drifting POV’s. Further, he doesn’t understand how to FIX sagging tension and drifting POV’s.

Bottom line: if you see yourself (even marginally) in any of the categories above, you’ve got some work to do.

Angry car keyers aside, the rest of us should seek out what needs improving so we can get better–even if it’s painful. When we get better, guess what? We still have room for improvement. Hemingway rewrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times to “get the words right.” How do you know when the words are right? If after your critique group has raked it over the coals, your beta readers have kicked it through the dirt, and you’ve word-smithed it for the tenth or twentieth or fortieth time, and there’s not ONE THING you would change, then you can stop.

Until then, ears open to criticism and fingers on the keyboard.

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What do YOU think? Are you in a critique group? If so, what’s been your experience with criticism? Has it help you or hurt you?

Monica Shaughnessy

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Book Review: Grace-An Eternal Beloved Novel By R. Rodriguez

Grace Elizabeth Coventry has wanted to die since puberty. Since then, she carries out elaborate plans to end her life. She almost succeeds on her eighteenth birthday, but when an outside force emerges to carry out the deed, an inexplicable survival instinct awakens in her. It’s too late, though. Death has already noticed her. As she hangs on for dear life from the ledge of the Skyway Bridge in Chicago, about to give up to her fate, an unexpected stranger appears to save her, only to be challenged by the ultimate threat. In the end, only she has the power to save herself.

I loved this 20 chapter book. The beginning grabbed my attention and never let go. Lucian Lake (cute name) oversees construction of the Skyway bridge while Grace attempts to jump off it. An image startles her, causing her to fall and dangle on the edge. It was an intense moment because I was very worried about her safety.

Poor Grace. She was forced into therapy multiple times by her mother because she didn’t approve of her daughter. Instead of accepting Grace for who she was, her mom wanted to control her life. Grace hates her birthday–Halloween, and she has wanted to die since 15 years old.

  • Even though this was a drama, I laughed at some parts. Not laughing at the author or her writing style. No. I laughed because some parts were funny. Like, Grace was a struggling model trying to make it in Chicago. Her manager had told her to consider stripping because she was too voluptuous to model. I don’t know why that tickled my fancy, but it did. Probably since I’ve never missed a season of America’s Next Top Model.

It was the sweetest gesture when Lucian buys Grace a black, leather journal (I was jealous–I’m a notebook snob LOL) to use as a diary. My favorite quote was “Maybe you’ve been talking to the wrong people,” Lucian said. “It’s more productive to talk to yourself. After all, you are who you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life.” I like that a character got me thinking emotionally like that. I appreciated the advice.

  • And the beginning of Chapter 5 reminded me of the “Reason, Season, Lifetime” poem, which is one of my favorites. I enjoyed that the story brought out emotions in me and also had me become philosophical.

My favorite scenes were 1) the sexual tension between Grace and Lucian at his party 2) Grace’s therapy session (the ending is when the questions start arising to get readers prepared for the twists). And let me tell you, the twists were great. Throughout the novel, I kept trying to figure out the mystery of who Lucian was–does he truly love Grace? Is he obsessive? A pushover? A ghost? I was very satisfied with the reveals and questions answered.

The story was written in 1st person point-of-view through Grace’s perspective, so I enjoyed constantly seeing the things she saw, feeling the emotions she felt. R. Rodriguez was brilliant with characterization and being descriptive enough to get readers lost in the story. I absolutely hated the way Grace’s family (mother and sister) treated her so coldly when she came back home to visit from college. It was insane. And don’t even get me started on how awful Dario (her boyfriend) treated Grace. The author did a wonderful job in bringing out everyone’s personalities through dialogue and their actions. It takes talent to have your readers care about your characters–whether to want them to succeed or love to hate them. Anything is better than not caring. I also loved that all the characters were three-dimensional. They had strengths and weaknesses.

I honestly started thinking there could be more to Lucian than meets the eye once Grace has that vivid dream about him while she stays in her parent’s house. You’ll have to read the book for yourself to see what’s his deal. I would love to tell but can’t ruin the story LOL. Let’s just say, Grace is the underdog, and I was proud that eventually she becomes strong to face her situation head-on.

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

For more information on the author or book, please visit:

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

An Interview with R. Rodriguez, author of Grace: An Eternal Beloved Novel

Join me for an interview with R. Rodriguez, author of Grace: An Eternal Beloved Novel, on her first exclusive interview …

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1. Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?

This is a tough business. While breaking into traditional publishing is brutal, being a self published author is even harder. The best advice I can give an aspiring author is to be persistent. Giving up is not an option in this business. Fortunately, with the appearance of eReaders we have more options to become published.

2. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I hope to touch as many lives with my writing as I can. My target audience with my first series is young women. I hope to build a network of young women in search of empowerment.

