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Author Topic: My Critiquing Pet Peeve
Christine
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Today I had occassion to remember my biggest critiquing pet peeve: a critiquer rewriting all or part of a story for me.

When a reader really gets snagged up on a sentence and can't figure out how to explain why or how it stumped them, I'm okay with a suggested rewrite of the ONE sentence. But it is NOT okay to go through my manuscript and, paragraph after paragraph, tell me how you would have written it. YOU DID NOT WRITE IT! I DID! I am asking you for your opinion of how it sounded to you, not for your opinion of how you would have written the story. I take it as a given that any writer, when given the same basic concept, will generate different sounding stories.

Even if what you disliked about my story was the voice or style, I don't want you to give me a line-by-line rewrite. You can tell me, in general terms, what bugged you and maybe give ONE example that stuck out, but there is nothing so irksome as seeing my story mangled in the hands of another writer because, for example, they are so hung up on eliminating being verbs that they twist the meaning of my very sentences to get rid of them.

<Deep breah>

I'm done now.


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Heresy
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Amen, Sister.
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Robert Nowall
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That's as maybe. But I always figure that I have the final say on how the sentences in my story should be written, and, besides, a few sharp examples of rewritten sentences might point out something I'm doing that might be wrong. (I'm prone to that sort of rewriting in critiquing, but I feel (strongly) that everybody is free to reject what I've said.)
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Elan
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I do tend to critique without the "nice" filter in place. That is, I critique on my first read-through, just like any other reader will approach it. I don't waste a lot of effort in pussy-footing around, nor do I wait until I've read the entire thing before commenting. Readers don't read the entire story, then go back and say, "Oh, now I understand... even though the first 100 pages left me in complete confusion, I sort of get what is happening now." It's not real life. Vague, confusing, or illogical passages would never make it past an editor's desk and we do the writer a disservice by reserving our thoughts to be "nice." This is not the same thing as being rude, mind you. I'm always respectful. But I'm bluntly honest in saying what I think and feel as I read, as I think and feel it... and not everyone likes my critique style.

In my opinion, the author's job is to not annoy me. Each time I hit an annoying "bump" or unresolved question in the story, I will point it out. It is the reason, after all, for critiques.

On the occasion when I've offered a rewrite, it's usually only a paragraph or a sentence at a time... I will often substitute "blah blah blah" for the portion I expect the author to figure out. I tend to try to explain the following:
1) My immediate reaction as I was reading (ie, confused, disbelieving, etc.)
2) My suggestion for what would have made me have a different reaction.
3) And if I think THAT is not clear enough, then I will try to illustrate my meaning by showing an example. I try to always clarify that it is ONLY an example, and given in an effort to make sure my meaning is clear, not as a suggestion for a rewrite.

But I agree, a complete rewrite of an extended passage is disrespectful.

For my part, I need to get better at being as clear about what I LIKE, as what I dislike... I don't often remember to flag the passages that read well, mainly cause I zip through them unhindered. I know that knowing what people LIKED helps me a great deal, and now that I'm doing parts of a second edit, it's helping me know some scenes to leave in because they were well liked during original critique sessions.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 07, 2006).]


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J
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quote:
Today I had occassion to remember my biggest critiquing pet peeve: a critiquer rewriting all or part of a story for me.

I think the colon really breaks up the flow here. I would go with something simpler, like "My biggest critiquing pet peeve is when the critiquer feels obligated to rewrite large parts of the story for me.

quote:
When a reader really gets snagged up on a sentence and can't figure out how to explain why or how it stumped them, I'm okay with a suggested rewrite of the ONE sentence.

I got kind of snagged up on this sentence. I can't really explain why it stumped me, but I'd try "In extreme circumstances, I can tolerate suggested rewrites for ONE sentence."

quote:
But it is NOT okay to go through my manuscript and, paragraph after paragraph, tell me how you would have written it. YOU DID NOT WRITE IT! I DID! I am asking you for your opinion of how it sounded to you, not for your opinion of how you would have written the story. I take it as a given that any writer, when given the same basic concept, will generate different sounding stories.

