Would you give me a quick critique?

Last week at NA Alley, there was a 35-word pitch critique. It was an incredible event to be a part of, both as an NA Sister and as a participant. But as much of my attention was focused on giving feedback and critique to our readers, I didn’t really spend a lot of time revising my own 35-word pitch contribution.

Not that I’m anywhere near ready to pitch my novel, but when I find myself in a dark void of writing despair, I also find that refocusing my mind on the novel-at-large helps get me out of the dark void. That’s where I was last week, and where I’ve been for several weeks actually. Writing this 35-word pitch made me wrap my head around the most simplistic concept of my novel. It forced me to stop tugging on all these threads, and find the main thread.

The 35-word it was a requirement of the particular event being held at NA Alley, and I stuck to it. But now I’d really like some focused feedback and critique from you readers, if it’s not too much to ask. The feedback I did get during the session last week helped highlight what readers were understanding or not understanding in my main thread, and in turn, that helped me even more — both with understanding the finicky art of the quick pitch and my most basic plot conception.

Below is my 35-word pitch, revised once of feedback from last week’s event. If it’s not too much to ask of you, my readers, I’d like more thoughts. In exchange, if you’ve got a short little something you’d like a pair of outside eyes on, post it with your comment (and provide some context, please). And if you comment, please come back around to stay a part of the discussion and, I hope, enjoy a little spontaneous writerly help.

The Pitch

Title: #thatghoststory (Untitled WIP)

Genre: Urban Paranormal

Pitch: Vera spends more time with ghosts than living people, helping them find peace in death. When Vera’s friend reappears as a ghost, she learns Lennon’s set on revenge, not peace, and she’s his first victim.


35-word Pitch Critique Today @ NA Alley

Do you know what’s a good exercise? Writing a 35-word pitch for your manuscript or work in progress. Even better than that? Having the opportunity to seek feedback & provide other writers with feedback. It’s a cycle that helps you (the universal you) with writing, thinking, and critiquing. 

I just wanted to leave this post directing you to NA Alley today where we’re hosting a 35-word New Adult pitch critique. Author Lynn Rush is our guest critique-r, and she’s doing a fabulous and diligent job on every critique posted, and us NA ladies are doing our best to keep up with her!

While this is meant to be of particular help to those authors preparing for YAtopia’s pitch contest on July 10, and while I definitely encourage you writers with completed NA manuscripts to participate in YAtopia’s pitch contest on July 10, I don’t think anyone would mind if you just dropped by to share in the big feedback cycle.

We’re all seeking & offering critiques on 35-word pitches, revising frantically, but smartly, and then repeating the process. It’s been a fun day so far, and it will undoubtedly continue to be fun. If you haven’t joined us, you should.

You may also want to read Juliana’s post from yesterday about writing a 35-word pitch. And if you don’t have a completed manuscript today, don’t worry about it. Neither do I, but writing the 35-word pitch for #thatghoststory has helped me simplify my thoughts about the novel and has reminded me that at the heart of every story is a strong, simple idea.


What Character Development Do YOU Hate?

Blog me MAYbe WednesdayMay I ask something about you?

What sort of character development do you hate? 

Or perhaps, the character development, when done really terribly, that makes you cringe, and you can’t decide if you’re entertained by the suck happening on the page or just really, really horrified. I recognize that most characters, even those semi-cliched ones, can be done really well. Interesting, unique elements can be combined with more common ones to make a new story, and a great one at that. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen and you’re left with a reading experience that just grates your nerves in ways it might not others.

Last night I began reading 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James because I borrowed it from a friend. I originally had no intention whatsoever of reading this book, but then I found the 50 Shades of Suck tumblr. I am so amused by that commentary-on-suck  that I kind of thought I’d be more amused than bashing-my-brains-out. Instead, I haven’t found a single redeeming quality, and I’ll probably skim along until the first “mature audiences” scene to get a full scope of the book because why else would I read this?  and then give up for good.