3. What genre do you write for? Your favorite aspect of it? Least favorite aspect of it?

For the moment, I tackle issues that affect young women today in a paranormal romance setting. I love this genre because I get to explore other dimensions of the universe that may or may not exist and get to tell a good love story as well. A setback to writing paranormal romances is that some people don’t take this genre seriously. I do plan to write in other genres in the future.

 4. While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of your characters?

I believe every writer brings something of their life experience into their books and characters. I didn’t feel like I was one of the characters, though. I did feel an affinity with certain characters’ feelings through their relative situations. A writer spends so much time with their characters that it could feel as if they’re real at some point. 

5. How did you come up with the title?

I came up with the concept for the series first. Every book in this series has a female protagonist that tackles a central theme. I wanted to name the books after the protagonist. Then I thought of the central theme of the book and the name had to fit that.

6. What inspired you to write your latest book? What is it about?

After high school and during the college years, women are faced with different dilemmas that can affect the rest of their lives for better or for worse. My concern for this audience sparked my ideas. I didn’t want the books to be so serious, so I combined my message with my love of paranormal romances, to create a book with a message in a paranormal romance setting. Grace is about a young woman who has always wanted to commit suicide. She almost achieves it, but is saved unexpectedly. Death has already noticed her, though and doesn’t let go. The book details her efforts at self development, her setbacks because of bad decisions, and the power, only she has, to change her destiny. The main themes are suicide and abuse. This series is not a saga or a trilogy.

 7. Do you prefer to work alone or work with critique partners/beta-readers?

I’ve been working alone because it is not common to write fiction in English where I live. Although I do share my work with my sister, I haven’t explored working with critique partners/beta- readers. I employed a professional editor to edit my manuscript after its completion. Sharing my work with others is something that I would explore in the future.

8. How do you find time to write?

It is a challenge to find time to write because I have a full time job, a husband, kids, a house, and dog. Writing is what makes me most happy, so I schedule time to write every day.

9. Did you always want to become an author?

Yes! I’ve always wanted to be an author. I’ve had a love affair with books since the age of nine. Shortly after that, I began to write stories. During my teenage years, I wrote in notebooks. I haven’t stopped writing since. After having a freelance writing business for two years, I decided to pursue creative writing, which is my true passion.

 10. What are your thoughts on the fact that both traditional and self-published authors have to promote their own work?

This is probably the hardest aspect of publishing a book. I think it’s necessary, though. If you don’t put your book out there, it won’t reach as many readers as you’d like. Perhaps it is easier when an author is published by a traditional publishing house because they set up the appearances and take care of everything that goes on behind the scenes. They also provide the funds behind marketing efforts. The author basically has to show up and do their part. A self published author has to do everything on their own from writing the book, to formatting, to editing, to distributing it, and marketing. The amount of efforts you employ in this regard is influenced by your goals. Do you want to make money, or do you want to put your word out there and make the world a better place?

11. Is there any writing ritual you perform before creating your manuscripts/drafts?

I don’t have a ritual. I do have some preferences, though. I like writing by hand first, on a legal pad and then onto my laptop. I also listen to my iPod during the whole creative process. I can write various chapters by listening to just one song over and over again. There are certain songs that inspire me during the creation of a certain part of the story.

12. Do you tend to write in sequence or out of order (with whatever interests you the most at the moment)?

I write out of order. I have a brainstorming session first. That’s when I think of the concept, the title, and the message I’m trying to send. I decide how many words I’m going to have in my novel, how many chapters, and how many words for each chapter. Then, I brainstorm the setting and the characters. I develop the character traits and their names. Some names just come to me. I employ the use of a Baby Names book for others. The next thing I do is write an outline of each chapter. I start writing the chapters for which the ideas are flowing more, then I tackle the rest. For this book, I wrote the last chapter first.

13. Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Everything I write comes from within me, so I don’t hate it. I have found stories I’ve written superior to others, in terms of the words I use and the whole make up of the story. Also, the reader is the ultimate judge and even that is subjective. There is always space to improve and to be innovative.

14. Which is easiest for you to write–novel, novella, or short story? Why?

A short story is the easiest to write, followed by a novella, and then a novel. The amount of words and tabs you have to keep on the plot is more extensive for a longer piece.

15. What are your current/next projects?

I am currently working on finishing the next book in the Eternal Beloved Series. Chastity should be published by May. The themes of promiscuity and neglect are explored in this next installment. I am also working on a middle age adventure story called Renaissance Quest. That should be out by August.

16. Any blogs, websites, social media you’d like to share?

You can follow me on:

http://rrodriguezeternalbeloved.blogspot.com

http://www.facebook.com/rrodriguezternalbeloved

twitter.com/RRodz1 

 ***My eBooks are sold at smashwords.com, B&N, Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Sony, Diesel. Print copies can be purchased at lulu.com.

 

Attention! Giveaway!!!

R. Rodriguez, author of Grace: An Eternal Beloved Novel is giving away an eBook copy of her first novel to five lucky winners. For a chance to win, like her page at http://www.facebook.com/rrodriguezeternalbeloved and state why you love reading, preferred eBook format, and the email where you wish to receive your copy if you’re a winner. The winners will be chosen at random on March 30, 2012.

