Critique Comments – When to Heed, When to Weed

There’s an interesting discussion unfolding on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s member group. It involves deciding which of your critique partner’s comments don’t apply to your work, and which comments should be heeded and acted upon.

There’s a fine line to walk with critique comments. On one side, you may strengthen your writing by heeding them; on the other side, you may stray from your vision of the story or dilute the effectiveness of your prose if you change your story every time someone makes a negative comment.

Protect your writing by giving careful thought to each comment. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. For example, if you encounter a comment like, “You have too many characters,” probe for more specifics. Possible questions might be:

Have I confused the reader? If it’s a group discussion scene, is each voice made distinctive and identified (perhaps by the quality of the voice, the language used, familiar gestures, or distinctive item of clothing), or does the reader wonder who’s on stage and who’s saying what?

Are there too many similar characters, or characters with similar functions? In a car repair scene, for example, if the alternator is shot and need replacing, which complicates things for the protagonist, do you need more than one mechanic to complete the scene? Or if you have three sisters as sidekicks, can they be combined in one with no loss of plot?

Is there one particular character you’d like to see gone? Maybe a supporting character is offensive and distracts the reader in a negative way. If so, is the character necessary? I once had a character who smoked, and it bothered the reader way out of proportion to the usefulness of having her smoke, so voila! Instant recovered smoker and she could go on to perform her plot functions.

I’m not suggesting that you question your critique person to exhaustion — limit yourself to one or two succinct questions, and never defend or explain your work — but with a couple of well thought out questions, it’s possible to learn something useful in cases of general statements such as, “You have too many characters.”

Have you suffered through nightmare critiques? What did you do?  Please share, if you have the time today, and happy writing!  –Janet

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Filed under success techniques, The Writing Life, Writing Craft

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