This is good stuff, really dramatic, but it could be a little tighter. I'd try something like this: "When I ask for a critique, I am asking for your opinion of how the story thT I WROTE sounded. I am not asking how the critquier would have written a story based on the same concept!"

quote:
Even if what you disliked about my story was the voice or style, I don't want you to give me a line-by-line rewrite. You can tell me, in general terms, what bugged you and maybe give ONE example that stuck out, but there is nothing so irksome as seeing my story mangled in the hands of another writer because, for example, they are so hung up on eliminating being verbs that they twist the meaning of my very sentences to get rid of them.

Again, I think we could concentrate a lot more on simplicity here. Like maybe: "Even if you disliked the voice or style of my story, rewriting it is not appropriate. It would be more helpful and less irksome if you would give me a description of what bugged you with--at most--one example that stuck out, rather than twisting the meaning of my sentences to show me how competent you are at writing in the active voice."

Hope that helped, Christine!

[This message has been edited by J (edited November 07, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by J (edited November 07, 2006).]


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Christine
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Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....


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hoptoad
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Some people hate it and some people like it

I'm in the like it camp.

However, paragraph after paragraph seems excessive and I've never had that done to me.

I especially like it when the rewrite is oafish and clumsy, but that's just me being evil


I think, what I like is to see how people rearrange things, what ideas they drop what new ones they expand, I really find it fascinating. Rarely do I use it though, unless its and absolute corker.


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wetwilly
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I'm with you, Christine. Rewriting my crap in a critique is definitely annoying.

On the other hand, sometimes when I'm writing a critique, I also find it the most effective way to communicate my point. So, call me a hypocrite. Or call me arrogant. I just assume I'm a better writer than the person in question. Does that make me a jerk?


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Robert Nowall
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Well, I try not to write my stuff the way I write what I post here. They're semi-serious works of literature...this is just casual conversation...
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Christine
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wetwilly: Yes, it does make you a little arrogant.

And maybe you are a better writer than the person in question, but two points:

1. They won't learn if you do it for them.

2. I know that I, for one, feel that when a person rewrites my stuff they are saying, just as you have stated, that they are better than me and that, like a 2-year-old who can't quite get a full sentence out, I need them to just say it for me.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited November 07, 2006).]


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franc li
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J :LOL:
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Spaceman
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Somebody rewrote your entire manuscript? Really? The whole thing? Joke's on them. What a complete waste of time.


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luapc
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I think a point has been made here that is important to stress. The point is that the writer and the person doing the critique are often at different levels in their development. There are two parts to writing well--the writing mechanics, like grammar, spelling, and using proper English, and the story mechanics which include plot, character, and POV.

A well developed writer, as Christine obviously is, being published and all, usually has at least the writing mechanics down. When that's the case, especially if a critique is done by someone with less skill or experience, they might critisize the mechanics side without really knowing what they are saying. I think it's harder for some inexperienced writers to recognize that because they don't have the skills themselves yet to understand that most writing will vary from author to author, and still be considered good writing.

Of course, I don't know if that was the case with this critiquer or not. The critiquer could just be so arrogant and unrealistic to actually believe they write better than every other human on Earth, but I would hope not.


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Survivor
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I'm that arrogant, but I've never done a line by line rewrite on anyone's story.
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wetwilly
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I should add to my above post that I often discover my assumption that I am a better writer than the person I am critiquing to be wrong. For example, that story of yours, Christine (at least I think it was yours), that I critiqued once about the anorexic girl writing a blog...that story STILL kind of creeps me out and it's been a good year or two since I read it. Did you ever publish that anywhere, by the way?

Also, I totally agree. Rewriting a big chunk of your prose is complete and utter bullcrap.

[This message has been edited by wetwilly (edited November 07, 2006).]


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hoptoad
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Something about seeing 'utter' and 'bullcrap' together is weird.

Everything you receive in a critique should be taken with the assumption of good faith on behalf of the critic. I don't agree with general tone of this thread and the limited perspective it encourages.

You know, if you were an art student and the instructor came and said 'hey, this is how I'd do it.' and showed you how they would draw a scene, why should you get ticked off? If another student came and did the same thing, why should it bug you?

They are creating entirely separate works of art that nevertheless depict the same scene. It's not necessarily that they think they are somehow 'better than you', or that you are somehow retarded in your development. To assert that is just plain cynical. Why double-guess their motives?

The critic may well be being arrogant -- but who cares? In my opinion, getting offended by this sort of behaviour gives a clearer insight into our own petty insecurities -- or our inflated view of ourselves -- than it ever does about the critic's character.

2

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 08, 2006).]


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Heresy
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Hoptoad, I think the more accurate example of what Christine is talking about here isn't someone coming by and, on a separate canvas, doing their version of the scene you painted. What Christine is upset by is the equivalent of that fellow student walking up to your canvas and repainting part of said scene for you. That's arrogant, not what was asked for when you said, "What do you think?" and also not helpful. You really wouldn't learn anything from it that you could use in future.

Well, you would probably learn not to ask that person for comments ever again, but that's really it.


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Christine
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wetwilly: you put a smile on my face when you said you remembered that story. It remains one of my personal favorites but I have had no luck with publication, largely because it is not speculative fiction and I am inept when it comes to other markets. I'm still trying, though. I got a big head a couple of weeks ago and sent it to The New Yorker.

hoptoad: I don't think your exmpla rings true. The trouble is, I'm asking: "What do you think?" and when you rewrite, you are answering, "This is how I would do it." You're not answering the question I asked. You are answering the question, "Will you write this for me?" which is not something I have ever asked or would ever ask.

I guess the biggest problem with the example is that you are not my teacher. If I wanted a teacher's opinion I would go back to school or take a class with someone I trust to guide me. I did that back in 2003 when I went to boot camp with Orson Scott Card. Funny thing, he never tried to rewrite my work. He used the same method he promotes in his books, the wise reader critique.

For that matter, I've never had an actual teacher try to rewrite all or part of my work. Althought, now that I think about it, I did take exactly one art class and the teacher repainted part of my picture for me. I would have complained had I really been trying to be an artist but since that class only taught me that I had no future in painting...even so, he really should have just done a better job of teaching. He could paint but had no ability whatsoever to communicate technique to a student.

So I guess what I'm saying is that a peer critiquer is not a teacher and even a teacher is doing a poor job to just rewrite or repaint or in any way redo something for his student. It's an ineffective teaching method at best, an insult at worst.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited November 08, 2006).]


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Grimslade
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quote:
So I guess what I'm saying is that a peer critiquer is not a teacher and even a teacher is doing a poor job to just rewrite or repaint or in any way redo something for his student. It's an ineffective teaching method at best, an insult at worst.

I think Hoptoad is saying that it may be an ineffective teaching method, but the perception that it is an insult lies within you. I may just be rewriting it though. ;P

The option of using a critique or critiquer is comepletely within your power. A complete rewrite is a waste of time for a critiquer, I think. But, it's not like the critiquer has access to the only copy of the story and will forever change it. The rewrite critiquer has taken a lot of time with your work. Thank them and move on. If their critique is of no use, don't use them as a critiquer in the future.

Rewrites by a critiquer sometimes point out areas where I have fallen in love with my own language. I've read some critiques where a passage has been rewritten and thought, 'That line is ugly and inane written like that'. Only to look at my original and see the inanity was mine all along in a pretty wrapper.


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Christine
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Somehow the message has gotten lost here.

I think it is very important for us, as writers, to be thick-skinned and take what we can from any critique, no matter how it was given. Short of someone saying, "This sucks; don't quit your day job." there are a wide variety of ways to give critique, some of which will not resonate with a particular writer, and even with those we need to follow the same rule of thumb: it's your story and your final decision.

HOWEVER, I think that as a part of a community of critiquers, it is good for us to be as effective and inspiring with our critiques as possible so that we do the most to help our fellow writers.

Every so often, I make a post in which I suggest that we might want to critique this way or not critique that way. Inevitably, I get people telling me to toughen up. I promise you that I am tough, I am fairly good at making use of feedback, and that I don't take it personally. But there are methods of critique that are better received, clearer, and more valuable than others. I have learned to wade through a variety of different types/styles of critique to find the information that is most meaningful to me..at least most of the time. Others are not as good at this and sometimes even I have difficulty doing it. These posts are meant to help ue help one another. Yeah, and sometimes to vent a little. I admit that when it comes to this one, I feel very strongly about it. The only thing I feel more strongly about are critiques that critique the author rather than the writing. (Like when my mother called me once and told me that I seemed angry at God and did I want to talk about it? )

Still, I want you to take this as I truly meant it. Any critique I receive is evaluated like this:

1. Did it resonate?
2. Did multiple people notice the same thing?

That's the bottome line. Everything else I post here is an attempt to help authors evaluate those two questions wisely.


