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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How we criticize

   
Author Topic: How we criticize
oliverhouse
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Thinking out loud here.

In a crit of a new thing I'm working on here in F&F, Will said:

> This OSC article seems relevant: http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/lessons/1998-10-29.shtml

I replied:

quote:
I've read that article, and I've actually thought about it in relation to the "first 13" rule. Take a look at Card's first 13 for his last version:

[QUOTE]Poke kept her eyes open all the time. The younger children were supposed to be on watch, too, and sometimes they could be quite observant, but they just didn't notice all the things they needed to notice, and that meant that Poke could only depend on herself to see danger.

There was plenty of danger to watch for. The cops, for instance. They didn't show up often, but when they did, they seemed especially bent on clearing the streets of children. They would flail about them with their magnetic whips, landing cruel stinging blows on even the smallest children, haranguing them as vermin, thieves, pestilence, a plague on the fair city of Rotterdam. It was Poke's job to notice when a disturbance in the distance suggested that the cops might be running a sweep.


Maybe I know too much about this story, but you really _don't_ know much about Poke by the time you get through this, and he certainly didn't worry about quickly getting out the fact that Poke lived in Rotterdam, or how old she is (only that some children were "younger"), or what Poke's relationship to anyone is. What you're really left with is a vivid impression of fear, hunger, and pain -- possibly mitigated by a sense of organization -- and an attitude of watchfulness. And as a by-the-way, this is Earth, specifically Rotterdam, and if you know about modern-day Rotterdam then you know that it isn't like this.

To be sure, he was writing a novel, and I was writing a short story; and I sure don't want to withhold information, which I know I have a tendency to do. But I need to chew on the information-to-impression ratio for the first 13 anyway.

quote:

HSO responded:

[QUOTE]Ah, but we know enough about Poke to be intrigued from only the part you posted.

We learn [snip stuff we learned]

We don't know everything, but we don't have to just yet. [snip]

We're pretty sure something is going to happen, because Poke is keeping her eyes open [snip] We expect that there will be other children nearby that Poke cares about, for why else would Poke be on watch?


I don't disagree with any of this, and I agree that even the first thirteen (which were as I originally quoted them, with one-inch margins and 12 point Courier New, by the way -- I'm not sure why someone took more off), sparse as they are, still draw me in.

My point is that if I were to pull out the last month's worth of F&F crits, I would guess that most of them were looking for more detail. Who is that person? What is that guy doing? Where are they? What detail could you provide?

But if you look at the OSC snippet above, you don't know much at all about anything except for some of the uppermost instincts -- not cold facts -- of Poke's mind.

Are we criticising our fellow writers wrong? Or at least single-mindedly?

Regards,
Oliver D. House

[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited June 04, 2006).]


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arriki
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I worry sometimes that the 13 line critiques go on too much about wanting to know information and ignore the creating of mood, or suspense. It SEEMS to me that in many novels I read the creation of mood and suspense comes before too much physical detail of the pov character is brought out. That some of what people keep asking for can be held off till lines lines 14 to 30 without losing the reader's interest.
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Beth
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oh, good, we haven't had this conversation for at least a week.


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Beth
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Actually I think the problem with many of the beginnings where people ask for more information is that the author has introduced extraneous unexplained things. The easiest way is to focus on what needs to be told right now.

Beginnings need to do a lot of heavy lifting. They need to introduce characters, set action in motion, establish a narrative voice, establish setting, establish a mood, establish the POV character, convince the reader that the author knows how to write, convince the reader that the author has an interesting story to tell, and probably a dozen other tasks.

If you introduce extraneous material, all it's going to do is make the reader ask for more detail.


Here's one beginning that does all the above and more, yet there's not one thing introduced that's not sufficiently explained.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off – then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

You can write slow beginnings that withhold information if you want; it's your career.


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Ray
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I agree with Beth, this is one of the most worked over topics ever.

But since I'm responding, the idea with thirteen lines isn't to tell the whole story right there, it's to hook the reader into wanting more. I don't expect to know everything right away, but I do expect to understand what's going on. If I have confusion in the first thriteen lines, it's not more detail I want, it's clarity.


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Christine
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Sarcasm aside, Beth's comment made me wonder WHY we have this oonversation so often and I think this is the answer: the people posting their work don't want to change they want to be right.

We didn't need to know more about Poke or Rotterdam or anything else in Card's opening because something was happening and the flow of information was natural and comfortable. The sense of fear and danger already has me intrigued and far from wondering what is going on, I feel as though I am in the middle of something that is happening. I am not reading to find out what is happening; I am reading to find out what happens.

With most of the F&F openings that are trying to defend why we should wait until line 14, 15, 16, or 30 to get some information the trouble is that I don't have a clear picture of what is going on OR I don't feel like anything is happening. An info dump, while it gets out lots of things, is the opening that lacks the most. Often, you will get people asking for more details when what you really need is less detail.

Which gets me to why this discussion is uesless: it depends. I can't speak for all openings, but the one presented above is quite good.


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Christine
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Ooops...simul-post

I think in the end I agreed with Beth entirely. The problem is often too much detail, not too little, but the resulting sensation in the reader is (ironically) feeling like they want to know more.


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Mystic
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Yeah, Beth is right. OSC's opening is "self-contained", if that makes any sense. We are interested in the world, but mainly interested in what new informaton will be added, not in old information being explained. In my opinion, explanation in the first thirteen is a dangerous thing.
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Spaceman
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As a point of interest, I believe both stories I sold this year had rather negative reactions to the first 13. You take the criticism in stride. It's food for thought, but you don't have to eat it.
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Survivor
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I see a lot of misguided criticism on the Frag & Feed. What are you going to do about it?

Does anyone have any ideas for how to make sure that every response to the first thirteen lines is perfectly on the mark? That nobody is there just to blow off some steam by "knocking people's hats off", so to speak? That all the critics who respond are themselves well versed in what does and doesn't make an excellent and engaging opening?

Or, and here's the kicker, that there actually is such a thing as a correct opinion of whether a hook is any good?

When people tell you they aren't hooked by your opening and they feel it would be a drag to read the rest of your story, who are you to gainsay them? But the particulars of why they didn't find the story engaging...you can pretty well expect that they're going more on a gut feeling. Maybe they can put it into words accurately, maybe not. If they can, then that's all to the good. But if they can't...don't shoot them for trying.

I've gone through phases where every bad opening seems to be a POV issue, or a setting establishment issue, or whatever my pet peeve of the week/month/decade happens to be. Maybe I was really seeing a lot of stories that coincidentally had the same problem, but I tend to assume that I'm developing a bit of a list when I see several stories that all seem to suffer from the same basic flaws. But even if I think I'm the one with the kink rather than the stories, I still have to state my impressions. I don't have anything else to go on, there is no magic calculator that can go through and identify the "objective" merits and demerits of a text.

Now, not every person who chooses to criticize your opening/story will be really giving it an honest effort. But asking the $^*#canners to change their ways won't accomplish anything. And most of the readers really are trying their best. Their best might not be good, but you're not going to better out of them. So suck it up and write.


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HSO
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The point of the critiquing process is to get you to see your story in a different way, and it is to determine for yourself if others are seeing your story the way you intended for them to... among other things, of course. It's just opinion. Sometimes informed opinion, and other times blatant bias and prejudice. Nothing to be alarmed about.

I don't know if I give good or bad advice, or what percentage of my advice is good or bad; I suppose it's all relative to the observer. My opinions don't always jive with other people's, I know this (man, do I know this -- it is what always gets me in trouble along with an inability to communicate in general, which is sad considering my desire to write). But I mean well by my opinions, and it has always been my hope that my crits are useful for an author, even if it's only one small thing and the rest of my crit was crap. On those cloudy days when my critiques of fragments are unduly snarky or perhaps looking like a personal attack on the author, I stop and delete everything... which happens less often than it used to. I'm probably not a very nice person anyway, I definitely do not play well with the other children at the playground, and my comments probably reflect that personality flaw. But I do mean well.


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oliverhouse
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Sorry if this has been done to death. Before I posted, I checked the past 100 days of discussion, and between "what do women do in the restroom together" and "Ebook costs" I could find only one or two posts that directly deal with critiquing, and none of them talk about the way we critique. Maybe it's buried in there somewhere, but I didn't see it.

Christine said:

quote:
Sarcasm aside, Beth's comment made me wonder WHY we have this oonversation so often and I think this is the answer: the people posting their work don't want to change they want to be right.

I think this is probably overstating the case. Of course it's not reasonable to ignore advice just because you want to be right, but you have to trust your instincts.

In my case, someone suggested that I introduce a character as "Larisa, Tom's wife". I was writing in a fairly close POV and using a lot of dialogue, and both characters were close to Larisa and would never think of her that way.

The fact that I got advice led me to acknowledge the problem. I wanted to change it; I just had to figure out that the advice that I got probably wouldn't have made for a good solution.

I think that there's a strong trend in F&F to say "put more information in there," which leads to the info dump. We seem to attend to mood only tangentially. The opening I quoted from Card highlights the fact that that's not always a great approach. Someone (Beth, maybe?) pointed out that the problem isn't that there's not enough information, but that there's too much, and some of it's unexplained.

In my case, I need to _cut_ Larisa and fill in the blank with her later, not add detail about her.

It's not a crisis, but I think it's something to look out for.

Regards,
Oliver


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oliverhouse
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Survivor said:

quote:
Does anyone have any ideas for how to make sure that every response to the first thirteen lines is perfectly on the mark? . . . That all the critics who respond are themselves well versed in what does and doesn't make an excellent and engaging opening?

Well, you make a good initial foray here:

quote:
I've gone through phases where every bad opening seems to be a POV issue, or a setting establishment issue, or whatever my pet peeve of the week/month/decade happens to be. Maybe I was really seeing a lot of stories that coincidentally had the same problem, but I tend to assume that I'm developing a bit of a list when I see several stories that all seem to suffer from the same basic flaws.

I'm sure others have similar lists, or could make them up if they thought about it. What you're talking about is institutional knowledge. "Here are a bunch of things that people constantly do wrong." Yes, you can get most of them out of a good book, but many of us have already read those books, and yet we still have a hard time seeing the flaws in our writing (which is why we need critiquing).

A checklist like that would serve as a good guideline for newbies before they post a story, and a good guideline for critiquers as they critique. This kind of information is out there for full stories. I haven't seen it in this form for the first 13. The closest I've seen is probably in Nancy Kress's _Beginnings, Middles, and Ends_.

quote:
Or, and here's the kicker, that there actually is such a thing as a correct opinion of whether a hook is any good?

There's no "correct" opinion about story form, either, but good writers use particular forms all the time. Same with musicians and architects, too, for that matter. What you're highlighting is trends among hooks. Nobody's forcing anyone to follow those trends.

quote:
But asking the $^*#canners to change their ways won't accomplish anything. And most of the readers really are trying their best. Their best might not be good, but you're not going to better out of them. So suck it up and write.

I want to emphasize that I'm not complaining about the readers per se; the piece of information that started this thread was important, and I'm grateful for it. I specifically want to suck it up and write _better_, which is why I care about the topic.

Thanks,
Oliver

[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited June 04, 2006).]


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Spaceman
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Just remember that nobody sees what you write the same way you do. These negative reactions may only mean that you aren't being clear enough translating your ideas into print. You might be glossing over aspects that are clear and perhaps obvious to you but don't make it to the page for the resat of us. Careful consideration of how you say things might solve the problems without changing the basic content of the first 13.

Consider the feedback as an OSC "wise reader" telling you that the first 13 doesn't work, then find your own solution. Sometimes you'll find that solution in the feedback, other times all your feedback is simply wrong.

Good case in point. There are at least two writers that frequent both Hatrack and Codex who are excellent writers but write so vastly different from me that what I do almost never works for them. Does that mean my writing stinks? Maybe, but probably not, since I also have my cadre of avid supporters (fans even?).

Recognize that when you get feedback from other writers, you are getting feedback about how they would write your story. You have to filter out the other writer's voice and style and keep only the substance that makes sense for your own voice and style.


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wbriggs
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About the OSC snippet: it's true that we don't find out this is 21st Century (?) Rotterdam -- but we *do* find out exactly what's relevant to the scene: Poke's relationship to the world.

It doesn't leave me unable to understand sentences because I don't know what they're about; or unable to understand Poke's reactions because I don't get the context.

The things I see in F&F that I want more info on, I can't really follow because of lacking info. I can follow the thing with Poke perfectly well. I would say that's the difference.


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Novice
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I think the "first 13 lines" critiques are probably far more relevant when considering short stories. I would argue that any novel has the "back blurb" and cover art to serve as introduction. The details that readers need to connect with the story--including setting, main characters, and basic premise--are provided prior to reaching the first 13 lines. I can't think of a single time, ever, that I started reading a novel without reading the blurb first.

Now, with short stories, there's a different emphasis that must be established within the first 13 lines. How many times have you set aside a PUBLISHED short story, simply because it failed to draw you in during the first few paragraphs? It didn't meet your expectations, but the editor liked it well enough.

That's the most important part of critiques, I believe. Does the reader want to read more? (Would they buy it?) If not, can they say why? (What would make them WANT to buy it?) How you use their answers to revise your writing is entirely up to you.

(Perhaps this conversation comes up so often because there is a constant influx of new members. Not everyone goes back through every archived topic.)


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Survivor
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Okay, an admission here. I just critiqued an opening that really didn't serve the story at all. And I more than slightly suspect that the reason it was so bad was because someone (or more than one) had told the writer the rule "never begin with X", while "X" just happened to be where this story logically should have begun.

It just happens that I don't much like this rule, because it has a bunch of exceptions (including most of the stories where novice writers are likely to "break" it). Whenever I see someone stating this rule, I feel like I have to be the one to mention the exceptions because those who state this rule rarely do so.

So I'll say this, don't lay down a rule unless you understand (and can explain) the reason for the rule and the exception to that rule. Because if you don't know why the author shouldn't be doing something, then you don't know that the author shouldn't be doing it.

Number two, if there is no way an opening is going to appeal to you, don't bother to make any comment. If you hate all stories about ninjas, don't comment on a ninja story. If you hate the author, don't comment on that author's story. If the author is committed to write in first person present tense and isn't going to do it any other way, then give up and go to the next thread.

But that's pretty much as far as I'm willing to go. Most of the time, when there's something wrong with the opening, it throws off a lot of things. It makes the scene/character establishment fail, it messes up the POV, it seems implausible, it causes a lack of clarity. The only one who can really know how to fix these problems is the author. Sure, I could put myself in the author's seat and write your story for you, but do you really want that? How are you the writer anymore when you do that?

We can be critics on Frag and Feed. We can even go a step further and be editors. But we shouldn't try to take over the stories of other writers.


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Neoindra
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Okay, so I donít usually like confrontations, which is why I have avoided this thread all weekend even though Iíve been dying to post, but after reading Survivors post I just wanted to say that I think he nailed it. I will give one clear example found in my post of War Demons. In the first rewrite Survivor critiqued it and said:

ďWay too much digression into needless out of character exposition. Also, watch your syntax.Ē

I took this critique, along with all the other suggestions about the exposition and changed the piece to start out with an action scene. It was a general suggestion as to why the piece didnít interest him. Now, same piece new action scene beginning and HSO rewrote it completely. Although I am flattered that he felt so strongly about the piece to take the time to rewrite it, unfortunately there wasnít much I could take from it. It was just too specific in style to help me. Although, I will have to add, as the writer you always have to do what feels right to you even if everybody on the board hates it. Take the good leave the rest and never take it personally.

Sorry about the quote, Survivor I don't know how to do the cute box like thing you guys do to indicate quote yet

[This message has been edited by Neoindra (edited June 04, 2006).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Neoindra, you create the quote box by putting the word "quote" in brackets [ ] instead of between " marks at the beginning of what you want to quote, and then you put /quote in the brackets at the end of what you want to quote.

When you write a reply, you will see to the left of the box in which you are writing the words

UBB Code in ON

underlined. That's a link to a page that shows you how to make the quote box as well as how to do other things in your replies.


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HSO
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Sigh.
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pooka
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It's hard for a new writer to wade through all these rules, many of which contradict each other. I don't know if they would have bugged me as much back before I knew I had OCD. I wish to think that my educaton and hubris would guard me from taking them too seriously. There are a lot of people out there who are not successful published authors pulling rules out the back of their trousers.

Actually, I guess I was taking that "No first person" rule pretty serious for a while, as demonstrated by my obsession with finding counter-examples. I think I've found enough now that I just don't care anymore.

There was a fence in the town where we grew up that for years had the slogan "Who watches the watchmen" sprayed on it. I suppose the corellary here would be "Who critiques the critiquers."


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Neoindra
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Sorry HSO. It was your suggestion under the first rewrite that helped me clear up the whole baby as precious cargo thing and that helped me to look at the passage as an action sequence, though.

[This message has been edited by Neoindra (edited June 05, 2006).]


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Elan
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This discussion is missing an important point, regarding the F&F section. And that is any mention of the skill level of the author.

Occasionally, just for fun, someone will toss a published author's first 13 into the pool and watch the critics rip it to pieces like starved pirahanas. But quite often, we get submissions by new writers that are simply awful.

Where to start with a critique on an opener that violates all the necessities of clear writing? Different people will identify different flaws, in an effort to pinpoint the things they see that help/hinder the writing. Once you start tearing into a piece, everything that jars becomes a concern.

Yes, some authors can violate the rules of good fiction writing with impunity and get away with it. Very few of those authors hang out here. The reality is that we are all here to improve our skill level, and blaming the critics for finding problems in the first 13 defeats the purpose.

My advice is: If the criticism doesn't fit, then ignore it. But take ownership for the fact that your writing triggered these observations and assumptions. If the critique shows the reader has been derailed from the ultimate direction of your story, you might rethink how you've presented your message.


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sholar
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I once had a story critiqued (elsewhere) and lots of people complained that my characters where playing a game that they didn't know the rules for (Go) and they felt like not knowing the rules was this huge distraction for them. So, I went and added this info dumpy explanation. A better critiquer then read the rewrite and was like, why did you add this paragraph- it totally destroys the mood and the story . I told her everyone who read it complained that not knowing the game rules really upset them. Her response- no, you failed to keep the reader engaged in the characters, allowing them to obsess over some little detail that has nothing to do with what is actually going on. So, in the next rewrite I changed some things with the characters and it worked. So, the reviewers were all wrong in their complaint, but it was a definite indicator that there was something off in my story, even if they were wrong about what that was.
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wbriggs
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What Sholar said. Readers often don't know *what's* wrong, even if they do know that *something* is wrong. OSC mentions this: he says that if someone tells you a section is too long, lengthen it. What was really true was that it didn't have enough in it to grip the reader.
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pooka
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I guess that's why his books have been getting thicker and thicker, or more often branching off into multiple volumes.
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HSO
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No need to apologize, Neo. It is I who should apologize (no, wait, I did twice when writing my comments, I think). Well, I apologize again for not helping you the second time around. I'm only weary of people bringing up my name when discussing critiques and critiquers (for this ain't the first time, and I should really learn from previous mistakes).

My newly revised plan for critiquing here is simple and should work better for all involved: I'm simply not going to do so anymore, for I do not wish to waste anyone's time, nor my own for that matter.... Which is exactly what has been happening, evidently.


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Neoindra
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Come on. I never said your critiques were waste of time. As I already said I changed my piece, and it is stronger, in large part to your critiques. I was just trying to say sometimes I think general advice works better than specific. Next time Iíll apply the advice to my own posts and use general examples instead of specific ones. Really I did appreciate your help.
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oliverhouse
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I think most of the posts on this thread miss the point that I was trying to make. Some (Sholar, for example) hit it. My fault for not being clear enough.

We don't need more than 13 lines. Card's first 13 for _Ender's Shadow_ wasn't lousy. Critiques are immensely valuable.

So what's the issue?

I'm noticing that

(a) there are a lot of new writers here,
(b) they (and I count myself here) tend to open up a lot of questions and not answer them, and
(c) the way we phrase our reactions tends to encourage infodumps, which is rarely the best solution.

Just as I'm only now learning how to write fiction, I'm also only now learning how to critique, and one of my observations about the F&F forum is that I see a lot of "You need more detail" or "you don't answer this question" or "I don't know what _n_ is". If that leads to an infodump, then we've done that writer a disservice.

Here's some advice (paraphrased) that I recently gave another wannabee writer (not on Hatrack) with this in mind:

quote:
I think you open up too many questions. I don't know what a "[alien job title]" is -- high-level government official? Middle-manager? Private or public sector? I don't know what kind of [common activity] they're talking about. I don't know why [MC] has a sour stomach -- is it because he doesn't want to leave, or because he doesn't like the [person], or what? And I don't know what an [alien species (I think)] is, or why there are nuances to transporting one.

I suggest that you cut out some of the information you're trying to convey, let it slip until later if needed, and instead focus more on the character.

[Other stuff omitted]

Now, you could easily be up to or over 13 lines by the time you get through the first two paragraphs [which were about 5 lines in the original] -- but I think that's okay. You'll give me less story detail, but more character detail. You'll tell me why there's going to be action, adventure, suspense, peril, whatever it is that you're going to deliver later; in the original, I just got a sense of vague unease. Also, you'll explain each unusual idea as you introduce it rather than make the reader figure it out or guess what it means on his own.


See what I mean? Maybe this should be obvious to everyone, but it doesn't appear to be. I'm also not confident that new writers on F&F will understand the fact that when someone says "I don't understand _X_" that they can explain it _or_ cut it.

I'm not complaining about the first 13 -- far from it. I'm suggesting that we recognize a specific element of our critiquing style, and adjust accordingly.

