Janet here. Ever feel so frustrated about low scores in contests that you're tempted to pull out your hair? Or toss the story? Or find another easier release for your creativity?
Even after reading craft "How To" books do you sometimes have no idea what's wrong with your scene, yet you know you're not happy with the writing?
If so, perhaps like me, you could use a critique partner's fresh eyes.
Not every writer wants or needs feedback. But I appreciate the insight of critique partners I trust. Trust is built when partners know that criticism is intended to help, not harm. I’m blessed to have two critique partners Missy Tippens and Shirley Jump. I know with certainty that they both want the best for me, as I do for them.
A critique partner means dealing with red ink or pencil lead or digital comments. Sometimes criticism hurts but when we're teachable, we can look beyond our precious words and consider suggestions to improve our stories.
I'm sharing a snippet of a scene Berkley author and longtime critique partner Shirley Jump critiqued, along with the revisions her input triggered to give a sense of how feedback improves my writing. For clarity, I decided to give a few paragraphs of the critique and then show my revisions for that passage before moving to the next. I had tried to put her comments in bubbles at the side, but wasn't able to accomplish that. I'm no techy. Still, I hope you're able to follow the thread.
In this scene business woman Carly Richards is tutoring bounty hunter Nate Sergeant in how to handle the business end of the livery he finds himself running.
"How could a man keep his mind on a column of figures when the pretty instructor at his side took his breath[AU1] away? [AU1]Nice hook!
Carly[AU2] bent over her account books, exposing the soft nape of her neck[AU3] and ran her fingertip down a column, explaining the figures beneath. With her shimmering black hair pulled back in a sensible bun, her flawless ivory skin glowing in the gaslight, Nate's fingers[AU4] itched to massage the pale skin, to tug her close. More than anything, he wanted to kiss her.
Not the reason he was here."
I am grateful Shirley saved me from Grammar Queen’s censure by pointing out confusion with point of view and misused qualifiers. I also changed Nate’s internal thought to first person and italicized to make the thought more powerful.
Now it reads:
Now it reads:
"A few feet from where Nate sat, Carly bent over her account books, her flawless ivory skin glowing in the gaslight. She’d pulled her shimmering black hair into a sensible bun, exposing the soft nape of neck.
His fingers itched to massage the pale skin, to tug her close. More than anything, he longed to kiss her.
Whoa, cowboy, not the reason you’re here."
Back to more of Shirley’s input:
"The blue eyes Carly turned on him dazzled. She said something about earnings. He shifted in his seat, struggling to focus on her words. What had gotten in to him? Why did he feel this puzzling sense of intimacy with the woman who stood between Anna and this shop? Yet[AU5] the current between them made him feel as if they occupied a deserted island, alone. In reality, her son slept in the next room and his sister hummed softly beside the stove, running stitches through the handwork[AU6] in her lap with Maisie dozing at her feet.
A deserted island didn't include chaperones."
The revised passage follows. This go around I decided I’d short changed Nate’s reaction to Carly so added sexual tension.
"The blue eyes Carly turned on him dazzled. She jerked her gaze away, then said something about earnings. Nate shifted in his seat, struggling to focus on her words. What had gotten into him? How could he feel this puzzling sense of attraction to the woman who stood between Anna and this shop?
Yet, despite his best intentions, Nate inhaled the scent of lavender teasing his nostrils, watched her dainty hand hovering over her accounts. Would Carly’s touch be soft, gentle?
He gulped. The attraction sizzling between them made him feel as if they occupied a deserted island, but in reality, Carly’s son slept in the next room and Nate’s sister hummed softly, as she sat across the room running stitches through the handwork in her lap with Maizie dozing at her feet.
A deserted island didn't include chaperones.
Who was he kidding? Carly Richards would not allow a man like him to sully her life. Her son’s life. Only a fool would think otherwise."
As is often the case, I added words to the critiqued passage. There’s something about seeing my work through another’s eyes that elicits more from me. Though sometimes I am told the passage is redundant and needs to be cut.
My critique partners know craft. They know what makes a book sparkle. Usually I make their suggested changes. But not always. When my gut tells me not to, I listen. But, normally I find that I’m too close to my story to see what needs fixing. Fresh eyes are invaluable.
One of my weakness is redundant introspection. Missy Tippens said recently after reading a large chunk of my story,
Ouch. Even knowing this is a fault of mine, I still miss repetition. And interestingly enough, I may see the same issue in another’s writing, but not in my own. I will listen to Missy and delete those repetitive tiresome passages and look for new reasons that my hero and heroine can't be together.
I brought apple fritters and fruit for breakfast. No time to fritter away my time cooking when we can talk about writing.
Do you have a critique partner? Multiple critique partners? Is the feedback helpful? Do the suggestions sometimes have a familiar ring?
If you're a reader, do you see issues you wish a writer had addressed? Or do you get caught up in the story and are oblivious to small issues with a book?
Share and get your name in the drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card.