24 September 2012

Mentor Monday: Critters

You do it. I do it. We all do it.

What am I talking about? Critiquing! 

Everyone has opinions on what they read, but what makes a good critiquer or "critter?" Cristina Santos from Once Upon A Time... has generously agreed to share her critiquing knowledge with us. A big thank you to Cristina for Mentoring us today! 

(BTW, I Googled pictures of "critters" and some really ugly creatures popped up. Who thought up the name "critter" for critique partners anyway? Weird. Anyhoo, that's why you get a picture of critter cookies instead. Enjoy!)

Here's Cristina:

Finding critique partners who are willing to be honest in their feedback, and are willing to push you to grow as a writer, is one of the most important things you can do for your novel if you plan to get published. When you spend hours upon hours working on your novel, you loose objectivity. You begin to read what you think you wrote, instead of what's actually on the paper. It's also difficult to see your own problem areas. A good critique partner will help you take your writing to the next level.

Over the summer, I attended a week long writing workshop with Orson Scott Card. The majority of the week was spent critiquing each other's short stories (which we wrote at the beginning of the week.) In this workshop we learned how to be what OSC calls, Wise Readers.

Here are his rules for critiquing:
When reading someone's work, ask these three questions
— So what?
— Oh yeah?
— Huh?

If there's anything you don't care about, believe, or understand—make a mark. Then, go back and ask "why" you don't care, believe, or understand and look for the symptoms of the problem. You are looking for clarity. Is the writer writing what he/she means? Does the world make sense? Are the rules of the world clear to the the reader? Are the characters' actions consistent to who they are?

A Wise Reader helps the writer be honest and truthful when telling the story; he helps the writer be clear. A wise reader stays focused on the story, not the language, or style. Language and style are the writer's voice. A Wise Reader should not interfere with that.

Do you have critique partners?  Have they helped your writing improve? How?


Brinda said...

Wow. A workshop with Orson Scott Card must really be the experience of a lifetime. Those are some cool questions from him.

Suzi said...

Critique partners have definitely improved my writing. I think it's so funny how you'll point out something in someone's story. And then when they do yours, they point out the same problem.

It's so much easier to see in someone else's work than your own. You do definitely lost objectivity with your own work. Critique partners are so very important.

Crystal Collier said...

I learn something new from every person I critique/receive critiques from. Can a word be said for staying positive? I've found many a critiquer who will give you great advice, but never pause to say, "Wow, you blow my mind with..." You know, the good stuff. It's nice to know where you need to improve, but to know you're doing okay in some areas too.

Here's to all those great critiquers out there! (And I'm insanely jealous about the workshop.)

Ellie Garratt said...

A workshop with Orson Scott Card? Wow.

I don't have a critique partner yet, though once the first draft of my WIP is done, I will be looking for two. But I have had short stories critiqued and can not over sell how vital they were to my writing successes. I hope to be able to give the same back (putting your advice into action) one day.

Amanda Olivieri said...

Great critiquing advice! I still can't believe you went to Orson Scott Card's workshop. I love this: "You begin to read what you think you wrote, instead of what's actually on the paper." SO true!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Sounds like an awesome workshop!!! I like his critique questions . . .although I think if a writer uses a passive voice on a regular basis - was, were, etc. - I think that's one language thing to point out . . . maybe that's just me. I also think that ideal critters point out some positives.

BTW - I tagged you on my blog today!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like those rules! Need to employ those as I often don't feel I'm as good a critiquer as my own critique partners.

J. A. Bennett said...

wow! what great advice! and I'm totally jealous that you got to work with Orson Scott Card!

ilima said...

Great questions. And great advice. Orson Scott Card is the coolest.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good stuff. I so agree with reading for story and not interfering with style.

Honest critique partners are worth their weight in gold.

Angela Cothran said...

I LOVE my CP :) She is better than the best!!!

David P. King said...

So that's what I missed from the week-long portion of OSC's workshop. Awesome. Great post, Crista! Thanks for having her over, Emily. :)

Suze said...

I found the single most helpful reviewer on Blogger: writer Lynda Young. I have always been proud of my editing skills but she helped clean up my manuscript in ways I didn't even know to look prior to submission. I feel like I got really lucky.

Cristina said...

Thank you Emily for having me over and thank you everyone for all the comments.

Tyrean, I agree with you on pointing out passive voice, or tense changes, things like that. I think he was referring more to word choices, or changing whole sentences so that it sounds better (not because of technical problems.) That would be changing someone's writing style.