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franc li
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I did this to my mom once, kind of got carried away with a new and improved way of doing her scene. It just kind of read like Greek drama, I guess. Except I don't know much about Greek drama, it just seemed that way. Tragic event is followed by a rending equation of traditions, and then a wise person emerges from the shadows and tells everyone this explains the weird foreboding he has experienced ever since he met them. I tried to turn it into a series of conversations. But I can see how I wouldn't want someone to do that to my work.
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kings_falcon
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Again, keep in mind this is Christine's (and a bunch of others) pet peeve. It is a personal opinion. Her annoyance at it is as justified as someone else's (say mine) annoyance at people starting sentances with conjunctions.

I have found that sometimes it helps when people rewrite as feedback because:

1) Generally, the section that bothered them was bothering me and I'm open to other ways of looking at it; and
2) It tells me if, even though the wording may be inartful, I still conveyed what I wanted to.

I've adopted parts of rewrites, ignored others, and sometimes have used them to prompt me into making the original clearer.

I don't tend to think of the re-writer as being arrogant but someone who is trying to help.

As an example:

_ My partner just came in after re-writing a sentance in one of my briefs. In trying to deal with an awkward sentance (my original which was trying to avoid using the phrase "damned if you do, damned if you don't" which had become the "debtor will be denied a discharge if she doesn't, and denied a discharge is she does") her attempt to rewrite it changed the meaning. BUT, in hashing through both versions I was able to come up with a new third version of the sentance that conveyed the original idea but scanned better.

Like all other crits. take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes rewrites give you helpful clues into what the reader/re-writer thinks you are trying to say and what you thought you did say.



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J
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Off-topic, but my two stock phrases for "damned if you do, damned if you don't" in brief writing are:

1) "Under Plaintiff's reasoning, Defendant faces a Hobson's choice";

or

2) "Plaintiff seeks to cast Defendant onto the horns of a dilemna"


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wbriggs
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I hope this doesn't discourage anyone from giving me text to show what they'd like to see. Of course I don't want it all rewritten. But if you can show me the sort of thing you'd like in such-and-such place, that fits w my character's character, do it. MomMiller has more than once shown me something I could use for significant improvement by doing this: giving me sample text showing me what she meant.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited November 08, 2006).]


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kings_falcon
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J - Coincidently that's close to where we ended up.

It's a wild case. Throw in a bit of sex and its a best seller.


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J
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I'm sure it's more interesting than the federal Clean Water Act page-turner I'm working on right now.
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kings_falcon
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Thread being hijacked

It's a bankrupcty case where the trustee in a related case is trying to get my client to pay her sister's tax debt by consolidating the two bankrupcty cases. Very unique. Seems to be the first of its kind.

Now back to your regular thread discussion.


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hoptoad
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No one told you to toughen up.
Where did that come from?

BTW: The analogy is a perfect fit, but if you are basically unfamiliar with how a teaching studio works then the analogy may be lost on you. No one alters your original, and I did not suggest that.

Anyway, I said a teacher and a fellow student. One reason is because everyone alters their attitude to a received critique according to how they perceive the critic. I guarantee that if OSC had written a scene from your story and said, 'this is how I would have done it', you would have received it with joy and taken it as a compliment because he thought enough of the piece to take the time. But he didn't so we will never know how you would have reacted.

You see, the spirit in which you receive a critique is more about your attitude than the critic's.

quote:
But there are methods of critique that are better received, clearer, and more valuable than others.

That is true on an individual level, but different people get more or less from different methods. It seems you are trying to educate us on what works best for you and that's okay. But don't try to tell us that what works for you is some sort of universal formula for success. I personally learn a great deal when a critic rewrites a passage from my story. IT IS OKAY TO REWRITE -- for me. But, to be truthful, I consider a rewrite as bascially useless if it arrives without an explanation of what the critic is trying to achieve. That explanation is the real answer to the question 'what do you think?', the rewrite is an example of those principles in action.

You may be offended by my opposite point of view. Who knows? But if so, then that's your problem and as it's your 'pet peeve,' that's fine. Sometimes 'pet peeves' are logically indefensible. However, you asked a question and 'vented' apparently in the hope that everyone would agree with you... and they don't. People are quirky.

I will not stop rewriting sections that are clunky just because some people hate it. I learn too much from doing it to stop. Whether I pass them on to the author is another question. Usually, if I do pass it on, I explain why I did it.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 08, 2006).]