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Checklist For Scenes

I tell my students every day that it’s very important to get your ideas on paper first. To get your thoughts and descriptions organized, and then revise to polish your writing. Revising is more than just proofreading–looking for grammatical errors, misspelled words–it also has to do with bringing your images to life. To be descriptive enough where your readers will get lost in your story.

Here’s a checklist of story elements that should be involved in every scene. Look over this list in your editing stage.

POINT OF VIEW

  • Do you stick with only one character’s viewpoint? If you have more than one in a scene, have you assigned a scene break, so it’s not confusing for readers (if you want to enter more than one head)?
  • With narration, does it sound the way your character would speak? Or does it sound like you, the author, writing what you think he/she sounds like?
  • Have you brought the character’s personality to life through his/her narration? Using certain verbs, adjectives, etc. can convey the mood your character is in without having to say “he is sad” or “she is troubled”, for example.
  • If you use first person POV, have you stuck with first person POV? If using third person POV, have you stuck with third person POV?

DIALOGUE

  • Have you displayed what characters are saying as well as their body language?
  • Does your beats or character’s narration describe what your character is feeling (as well as having the dialogue express the emotion as well)? If so, determine which one you’d like to eliminate.
  • Does the dialogue sound realistic for your characters?

CHARACTER

  • Did you bring out your characters’ personalities by the way they narrate the events going on around them?
  • Have you given personality to your supporting characters as well as your main ones? Readers don’t know what’s going on in their head–their thoughts–unless a scene break or new chapter, but readers can still get a sense of someone in your story by the way they dress, talk, or how the narrating character perceives them.
  • Have you highlighted the characters motives for why they do what they do?

SETTING

  • Have you described the character’s surroundings? Instead of writing all at once, have you spread out the details of interior design or exterior landscape?
  • Depending on the mood your character is in, is the setting described to reveal that certain emotion?

PLOT

  • Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and ending? Do the events that happen make sense to the character?
  • Have you shown the characters’ motives for their actions?

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

Sugarfrenzied offers great tips on writing that she learned through the San Francisco Writers Conference that I’d like to share with everyone. Very informative in an entertaining way!

Spell It In Sugar

I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference last weekend. I learned a lot, and met many fantastic people. It was definitely worth the price to go.

My favorite panel emerged clear and brilliant on Saturday morning. Robert Dugoni, author of Murder One, Bodily Harm, Wrongful Death, and a number of other crime novels, taught a session on creating conflict in your novel. Everyone needs conflict. That’s why we read a book. Every time I go to my critique group, telling them I’m bored with a certain part I’m writing, they tell me to add more conflict. Usually in the way of “You’re bored? Well have someone stabbed or kidnapped.”

I took the most notes in this session than any others of the weekend.

He emphasized a few obvious points, like the first thing writers need to do is to create empathy for the character. Even before you bring conflict into the…

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Book Review: Cabin Fever By Steena Holmes

Promoting The Author’s Red Room attracted me to Steena Holmes’ wordpress blog. She does book cover art for indie authors; I was very impressed with her work. She mentioned that she’s an author, so, of course, I had to find one of her books on Amazon. She was so nice because she spoke highly of two epublishers I should submit to (they deal with romance genres) when I’m ready. She told me I’d sign a book contract, then I wouldn’t have to use her services hee hee.

Cabin Fever is the eleventh book of my reading challenge. Here’s my thoughts:

Knowing what she wants and how to get it is Elizabeth’s specialty. She is after all a lawyer. But the game plan changes when it comes to men. Losing control is never an option, so when her blind date disregards her long list of “wooing” requirements and does what he pleases, she discovers it’s not only exactly what she’s always desired, but also what she’s always needed.

Cabin Fever is a 17,000K Novella.

I enjoyed reading this 9 chapter story. It was a pretty fast read. Basically, Elizabeth’s (a.k.a. Liz’s) best friend Sandra sets her up on a blind date during a weekend getaway. But this isn’t a typical blind date. The rules are to keep it casual, no pressure–basically, a one night stand.

  • I loved that this freaked Liz out. She feels very uncomfortable if she’s out of her comfort zone, which I can relate.

Ian, who is Liz’s co-worker, has a crush on her. Of course, she isn’t interested in a romantic relationship with him. I thought their dynamic in the office was cute.

Dylan is good friends with Sandra–Dylan and Liz have never met. It was funny the way Liz thinks her blind date doesn’t show up at the ski resort, but readers are in on the secret that it’s Dylan the entire time. I loved their interaction (the way he tries to impress her and the way she tries not to fall for him because she doesn’t want to let Sandra down). She would think Liz backed out of their deal–to live life to the fullest, to stop being so stressed out and unhappy.

The entire book was beautifully written. It is everyone’s wish to fall in love at first sight. Right? If you read this, you’ll definitely get lost in this fantasy.

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby