Saturday, July 16, 2016

Does the Critique Have Merit?

Recently, on a LinkedIn thread I subscribed to, a woman posed a question to the rest of us pertaining to a critique she'd received from her group. Apparently everyone agreed she needed to deepen her character's POV. She said she followed their advice, but she wasn't happy with it.
This tells me one of two things: either she writes in a genre where the omniscient, or at least a more distant POV, is required (and yes, there are some genres that work best with a distant POV), or she doesn't quite know how to deepen it effectively.
She wanted to know what the rest of us thought, and I was surprised by the vehemence of the responses. "Don't let anybody tell you how to write your book!"
You're kiddin', right?
If you know me, you probably won't be surprised by this: I jumped in with an opposing view. Yeah, yeah, I know--someday I'll learn to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, I said that, in some genres, the deep third person POV has become expected by readers and publishers alike, and it wouldn't hurt to work with it some.
Apparently my response threatened to strip the veneer off the "We Are Perfect" award bestowed only upon those who write. I tell ya, they crawled all over me like fire ants on a hot dog. Eventually, I did everything but apologize for living and bowed out of the discussion. (I'm yellow that way, I guess. Though I don't mind presenting an opposing view, I hate fighting over it.)
Where on earth did authors get the idea that because they could string a few sentences together, they have obtained some sort of artistic nirvana and deserve to be worshiped? We're authors--not gods. We haven't been endowed with special wisdom. We're not better than anyone else. The idea that these folks wouldn't even consider a criticism bugged me.
Perhaps some of us need a lesson of humility.
The best way to approach any criticism of your work, either through a critique group/partner, contest judge, or an editor, is open-mindedly. Does it have merit? Is it worth experimenting with?
Critiques in general hurt. But once you've calmed down, study your work through the eyes of whoever offered something constructive. Do they have a point?
One of the editors looking at The Cat Lady's Secret suggested I pull a character out. After loosely skimming the manuscript, she wondered whether the cat lady's role in The Cat Lady's Secret was really necessary to the story. I'm not sure where she got that. Pulling the cat lady out would've done serious damage to my novel; it would've changed it entirely. That's major. I refused.
Deepening a POV isn't major.  Repairing structure, changing sentences, moving this paragraph from here to there--none of these are major. Cutting certain scenes may or may not be major--who knows? Try it and see if it makes the novel better. Keep in mind, many of the things suggested aren't intended to change the story, but to enhance it.
The lady who started the LinkedIn thread at least tried the suggestion. She approached it right. I wonder how many in that group would've pitched a fit. Their attitude, "the author is always right!" seems to answer that for me.


  1. Linda, this is exactly what I feel you should have told those on the LinkedIn thread. Some of the authors there really do need to be told that God is not dead, and they have not assumed His Authority.

    Like you, I am fed up with those who think they are the final authority on writing. When I receive a critique on my work, I consider every single suggestion or comment the critiquer has given. After all, they have taken the time from their own work (in most cases) to review mine. They deserve that.

    Now most of my critiquers always tell me to take what works, or what I like, and disregard the rest. I appreciate that. They also tend to remind me that this is my work, not theirs. I appreciate that as well. I change what I like and see if it is better than what I had. Sometimes is it; sometimes it's not. But once in a while, I'll get a comment that sounds like they are saying, "this is the way it's done (mind you, not from the ACFW Scribes group)." I even look at those. Usually, it's not worth the time I've taken to change it and change it back.

    Thank you for this post. And Linda, next time, give it back to them...both barrels loaded. LOL

    1. What your critters are telling you is so true: take what works and disregard the rest. It doesn't hurt to try suggestions to see how they work, but you're under no obligation to accept them. I tell my clients the same thing. I offer suggestions, but it's up to them whether they want to take them.