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Christine
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I amit it, I did not expect disagreement on this one. I'm still baffled by the oppositiong, but I suppose "to each his own." I certainly didn't need to come on here and teach people how to critique my stories. Heck, I almost never post them here anymore. I've found a small group of people I trust and who know exactly how to be brutally honest with me.

As for how I'd have felt if OSC had rewritten something of mine -- to be honest, I would not have felt the same way as if someone else had done it, but I would still feel a sense of wrongness about it. I love his writing and more than likely, his rewrite would have been better than my original version. But on the other hand, it would not have been mine and after he had done that, it would have been difficult to recapture a sense of what was mine and separate it from what I liked in his rewrite.

The way I see it, rewrites by critiquers can go one of 3 ways:

1. It can suck (in which case I roll my eyes or groan but otherwise ignore it)

2. It can be okay. This usually means that I don't think it's better or worse than the original, but just another way of doing it that isn't how I did it. With no good reason for doing it their way over mine, I also ignore this.

3. It can be better than mine. This is actually the worst, because then, as I said above when I talked about the hypothetical OSC rewrite, I feel like I'm cheating or stealing and like the manuscript is no longer truly my own.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited November 08, 2006).]


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hoptoad
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I know what you mean on that point about wanting to feel like you own the product.

It's the same for me when (illogical pet peeve admission imminent) someone points out that my story adheres to a standard plot-type that I had not recognised. It makes me feel like soemhow the story isn't entirely mine and I wish they had just kept it to themself.

(But I always look to see whether they are right and whether it can help me in my approach to certain parts of the story -- so I guess its good for me, but like brussel sprouts, doesn't taste that great. )

A trusted group of readers is something we should all try to develop.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 08, 2006).]


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PatEsden
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This is a bit off the thread, but it just occured to me what my biggest critiquing pet peeve is--and it's only happened once.

I recieved a critique through my state's league of writer's group from a unnamed published author. What he did was phrase the entire critique as if he was writing a book report. It started: the author of this piece...he then reiterated what my story was about and ended by suggesting "the author of the piece should join a critiquing group". That was it.

I will never use the league's writing service again.
Other than that, I have never recieved a critique that I did not benefit from--not to say that some haven't raised my hackles.

[This message has been edited by PatEsden (edited November 08, 2006).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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What if people were to say to their critiquers that they do or do not want any rewrite suggestions (depending on their personal preference) when they ask for feedback on their work?

While rewrites in critiques can be terribly annoying to some writers, other writers find them helpful and appreciate them. If the critiquer is not told which the writer prefers, then the critiquer needs to be very apologetic about any rewriting, just in case.

If in doubt, it is better to err in the direction of not rewriting when you give feedback. If someone wants the rewriting suggestions, they can always ask for them ("could you give me an example of what you mean?")

As Christine has said, when a critiquer provides a rewrite that is actually better than what the writer wrote, the writer has to struggle with whether or not to use it and feel that the writing is not entirely the writer's any more, or leave it out and have something that isn't as good as it could be.

Feedback which causes that kind of struggle is NOT helpful.


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franc li
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quote:
he then reiterated what my story was about and ended by suggesting "the author of the piece should join a critiquing group".

But did you join a crit group?

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wetwilly
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I have to emphatically disagree with hoptoad; brussel sprouts taste great.
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hoptoad
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Do editors do rewrites?
The editors I have worked with do.
You ask for a 1000 words article and get 2500 words a week prior to press deadline. They do a rewrite. Does the work still feel like you own it?

I guess it depends.


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hoptoad
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brussel sprouts taste a bit like belgium
and not the good kind of belgium

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PatEsden
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Franc, I already belonged to a critique group that gave wonderful critiques. I didn't expect someone with more experience to give such a lazy flimsy one.

(and remember Hoptoad enjoys eating haggis )


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Spaceman
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Dean Wesley Smith says that he has never ever changed a story to critique. One reason is that he never submitted a story for critique that wasn't already in the market. He took the suggestions and applied them to the next story.

Considering my biggest sale came on the story where I ignored all criticism and submitted as originally written, his method seems to have some merit.


