Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How To Take Critique

I've never been overly sensitive. I am who I am, and I do what I do. The stuff I wrote twenty years ago in no way compares to the stuff I write now, as far as technique and modus operandi go. Practice, practice, practice! Practice may never make perfect, but it does make the good and not-so-good better. I also recognize that much of me goes into my writing, it is not me. If someone tells me my story is confusing, doesn't make sense, or that character is stupid, or silly, or that I repeated something too often, they are talking about the words on the page, not me. I am not confusing. I don't not make sense. I am not stupid, or silly, or repetitive-- my story is. I have plenty of other words to choose from; plenty of other ways to make myself and my story clear. I take the criticism for what it is, and not to heart.

The story I wrote in eight days for the NYC Midnight competition, poorly titled "A Flapper's Story" (I must come up with something better! Usually, I ace the titles, but this one hasn't found it's name, yet), received an Honorable Mention (yay!). This morning, I received my feedback from the judges. It is as follows:

''A Flapper's Story'' by Michele Cacano 113 - WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT - ..............................A good story here. I like the dialogue -- all very well done. The story sustains a momentum and works its way through their histories, both shared and not, very well. Some of the dialogue tries a little too hard to set the mood, especially in the beginning, but I had to chuckle at this: “Aw, applesauce!” I just loved that. I also like the way you have these women come together, find potential moments of conflict, and bond despite anything that may make them rivals. ...Nice opening paragraph.  The reader is pulled in by the clear language and the tension set up immediately. Nice use of 20’s slang too...........................................   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - ..............................I think the ending is overwritten. Which is a shame because for the most part you show restraint. It's like the writer felt the need to really pour on the power of the ending, to show the bond that is there. But we can sense it already. The story is well done enough that the places of overwriting can be trimmed away. Still, this is well done and a good read, capturing a time and two lives here very well. ...What’s at stake here seems to be memories from the past and the truth telling at the end brings to two characters together.  However, Tommy’s treachery in the past isn’t compelling enough.  There needs to be something more at stake for Marie in order to create true tension. Consider that these these two women don’t get along in the beginning.  Then there is tension at least between them and make the whole story less subtle.  ............…........................

If you would like to read the original story, just message me here or on my Facebook page or Twitter with your request and email. I'll send it to you. I may upload it online sometime, but right now, I'm not.

So, I know I'm good with dialogue. I hear the conversations in my head, and just transcribe them. I play-act in my head all the time. I love the Roaring Twenties and, to me, that era has the best slang ever. So I really enjoyed writing that. Seems like the judges agree with me, there, for the most part. There was another version of this story- a very different ending- for the first draft, so I did feel a bit rushed in the rewrite. (I submitted the piece in the final hour!) So I would agree that the ending may be "over-written", as it was phrased. I would like to sit down and smooth the story out, perhaps making it longer, as well. (I was just under the maximum word count by three words!)

I love this feedback, because it gives me something to work with. One of the judges points out that I showed proper restraint in the rest of piece, but lost it in the ending. Makes sense. I'm wondering what to do with the comment regarding Tommy's treachery; Marie needs to have "more at stake"... what could I do with that? I could add a new character that is still presenting her with a challenge, or I could work out more of Tommy's history with the girls. I will spend some time mulling it over, before I sit down to commit to changes.

When I had my writer's group round-table discussion over my novel (HISMZA), some of the feedback I got was surprising, as it often is. When one of my characters dies, none of the readers even cared! I need to tighten up the relationship between that character and my main character (MC), and develop it better. If the MC cares about the one who dies, then the readers will, too. And that was not as evident as it needed to be. Other relationship issues in the book met with the response of incredulity or weak bonds, and I am aware that I struggle with emotional content (in my writing and in RL!), so I took nearly three months to consider options. I changed the nature of the relationship between my MC and the one who dies. I better addressed their motivations and what is at stake for each of the characters. Some of the suggestions I received were not ones I wanted to do. I thought about it, and said no. I know my characters, and the ones I don't know well I am more willing to alter drastically, for sure, but my main characters are who they are. I am two-thirds through the revised fourth draft, so I will let you know how it goes.

Not every reader wants the same thing from a book or a story. We all have our favorite genres, what draws us into a story, and what repels us. Just because someone hated your story's ending, or couldn't relate to your MC, doesn't mean someone else won't love it and completely identify with your MC. That's why it is important to have a mixed, large pool of beta-readers, and why I love my writers group so much.

Having said that, I need to get back to my fourth draft, so I'll be signing off, now.

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