Regards,
Oliver


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Survivor
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Well, I'll buy into the idea of taking the audience of our writing (including critiques) into account when we decide how to communicate. It's one reason I often use a very short comment when I could say a good deal more. It's less apt to confuse or muddle the issue, if the author doesn't know what I mean, it's a simple question to find out.

To address HSO's comment about wasting time...a short conversational critique doesn't have to take a lot of time to write or to read. If you're ready to address the story at length, go ahead and ask to read more of it, your comments will have a better text foundation and they'll be more likely to be read. If you're not ready to read more than the fragment, then just say why you're not ready to read more.

You don't have to give up critiquing entirely to save time. Just recognize when you're investing a lot more effort in commenting on a text than you invested in reading it. If an author clearly hasn't mastered something really basic, just name the basic. Let somebody else explain it

Just kidding, sorta. There are plenty of books that treat most of the basics. Lots of good articles, many of which can be found online. I like The Standard Deviations of Writing by Roger MacBride Allen. Partly because I think that every writer should read it, often. But also because it really does cover most of the common mistakes writers make. Perhaps best of all, it has name tags, so you can direct a link to the specific part of the article you think most relevant. wbriggs likes to link to our on-site discussions, others may reference this or that book on the craft.


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HSO
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I don't really believe I'm wasting my time. I just wanted to overreact a bit, because... well, just because I'm good at it. I critique because I probably learn more from that than anything else.

But hey, you should see the angry post I almost made. I saved it in a text file for future reference as to what not to post on Hatrack when someone makes me angry by being insensitive. Somehow I settled for "sigh." But even that brought on more discussion, which ... well, pissed me off further, despite intent.

Basically, folks, if you don't like a critique, ignore it. Don't mention it... don't make a topic about it. Just ignore it. Maybe thank the author for their time, if you can stomach that at least. If you need to discuss something with a critiquer for the sake of clarity, or even preference, do so (perhaps privately if you wish to dress someone down for the technique). But pointing out specific examples of where a critiquer (who is named) went wrong for you in a public forum is a good way to make someone dislike you, regardless of intent. Especially after that someone made a prior post saying that they only wished that an author found something useful. It's really bad form to drop names like what has been done in this topic, even under the guise of discussion. It's not as if anyone is paying for the advice given here. We give our opinions willingly and for free, to hopefully help an author. If you had paid for it, you'd have every right to moan about how something failed to work for you.

Just something to consider.

Now if you want to make a topic on how best to critique, fine. But before you do, you might find plenty of topics already posted up by Kathleen elsewhere on this site, if you look. If after reading those you still need to make a topic to state your case, by all means, don't let us get in the way. Don't expect us to like it either.


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oliverhouse
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HSO said:

quote:
Now if you want to make a topic on how best to critique, fine. But before you do, you might find plenty of topics already posted up by Kathleen elsewhere on this site, if you look.

I started the topic specifically to address something that I haven't found in the "how to critique" section, because the information there primarily deals with entire stories rather than the first 13. If the information's there, I'm missing it.

Also, Elan said:

quote:
But quite often, we get submissions by new writers that are simply awful.

Where to start with a critique on an opener that violates all the necessities of clear writing? Different people will identify different flaws, in an effort to pinpoint the things they see that help/hinder the writing. Once you start tearing into a piece, everything that jars becomes a concern.


I think this is an excellent concern. I'd like to see a common set of critiques you can point newbies to.

There's an old joke about friends who have been friends for so long that they don't even tell the jokes out anymore. They've numbered them, and they just yell out the number. "51!" "Ha ha ha..." "27" "Ha ha ha..." (Punch line: someone yells out "102!" and one guy is just rolling on the floor laughing. Someone asks why, and the bartender says, "He hasn't heard that one before.") Why not take the same approach?

It seems to me that there could be a "Hatrack 100" (Lousy '80s bands, anyone?) of the top critiquing points. A critique could contain (among other things) "POV violation", and somewhere on the Hatrack 100 list would be the definition of POV violation and some links to (a) exemplary critiques where that problem was discussed and (b) links to articles on what the problem is and -- most importantly -- strategies for dealing with it.

I think I'll make that a pet project for a while -- put some structure around it, harvest the critiques for a while -- and then revisit it in the forum. I thought that the forum seemed like a good place to start, but there seems to be some baggage around the topic and adding some structure might be helpful before I bring it up again.

Regards,
Oliver


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RCSHIELDS
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Perhaps the first thirteen lines should simply be considered a lure or enticement. Critiques that demand more detail I believe reinforce that the lure was successful. Critiques that say, "I don't get it," or, "boring," would have me concerned.
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Beth
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Critiques that say more detail is needed are precisely *not* saying the lure was successful. They are saying that the opening is deeply flawed.