The thing, though, that irks more than all of the other things in 50 Shades of Grey (and I find everything irksome) is the character-development so far (I’m 54 pages in). It’s maybe the #1 thing to annoy me, and thus today’s BMM question. Here it is:

Ana Steele is plain Jane boring, with all these flaws (she’s clumsy! she has poor taste is clothes! she cannot tame her hair!), and obviously this is why mega-hot-super-rich Christian Grey won’t go out with her; but of course, Jose and Paul, the ONLY OTHER MEN in the novel and consequently her good friends, they’re in love with her, and they always ask her out, but she always says no; but why oh why can’t she find a boyfriend! why must she be so plain and boring and awful that no men like her? (Seriously, she asks that pages after talking about how Jose really, really likes her.)

The central struggle in the first 4 chapters is that Ana is… unattractive and boring? and woe is her! I don’t know. Fifty pages in, the plot is driven by this character development.

Of course, this is a character arc I’ve seen plenty of times in fiction — in both young adult and adult fiction, and in all genres. I’ve seen both male and female characters suffering from this debilitating self-awareness of how not-perfect they are. And I think it’s even completely OK for characters to have a debilitating self-awareness of imperfection because of course real people do, too! My problem is when it’s done so garishly that it actually insults real people who are insecure — it’s like I can hear the author saying, “Oh, I know, if I make her exceptionally un-perfect, then everyone will either connect with her or pity her.”

To me, that’s just insulting. To everyone involved — readers and characters. There are really good ways to make this sort of character-driven beginning strong and important, and real and fleshed out; there are interesting ways to develop insecurity and flaws and strengths into an influential character — and when done well, this is my favorite sort of character to read about.  But when an author gives me the flat-lined version, I can’t ever seem to forgive them for it. Perhaps because I love the well-done stories so incredibly much.

So now I really want to know your thoughts — what character development really just drives you nuts? It can be small things, or large things, or you can give examples (I obviously called out E.L. James here) but do so constructively. Please leave your answer below & let’s get the discussion started!

Also today I posted for Blog Me MAYbe on NA Alley — Do you use any books of writing craft? Please check it out & join the great discussion going on there. So many great recommendations!

L., the critique partner

Blog Me MAYbeThursdayMAY I tell you about someone else?

Yes, yes I may. It’s my blog. Also, it’s my start of Blog Me MAYbe, and I have plans to participate on Mondays and Thursdays, and probably also Wednesdays because I like the Wednesday prompt a ton. But today is Thursday, so it’s time for me to turn my blog spotlight on someone else, and I’m pointing it at . . .

L.G. Kelso, my critique partner

So if you visit my blog at all frequently, then you know L. is my critique partner, one of my best friends, and also my NA Sister. She’s also participating in Noveling through Summer this year, and basically we do a whole lot together despite the fact that we live 900 miles apart.

I’ve known L. for … *tries to do math, please hold* … 13 years, and we were friends first, and writing partners second. In fact, I’m sure neither L. nor I knew the other one was a writer until we both walked into our senior year creative writing class in high school. Creative writing was a brand new elective when we were seniors, and we both signed up, and we got paired up as critique partners by the teachers. That’s where our history as critique partners began, and six years later we’re still writing together.

I’ve posted about our critique partnership before, so I won’t repeat myself unnecessarily, but I think there are several reasons L. is a fantastic critique partner, and why I won’t ever give her up ever:

  • She’s constructive & gets real, real fast — Just yesterday, L. left me a comment on a chapter draft that went kind of like this, “So some really serious & confusing stuff is going on here, and your narrator is really going to nag her partner for a whole page? Really? For reals? I don’t think so.”  That’s exceptionally paraphrased, and she included that dragging out the suspense was a good idea, just not in the way I did it. Her suggestions were helpful, and she wasn’t afraid to put the, “Uhm, probably not so much” right up front.
  • She tolerates my insatiable need for feedback — When L. was writing Oath Heir, I didn’t see actual words of the novel until she’d written the whole thing, and revised it herself about 3 times. Finally I had to say, “This is the time I have to edit for you, you lose me to grad school in August,” and she had to part with it & send it to me. For #thatghoststory, L. has seen already seen quite a few scenes in their zero draft form, and her critique is a good balance between constructive criticism, asking questions about characters & plot, and leaving the nice “Like!” note. Because I know I can have it, I ask for it. I’m a “revise as I go” writer, and always have been, so I tend to bring L. in frequently.
  • She’s much faster with feedback — L. and I both apologize profusely to one another for how long it takes us to get feedback back to the writer. Except L. takes about week, and I take about a month. I’m going to just pretend this is grad school’s fault, and not my own poor scheduling habits.
  • When we’re writers, we’re writers — people say, “Don’t expect your friends to give you constructive feedback; they’ll just give you unwavering support.” Well, like all rules, that one has it’s exceptions. L. and I have been friends twice as long as we’ve been writing partners, and I think our friendship only strengthens the writing thing. Because in six years, we’ve both learned how to be writers when we’re writing; her feedback to me is always constructive, and I know she reads with a critical eye, not just a supportive one.