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Survivor
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To take hoptoad's example seriously for a moment:

If I were in a writing group and we all decided ahead of time to write the same story, each in our own words (the closest analogy I can think of to a group of artists all painting the same subject), I would have no problem with anyone in that group (including a hypothetical instructor) showing another way of writing a particular scene or something like that.

But how often has anyone been in that situation?

Fiction writing is fundamentally different from painting an existing subject. And the rewriting thing is simply not an effective or meaningful means of critiquing. A number of people have mentioned that writing instructors don't do this sort of thing. I have mentioned that I don't do it. It's not a "reasonable alternative" to other critical methods, it isn't criticism at all.

This isn't an issue of being offended. I'm not offended when somebody goes through and incorrects a bunch of my grammar and spelling, or tells me that I should spend more time talking about "Pete's relationship with Roger's husband" when the entire story is set in a quasi-Far Eastern monastary and there are no characters named Pete or Roger, and nobody is married. I'm just annoyed by that kind of thing. It shows me that the critiquer has no idea how to give appropriate or useful feedback. I feel stupid for having even bothered to ask that person's opinion.

Rewriting a bunch of the text, rather than explaining what is wrong with it, is like that. It's just tells me that the person is enthusiastic about writing and gives me a rough idea of their basic skill level (in all cases, far below my own). It would have been more informative to see something entirely original, not based on my story. Of course that wouldn't be a critique either, but at least it would possibly be worth reading.


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oliverhouse
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There's one place where I'll do lots and lots of changes to someone else's work, and that's cutting. I can often turn 1000 words into 700, and just saying "you can cut 30%" doesn't help the author actually do it. I try to only delete words, and change as little else as possible (although a few little changes are always necessary). Although I could do it on fewer words, seeing the effect on a large chunk of text makes a difference.

(I'm thinking of starting a blog on cutting: taking published and unpublished work and trying to trim in as many ways as possible without distorting meaning or tone. Would anybody here read it, or contribute to it?)

Christine said:

quote:
But on the other hand, it would not have been mine and after he had done that, it would have been difficult to recapture a sense of what was mine and separate it from what I liked in his rewrite.

That's the main reason that I've become more careful with rewrites.

Having said that, sometimes when I provide criticism I will include a rewrite of a few paragraphs to exemplify what I've said. (Show, don't tell, right? ) Lately, I've been doing that by adding lots of space to the bottom of the post and telling the author that she can scroll down if she wants to see the rewrite, and not to do that if she doesn't. Her choice. Even if she doesn't read it, it's a valuable exercise for me.

Regards,
Oliver


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hoptoad
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Survivor, Thank your for taking the analogy seriously. I'm glad you found it interesting and thought provoking.

quote:
/Rewriting a bunch of the text, rather than explaining what is wrong with it..

Thankyou for rewriting what I asserted in the first place, that a rewrite in place of an explanation is useless. A rewrite without an explanation of what you are trying to achieve does not work. I will add too, that an explanation alone, without sufficient illustration, is lame.

The analogy BTW is perfect, but this is clearly not the perfect group of people for it. For future reference in a teaching studio(Survivor you may wish to replace the word 'painting' with a 'warhammer 40k miniature' )the instructor never goes away to paint the image then bring it back to you saying: 'There you go. Figure out what I just did'.

Rather, he draws or paints right there with you and explains the principle behind what he is doing. When a student does it, he tries to explain what he is doing, if he can. Often though, he cannot express it verbally because a lot of it is instinctual at that stage. So he shows you what he means. In either case the principles often need to be illustrated to be of greatest benefit.

An art studio does not only draw what they see before them and imaginative works of art are subject to the same sort of process as others. Project are'workshopped' in the studio and the process is the same as asking people to critique a written piece.

There is, however, an important difference in terminology. In a teaching studio a 'critique' occurs only after the piece is finished. That is when everyone stands around talking about the piece, 'I love the symbolism of the black diagonal' or 'that big black line doesn't work for me,' or whatever but the piece is finished. Learn and move on. In writing a 'critique' can occur at any stage while the piece is crafted, it is much more like the studio workshopping process.

That's it folks. Won't argue about it again.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 09, 2006).]


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kings_falcon
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Oliver

I think that would be a great idea. I'd be more than willing to help, contibute in any way you need including sending my darlings to the slaughter block for editing.


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Robert Nowall
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It's hard to know where to jump back in...this thread has bounced around so much. I'll go back to the original point.

