Here are some dos and don'ts plucked straight from a recent critique of my latest piece.
First off, THANK YOU to those friends who helped critique Gladiator.
Carol Anne Carr
And of course my WONDERFUL READER Lanai D!
(I hope I didn't miss someone)
Now, on to what I learned from it, and what you might be able to learn from me.
It is okay to be critiqued
This was my first critique. Yes, you read that right. I have NEVER been critiqued. I let people read my finished pieces, and I've had beta readers who helped me set the working piece afloat in the right direction, but I have never had a group of writers look at my work and shred it.
And it wasn't as bad as I thought. I assumed -- wrongly -- that I might receive silly and meaningless suggestions, or would open myself up to personal attacks. I was afraid of the critique.
It wasn't that bad. Brutal, yes. Enlightening, sure. Can I make everyone happy? Hell no. But I can take away some good information from each critic, and can use that information to improve not only this piece, but my future pieces as well.
Lesson Learned: Don't be afraid to ask for a critique.
Introduce the MAIN CHARACTER!
I introduced a secondary character in my first chapter. I have to change that. You MUST introduce the primary character, the Main Character, the big MC, first.
Then you can introduce the supporting roles.
Lesson Learned: MC comes first.
Nobody got my hooks. One reader did. Sort of. But overall, I was far too vague.
"What is your point? Where are you going with this?" was a common question. I need to be specific and precise and determinant.
Lesson Learned: Give the reader a direction.
My piece was ripped in turn by each critic for a single lacking element: Conflict.
The first scene was interesting, but it did not introduce the plot or the main character or the main character's story question or the story's primary plot element.
Lesson learned: Unless this is lit-fic, which is allowed to ramble, and which usually sits unread in hardback on your built-in bookshelf, you'd better introduce some conflict.
Addendum: Nobody mentioned it, but the conflict must be BIG, preferably life-or-death.
One of my personal quotes is this: Yell ACTION! not BACKSTORY!
And yet, despite my advice-to-self, I am guilty of beginning my story with lackluster action.
Folks, description is backstory and slow reading. Don't forget that. Work it into the action, or at least set the action in motion before you slow it down to look around.
Lesson Learned: Start with a smidge of action. Then introduce the setting. Propel the story forward first, and mold setting around the action.
Run-ons and fragments
I use run-ons not only on my blog, but as a habit inside my fiction. I like the feel of a run-on sentence, but most critics highlighted that I may have been over-using it.
I also got a few red marks for my sentence fragments. I think I am using them too often and need to back off and use proper construct.
Lesson Learned: Minimize stylistic elements, and if you use them, use them properly.
Voice and Tone
Now on this I got good marks. This is huge, because the other stuff I can fix and modify to hit a wider percentage of readers (you'll never get 100% consensus), but voice and tone are something intuitive that cannot be learned.
Mostly, nobody mentioned V&T, so I had to read what they were not saying, and assume it was not an issue. When I queried, the response confirmed that V&T were not an issue.
Lesson Learned: Pay attention to what your critics do not say. These may be your strong points.
Setting and Character
Overwhelmingly the response was that I did a good job putting the reader into the setting and bringing the characters to life.
That's a good thing, too, because combined with V&T, getting your setting and characters to pop into life is one of the deeper elements of writing.
Lesson Learned: Everyone notices setting and character.
You can never make everyone happy.
Lesson Learned: So don't even try.