Where is Will? He's the one who keeps track of which topics we've gone over and over and over these issues - withholding information, how to interpret critiques, the author's ultimate repsonsibility for the story, etc.


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hoptoad
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Hey OliverHouse,

I reckon newbies need to look around at the resources already provided by the site.

Maybe we should be referring most newbies HERE and encourage them to have a good read.

Many newbies tip their toe in the water and find it too cold -- or hot. Personally, I want to keep newbies around, but not the ones who only want to talk about their own stuff and don't contribute to larger discussions.

Often you see a post that starts , Hi everyone, I've been lurking here for a while and thought it was time to put up the first thirteen of a sci-fi psychological thriller with magic realism overtones. I'm not sure how to categorise it because it doesn't fit any established genre... The first thing I do, and I'm sure most of us do without maybe admitting it, is look at the profile and see how many posts this person has made. So often it is Total Posts: 1

If you want to be part of a community you gotta communicate. Get into it early and often and once you are used to to place you will see how it works and look at your piece and think, Hey, I can see some obvious problems with this...

Basically, many new people post their first thirteen before they are ready to. They don't know how it works and when they get upset some vanish, others have tantrums, but the committed ones, sooner or later, sit back and say: Oh okay, I see now.


Does this make sense?
I am not advocating shredding the newbies, but neither am I advocating coddling someone simply because they are new.

On the topic of first thirteen, I have made my point before, but will do it again:
Develop a thick skin, you know what happens on lines 14 through 5000. Some readers want a story that grabs them by the lapels, gives them a shake and says Hey buster look at me when I'm talking to you! Other reader want one that tickles them like you would a trout. The important thing is will the reader keep reading? If your people tell you no, then you there's a problem.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited June 05, 2006).]


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Beth
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Just as an FYI, the topics in the Read Here First forum have some useful information, and contain links to some of the more useful conversations about recurring themes like these. I'm not sure if it has everything but it seems to me that forum got started the last time we started saying "hey, why don't we compile some of the most common critique information from these conversations...."
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hoptoad
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Yes and the READ HERE FIRST area.

Actually, a tee shirt with 'read here first' followed by a list of disclaimers would be cool.

Did I mention that I want a tee shirt with the Hatrack Utility Belt -- an artist's impression, on the front.

No?


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oliverhouse
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quote:
I reckon newbies need to look around at the resources already provided by the site.

Maybe we should be referring most newbies HERE and encourage them to have a good read.


The READ HERE FIRST section does have some useful information. I've read all of those posts, many of them twice, and I've read bunches of critiques and other threads in the "general discussions" forums. (Although I seem long-winded now, I've done a lot more reading than posting.)

General discussions fail because the reader can't always see how they apply to her particular situation. A critique shouldn't (in my opinion) just reiterate stuff that OSC or Nancy Kress or Jack Bickham says. That's what books are for. A critique should probably indicate (a) "did you know that you're doing [this]?" (and it would be helpful to lead the author to resources that help us determine what to do about the problem), and (b) "this doesn't work for me, but I'm not sure why, so you'll have to figure it out."

quote:
Basically, many new people post their first thirteen before they are ready to. They don't know how it works and when they get upset some vanish, others have tantrums, but the committed ones, sooner or later, sit back and say: Oh okay, I see now.

I work with salespeople. (Don't throw up, now; it's a living. ) The good ones know how to qualify an opportunity: if the prospect isn't going to buy, they want to spend as little energy on them as possible. If they are going to buy, though, they spend what remaining energy you have on them.

I'm happy that some people are turned off by the first 13. Let them go: qualify them out. But others find it valuable, and we should make the process as efficient for them and us as possible. I've posted twice now, and the responses have been a little painful but helpful. I think that we should find a way to make the first 13 critiques as direct and non-redundant as possible.

If I were writing awful business prose, I'd say I want the critiques to be more actionable.

I think I've reached beyond the limit of usefulness (and available time) on this thread, so this is my last post for now. I'll stop wasting everyone's time on this thread until I have something more structured to present. Given my oddball schedule, I'm not sure when that will be, but I'll try to have something basic in a month or so.

Regards,
Oliver


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Beth
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It always surprises me how often newcomers want to reform us in one way or another.

I have to admit that this is the most reasonably-framed attempt I've ever seen.

But still. It surprises me.