So that’s my critique partner — easily one of the best people in my life and definitely the best person for my writing. Be sure to check out her blog and you can follow her on Twitter, and of course, we’re both contributors over at NA Alley.

Being a Critique Partner

Do you know how difficult it is to post a comment to a Blogger blog using a WordPress blog as your identity? Really freaking difficult is the answer. But regardless of what blogging platform you prefer, you should most definitely check out L.G. Kelso’s guest blog on Rebecca Hamilton’s blog:

Ego or Gut: Sorting Out Critique by L.G. Kelso

And then you should battle the Comment Monsters (here, I have extra sporks if you require them), and leave both women a little piece of your mind. Both are great bloggers (in the case of L., when she has the time), and at least in the case of L., I know she’s a great writer. I don’t mean to brag, but that critique partner she mentions? That’s me. But that critique partner she mentions giving both good and bad advice? Yeah, that’s still me.

L. usually blogs about the inner-workings of a writer’s mind, how to think about and go about the millions of ways the writing activity (or process, but I prefer the word ‘activity’ for a myriad of rhetorical reasons I could tell you, but only if someone asks because it’s kind of my soap box). A huge chunk of that writing activity involves sharing early and late drafts of your writing with a critique partner, and you know, I thougth maybe it was time to do a blog from the other side: from the critique partner’s side.

It should be mentioned, in the interest of full-disclosure and background here, that I am also a writer. Both creatively and, I suppose I can say now, professionally. Ish. Where L. is a novelist and an ER nurse, I am a novelist and a Master’s student in literature & rhetoric. I have basically made it my entire life to write, where L. has made it her life to write AND save lives. (If you didn’t already gather, that makes her the super hero in the relationship, and me the sidekick.) Another important distinction in our critique relationship is that we’ve been critique partners since we were paired up in our high school creative writing class. We’ve been doing this (together) a long time now.

And finally, we write, primarily, different genres. L. writes YA and adult paranormal, urban fantasy. I write, well honestly, whatever the heck I feel like writing on any particular day. Usually about death, and whatever genre I feel like shoving that particular Life Changing Event into for a new story.

So with all this out in the open, what does this mean for our critique partnership? For the last eight or nine months, now, our critique has been going one way. L. is working on a great YA novel, and I’ve been critiquing (a little slow, truth be told, but L. is indefinitely patient with me) for her. In the middle of L. working very furiously on the edits of her first novel, and the zero draft of her second novel, I occasionally send her the first five or ten pages of whatever new story I’m working.

But that’s an important thing about being a good critique partner, I think: it’s not about staying even.

L. is having a brilliant breakthrough with her first novel (part of her first series), she’s really on a roll with it, and my job as her critique partner is to critique and edit what she sends me. Sure, I’m a little slow, but I’m also excessively thorough. Reading a 300-page MS takes time, and then going back and editing it scene by scene takes more time. But this novel is L.’s baby, so that makes it like my neice. It deserves all the attention I can give it, even if that means instead of spending a few hours of my free time writing and working on my own project, I’m focused completely on her’s.

Good critique requires treating your partner’s work as important as your own.

At this moment in time, I’ve got nothing really to send to L., but I do know that if I did, she’s divide up  her time to include my work with hers.

Of course, L. is especially good at the 4 p.m. random GChat message asking if my current ghost-memory plot point works within the confines of my project. Because some days, she’s got a better grasp on the governing rules of my story than I do.

– B

Check out L.G. Kelso's blog on Blogger, Redhead Ramblings.