Seems to me if a critic or critiquer (or beta reader or whatever) finds a sentence puzzling in some way, he's free to say so, and even rewrite it for demonstration purposes. Going whole hog and rewriting the entire story seems to me to be going overboard...if the story is that bad off, it hardly seems worth it.

(I have taken a couple of professionally-published stories and rewritten them...(1) to see if I could learn anything about writing from doing so [answer: yes], and (2) to see if I could improve them [answer: no, but I might do better now]. Either way, I wouldn't dream of bothering the actual writers with the end result...)


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kings_falcon
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As I said so far, I don't mind someone rewriting sections that go awry as a way of explaining what is bothering them. I can't imagine someone rewriting more than a paragraph or two though. I'd agree truely rewritting an entire short as opposed to suggesting, for example, some better verbs through out it seems to miss the mark.

Christine, would suggesting different words at various points be considered rewriting for you? I ask because the difference if any just occured to me as I was writing this and everyone has different tolerance levels.

If you as a author DON'T want "rewritting" type comments, just tell me up front and I'll tailor the crit to the way you are prepared to hear the information.

When I crit I tend to warn people that beginning sentances with a conjunction is a pet peeve for me. If you've done it enough that I start counting, I consider this a problem as I'd put the story down if I hadn't agreed to crit it. But it's my peeve and I flag it as such.

If you have a way that feedback works or doesn't work for you, then tell me that up front.

I've gone both ways on giving it. Everything from "Hu?" to a detailed explaination. While many people say they want a crit more like the first, inevitably when I've just said: "Hu?", "Confusing", "Clarity", "POV" or "Awkward" I get asked why. If you only want the bullet point crits - tell me - it will save me several hours of work.

Isn't it great how widely people differ?


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Christine
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I realized after reading a few of these overnight posts that defining when something has gone too far is difficult. I don't mind critiquers suggesting a different word here or cutting a word, sentence, or paragraph there. I don't often take this advice, but I don't mind it when it doesn't overwhelm the manuscript. When someone suggests to me that I cut something, then even if they didn't say it (which they really should) then I take it to mean that they were bored as they read that section. In one case, several critiquers all suggested that I cut most of a scene down to nothing and after spending several days mulling it over I decided, instead, to expand the scene and make it more meaningful and important. The trouble wasn't that it was there -- it was that it wasn't interesting enough.

Where was I going with that? Oh yeah...a suggestion to cut isn't quite the same as a rewrite, IMHO. The critiquer isn't putting words in my mouth when they do that. They're just saying they were bored and their idea is to cut it. Most of the time this is a story problem rather than a style problem.

When I get suggestions for individual word choices, it can feel like the critiquer is trying to write it for me. It really depends upon their approach and the amount. If they end up red marking most of the manuscript, especially with no explanation, I am very unlikely to take any suggestions because it feels like they are trying to write it for me. In those cases, it also seems to me as if they simply don't like my style and I'm not going to change my style like that.

If I get a few, and especially if I get a reader's reaction such as, "I had difficulty understanding this sentence." or "This sentence felt clumsy." or "I'm not sure what you mean by this." then I am very likely to rethink the sentence, often using my own cleanup rather than theirs. When I critique, I try to give those reactions when I stumble over a sentence and leave it to the author to find a fix. I've even highlighted a word and said: "Is this the best word here?"

Like I said...difficult to draw a line. I guess the most important thing is that I like the WHY of it more than the WHAT. I want to know why you suggest a change and am far less interested in the specific change you suggest. I also tend to like to know how the issue made you feel and why you spotted it.

I'll never be thrilled by thorough rewrites, even if you do tell me why you thought it needed it, but I am at least far more likely to make use of the criticism.


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Survivor
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You were talking about painting miniatures? Okay, no longer taking your analogy seriously

Like I've said, rewriting another author's work is not just rude (though it is), it's a completely ineffective form of criticism. Christine is allowed to call it her "pet" peeve, but regardless of whether she lets it bug her more than she should, it is definitely something that any serious writer should consider annoying. I've never been all that bothered by it, there are a lot of other things that annoy me more simply because I've actually encountered them in critiques. But that doesn't mean I'm going to condone it.