Kathryn Purdie said...

OSC. Wow. And this is great advice. I love the questions OSC has you focus on during crits. It really all comes down to that, doesn't it. And, yes, I have wonderful CPs, and my writing has improved leaps and bounds because of them.

CarrieBoo said...

Critiquing isn't as easy as it seems, and very true not to get caught up in how someone words things. I had to learn that with a friend I help out as we write very differently, but it took me a bit to realize it! Wish I'd read this before. ;) Good rules of thumb to stick in my head. Thanks!

LD Masterson said...

I've been in a couple crit groups and received some very good critques and some not so good. I'm going to borrow these rules to improve my own crit work. Thanks.

Johanna Garth said...

What a fabulous workshop. I have nonwriting critique partners which sounds strange but they are amazingly intelligent and put so much thought into what I write (and in return I take them out to coffee and wine and whatever I can whenever I can)!

Donna Nolan said...

I just barely got critique partners. I am so happy about it and I look forward to trying the techniques mentioned by Christina. I have discovered that by looking at somebody else's work and noticing things that it makes me realize changes I need to make in my own WIP also. I think critique partners are vital!

VikLit said...

Great examples of questions to ask, thank you for sharing.

Victoria Smith said...

Excellent advice here! It's so hard to see the flaws in your own work. When I get a crit I have to step back and let in marinate. After I sit a spell, I usually find out that they were right! Excellent post :)

Carrie Butler said...

I adore my (brutally honest) critique partners! Honestly, if not for them, I probably wouldn't have a book coming out next year. They're the best! :)

L.G.Smith said...

That's such good advice. I try so hard when I'm critiquing not to interfere with the author's voice or style. But at the same time I have to point out what isn't working for me. Sometimes determining exactly why a scene isn't working is a matter of some real detective work, but I trust my gut when I'm reading. If it doesn't work, I tell them and hope they know how to fix it in their own words.

Jenny S. Morris said...

I have the best critters ever! And I can't wait for a certain one to apply what she learned with Mr. OSC when she reads my next MS.

This was great advice! Thanks ladies.

Deana said...

Great advice! I don't know what I'd do without my critter's eyes!
I love your new meme, Em! Or it may be old, but I've finally been able to pop out of my GUTGAA shell long enough to notice:)

Meredith said...

Wow, that's such a great way to look at critiquing! I'll definitely have to do that for my CPs' manuscripts. Thanks for the advice!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Such great advice! Orson Scott Card rocks. My critters definitely make me a better writer!

Lisa Regan said...

I can't live without critique partners! LOL. This is fabulous advice. Thanks!

Lara Schiffbauer said...

Great advice! I live by the How to write Scifi/Fantasy book by Orson Scott Card. He's a master, for sure!

Medeia Sharif said...

I need to remember those three questions, but I know that in my own way I ask them.

I have a great group of critters on my side.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Thank you, Miss Emily, for being a good critter. :)

Jessie Humphries said...

I feel so deeply indebted to my CP's that if I ever get a huge contract, I would totally buy them a car like Oprah! haha.

Cassie Mae said...

That's excellent advice! My cps do that as well as tell jokes all through my ms. I get all excited when I see their emails :)

michelle said...

A great post with valuable info that I'll store and retrieve at the appropriate time...

Kelley Lynn said...

Um. Orson Scott Card??? SO JEALOUS!

This is a fantastic post Cristina! Thanks for having her Erin.

Samantha May said...

Orson Scott Card? FOR REAL?!

That's really great advice! The questions are really simple, but it's enough to get the point across when critiquing.

Great guest post!

Morgan said...

It's my DREAM to go to Orson Scott Card's workshop! Serious!

Patti said...

Those are good questions to ask when critiquing someone elses work. Thanks for the post.

E. Arroyo said...

Great advice. I recently saw an episode of Glee. Yes, I just started watching it. And the dance instructor told the student something like...If you can't take criticism in the classroom now how are you going to take it in the real world? I wrote that down and have it on my wall. It is soooo true. Give it to me now so that I can get better before I'm out there. =)

The Golden Eagle said...

It must have been really interesting to go to a workshop with Orson Scott Card.

Thanks for sharing these tips!

Julia King said...

I saw OSC speak last week. He is funny. Dry funny which sometimes is the best kind of funny. haha

Anyway, Emily this is a great post. The last book I crit'ed brought about the best crit'ing I've ever done. I really wanted the book to succeed because it was brilliant. I really enjoyed the process and making sure that it all made sense.

Thanks for the great post!

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