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wbriggs
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Sorry, Beth, I was busy sabotaging the evil robot monkeys' latest scheme. I'd say more but I'm afraid they have Internet access.

Oliver, the thread Beth is referring to is "Past threads on how to write, that you think are useful enough to keep," under "FAQs and Discussions." OSC's writing class that hoptoad linked to is also great.

There are other threads under FAQs and discussions that Kathleen has posted, on a variety of helpful topics.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited June 05, 2006).]


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Beth
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btw if you go to the Ways To Critique forum and select Show All, you'll find several guides created to provide a more structured format for critiques, but as far as I know, they haven't caught on in a big way here.

But I think what you mean about "more structured" is something referring to your own attempts to reform us, rather than a freeform conversation.



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wbriggs
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I just posted another link on how to critique on Jaina's thread in FAQ's; see it here.

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum3/HTML/000008.html

I note that "Ways to Critique" is empty (since the page only lists relataviely recent threads).


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oliverhouse
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> referring to your own attempts to reform us

See, I say I'm going to shut up and then you hit the thing that's going to make me say something more...

I think there's a big attitudinal difference between saying "I am going to reform us" and "here are specific improvements that I think we can make."

I couldn't reform "you" -- us really, since I'm here -- if I wanted to. This is a semi-anarchist community, and the community would have to buy into it.

My comments about structure referred to my presentation of what I see as potential improvements. Not "I'm going to reform you," but "here's a set of examples that show why I think this is a good idea."

Regards,
Oliver


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Pyre Dynasty
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So much energy put into this, and what is the goal? I don't think this will change anything. But it seems that we need a little release.
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Elan
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Oliverhouse, I understand what you are trying to convey. When I first started out on Hatrack, I tried to locate specific topics using the search engine, but if you don't give it the right keywords you'll miss a lot of discussion previously posted on the topic. And much of the discussion here meanders off the initial post into other topics.

So don't allow the comments about "it's been done to death" grate on your nerves. Yes, the topic HAS been done to death; but the fact that it comes up over and over again means there is still value. For those of us who are tired of the discussion, we can simply opt to skip the posts in that thread.

There is always room for improvement in the critique process. However, regarding newbies, the problems won't be solved by posting more guidelines for them to follow. The fact that you did research prior to posting a topic shows that you are an exception to the rule. The vast majority of newbies come in, post without reading the "Read Here First", violate the 13 line limit and/or how to post, take critiques of their work, get pissed off when we suggest changes, and leave without ever giving back to the community. When you've been here for several months you'll see that pattern repeat itself over and over. It's why we tend to get a little cynical about suggestions that it might be OUR fault that the newbies aren't benefiting from the established process. It's not the process that is at fault. It is the basic nature of 70% of new writers who aren't really that serious about writing.

The serious ones absorb what is said, contribute through critique to the community, offer opinions and ideas, and start discussions. Like this one.

Oliverhouse, I personally am pleased to see your contributions. The newbies who actually try to participate in the community are rare, and much appreciated. Particularly when they seem to be skilled at the craft of writing as well.


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Elan
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And for HSO.... some of us deeply appreciate your critique style. I personally wish more people would give me the detailed level of critique you offer. Your critiques are some of the best on the board, in my opinion.
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pooka
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People commit POV violations in their first 13 lines? Say it isn't so.

I guess I probably did that in a short story I wrote for a 9th grade humanities class.


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Survivor
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quote:
It seems to me that there could be a "Hatrack 100" (Lousy '80s bands, anyone?) of the top critiquing points.

There are many excellent resources, both on this site an on other sites, and people do link to them. You didn't seem to like this very much, which is why you started this thread.

There isn't some special "Hatrack 100" that writers need to know for the Frag and Feed forum. If you write a solid opening, you'll attract offers from some good readers. If some of us have explained the reasons for certain elements of the opening in a way that spoke to certain individual writers where other books or articles on writing were confusing or silent, then that's nice, but it isn't like that will necessarily help the next person too clueless to have learned anything about the craft. Besides, if you can't be bothered to read the articles in Card's writing class (labeled and indexed for easily finding the advice you need) or on the SFFWA site (which is, oddly, SFWA.org, possibly on the theory that "science-fiction" counts as a single word), then why would you be more inclined to read the musings of a bunch of relatively unknown writers?

Or maybe I'm misunderstanding you. Maybe you have some other "specific improvements that [you] think we can make."

I would suggest a "preview your post" option, but our software just doesn't support it.

[This message has been edited by Survivor (edited June 07, 2006).]


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