We're specifically not talking about recasting a sentance or two, nor are we talking about pointing out syntax/usage/homonym errors and things like that. Christine already specified the exact behavior she's talking about here, "it is NOT okay to go through my manuscript and, paragraph after paragraph, tell me how you would have written it." Deleting the occasional redundant phrase/adverb/adjective isn't rewriting. Correcting "weather" to "whether" isn't rewriting. Pointing out that "laid" is the past tense of the transitive verb "to lay" rather than the past tense of the intransitive "to lie" (which is "lay") isn't rewriting. Even rearranging the word order of a given sentance to eliminate a syntax or clarity problem isn't rewriting.

Rewriting another writer's story is an exercise in assuming that you have independent access to the story the writer is trying to tell. But with fiction, you cannot possibly have such access unless you are telepathic. I leave rewriting to the author for the simple reason that when I think something needs to be rewritten I'm usually not sure what the writer is trying to say. If you read something and you believe you've gotten the author's meaning so easily that you can confidently put it into your own words, that means the writer has done a pretty good job writing it. Maybe not the world's best job, maybe you had to make a few educated guesses or outright assumptions based on your prior experience of similar stories, but a good enough job.

If a passage makes you want to say something like "I really understood her transcendent sense of longing which is only sharpened by the impossibility of the situation" then just say that. Don't go through and try to show how you could have done a better job of communicating the character's feelings. If you thought the character should have been feeling something like that but the text didn't seem to indicate it, then say "I'd think that she'd be a little more affected by the inherent hopelessness of her desires." Or, you know, however you would say that. If you understand what the writer is trying to say, then the author succeeded in saying it. If the author didn't say that, then simply point out that you weren't sure what the text is supposed to be saying.

That's why I say that rewriting as a means of critique betrays a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of the critic. It isn't because anyone's made me feel bad by revising my work. Indeed, it isn't even because anyone's ever really tried to rewrite my prose. I say it because it is a matter of simple fact.


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Spaceman
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Christine,

Remember what DG told me. All critique is self-righteousness in disguise. Look on any critique with jaundiced eyes.

Rick


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Spaceman
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Or sometimes not so disguised.
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hoptoad
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not arguing not arguing not arguing

I agree with virtually everything you said survivor

I think the definition of rewriting that I am using is of the lesser order, the one you describe as correcting syntax, pointing out errors, restructuring sentences, minor re-ordering of idea sequences that sort of thing.

But as Christine pointed out, how far is too far?

Certainly if you were talking about re-characterising, re-plotting, re-conceptualising, that's just a weird idea.


Pet peeve of mine is being told to replace 'they' and 'their' with 'him' and 'his'.

ie:

'Was it your mum or dad that left his cup of coffee cup on te table?'

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 09, 2006).]


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Survivor
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I regularly criticize the plot, characterization, and concept when I find them lacking.

I do that without rewriting anything. I understand that a lot of people look at "rewriting" as being somehow a vague and nebulous term that could include any suggestion of a specific change in the text. I'm just pointing out that this is not how Christine is using the term in her complaint (which I find a very cogent criticism of a certain style of critique).

If I find a particular sentence that is very badly cast or simply contains unacceptable syntax errors, I'll rewrite part of that sentence. I usually won't rewrite the whole sentence, just because I'm lazy and I rely on the author to be able to figure out how the whole sentence would run with the altered structure. Christine specifically said she was "okay with a suggested rewrite of the ONE sentence." If I find a lot of sentences that need to be rewritten, I'll just start noting "[rewrite]" or "[recast]" on those sentences. I just don't have the time or energy to do more than that if there's a persistent problem. If you do, then more power to you. But that still isn't what Christine is talking about.

It becomes what she is talking about when a "critic" simply rewrites entire passages without providing a significant explanation of the reason for each change in the text. If you explain the individual changes, then it's still criticism. If you restrict yourself to pointing out specific errors like misspellings, poor/odd/confusing usages, and incorrect syntax, then it's more correction than criticism. Depending on whether or not you recommend a significant amount of rewriting, it could be called proof-reading.

About "their", technically the given sentence is a good illustration of why this rule isn't so bad. The line should be amended to eliminate the possessive entirely, "Was it your mum or dad that left [this/that/the/a] cup of coffee cup on te table?" The reason that you're tempted to use "their" is precisely because you don't know who's cup of coffee it is. So it is meaningless to assign the possessive. Not that we don't see it in colloquial use all the time, so it would be normal in dialogue (but then, everything's fair game in dialogue).


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