Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
Critiques – How to Get Them, How to Receive Them

by Diana Stout, MFA, PhD

Have you ever asked for a beta read or critique and got back so many comments on the manuscript that you wanted to quit writing? Or maybe you cried, or became angry at the critiquer, then vented to anyone who would listen?

As hard as they are to receive, critiques are a necessary element to your growth as a writer.

Finding great critique partners is like looking for a marriage partner. Not everyone is going to be a good fit. Nor do they have the same level of expertise.

What is your intent in asking someone to read your work?

When you're ready to have someone read your work, which by the way should never be a first draft, ask yourself: What is my intent? What is my end goal?

  • Do I just want someone to like it?
  • Do I want to become published?
  • Am I entering a contest, wanting to place or win?

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I ready to receive criticism?
  • Do I internalize criticism as personal?
  • Do I view criticism as constructive?

If your sole goal is to have someone like your book and your feelings are easily hurt, then let a relative or best friend read it. They'll love anything you write, provided their jobs weren't as an English teacher or editor.

If your intent is to become published or to enter a contest, then you want an honest, direct critique where your writing flaws are highlighted.

Who should be reading your work, then?

Ideally, you want someone with experience in your genre. They could be:

  • a reader who reads a lot of books in your genre.
  • a writer who is published in your genre
  • an editor who edits in your genre
  • an agent who has clients in your genre
  • a publisher who publishes in your genre
  • a teacher of writing in that field and who ideally is published

Are you seeing a pattern here? The secret to finding a good critiquer is choosing someone who works or reads heavily in your genre.

Be wise about who you ask. For example: having a poet critique a psychological thriller isn't a good fit, not on that merit of writing experience alone. Each genre has it owns must-have elements that you want your critiquer to be familiar with—having experience in that genre is even better.

Another consideration: Are your writing styles comparable rather than contrasting?

Where can you find critique partners/beta readers?

  • Join social media groups of your genre. Become involved. Ask questions, comment on others' posts.
  • Ask other writers if they'd read a chapter of your book. If they like the chapter, maybe they'll ask to read the entire book.
  • Join a national or regional writing group.
  • Do a Google search.
  • Ask your local librarian if they know of any local writers or avid readers of your genre who might be interested in reading your manuscript.
  • Check Meetup.com and do a search there.
  • If you live in a college town, contact the professors of writing classes.
  • In those college towns, visit coffee shops and bookstores and look for groups of writers who will meet there frequently. Approach them.
  • Form your own critique group.

Another way to get feedback is by entering contests and pay the added fee for the judges' feedback.

How should critiques be received and viewed?

Criticism always accompanies a critique. Criticism isn't negative; it's helpful. And, if two or more are saying the same thing, pay attention!

A harsh critique is one where the critiquer is attacking the writer, providing mean, nasty, comments. A harsh critique will be destructive throughout, offering little-to-no positive feedback. Don't give them a second thought; trash them.

A constructive critique is one that offers direct language when pointing out flaws and areas that need work. A constructive critique will tell you why it doesn't work and offer an alternative. A constructive critique addresses only the writing, never the writer. They give you a critique sandwich: the bread is the positive, the filling is the negative—the listing of flaws. They start with the positive, discuss the negative, and end with the positive. These critiquers are treasurers; keep them!

A helpful critiquer will answer questions and wants to see you succeed, by not getting scammed, or going down a path that could be troublesome.

When you receive the critique...

  • Read it.
  • Step away from it for several days. No venting or talking about it. Just think about it.
  • Return and read it again. Only this time, evaluate it as you were an editor with a mind to purchase. Would you buy it as is?
  • Try to remember that the critiquer's intentions were good. They were trying to help you.
  • Never defend what you have written. Critiquers can only judge what's on the page. They can't see what's not on the page.

Do know that you don't have to accept every suggestion made. Keeping in mind the critiquers' expertise, you get to determine what to accept and what to reject.

Can you have several critique partners?

Yes! I have several and rarely do they comment on the same things. Why? Because they have different backgrounds and specialties.

What is the proper post-critique etiquette?

  • Always send the critiquer a thank you.
  • If they are critiquing without a fee, send them a signed copy of the book.
  • Never allow a third-party to talk to the critiquer on your behalf.

What reactions do editors, agents, and publishers want to see?

They want to see you accepting critiques with gratitude, not attitude. Having an attitude is viewed as unprofessional, and the writer with an attitude probably won't be working with that editor, agent, or publisher for long.

Conclusion

The first critique I received was the hardest. Yes, I cried, but when I went back to it, this wonderful mentor was correct in her advice. Later, we became critique partners.

Over time, receiving criticism got easier. Today, I welcome critiques, knowing these experienced people will only make my writing stronger, and I celebrate those times when the comments are few, revealing that I have gotten better.

Do you have a critique experience or a something you learned about yourself as a result of a critique that you'd like to share?

About Diana

Diana Stout, MFA, PhD

Dr. Diana Stout is an award-winning writer in multiple genres, a screenwriter, author, blogger, writing coach, presenter, and former English professor. She recently published her screenplay, Charlie's Christmas Carole, as a book and is publishing, Tangled Passions: A Laurel Ridge Novella (Book #5), a romance.  Her short story, "Bread Pudding" is a semi-finalist, one of the top ten in the Adult category in the Write Michigan Short Story Contest, with winners to be announced early February.

You can find Dr. Stout at her website, Sharpened Pencils Productions.

Read More
When Your Obsession Becomes a Profession

by Jenn Windrow

I've been an avid reader since I was a little girl. It was a way for a shy, introverted child to find new worlds, new friends, and new adventures. I loved going to the library on the weekends with my grandfather and picking out books to read. I think that my reading obsession developed from watching him devour books.

I grew up reading Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High and, as I got older, discovered Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My teen years were full of stories that were a little darker, along with the occasional romance and some not-very-appropriate Anne Rice.

If reading was my first obsession, writing quickly became my second.

As I read, I dreamed of my own worlds. Dabbled at trying to write them down. Creating something others would want to read. I needed to write. It had become an obsession. Story after story. Idea after idea. Notebooks full of false starts and bad writing. I failed. I failed to complete a story. I failed at putting my dreams on a blank page. I became discouraged.

Eventually, college and life goals forced me to set aside all other reading and creative pursuits. If I wanted to graduate, I had to stop reading. That also meant I had to stop writing.

I missed my favorite obsessions during those years.

The day they handed me my diploma, I raced to Barnes and Noble to feed that book-loving beast. In the years since I read anything for myself my tastes had changed. New authors hit the scene. Supernatural authors. When I explained to the bookseller what I was looking for, she gifted me with a whole new genre. Urban Fantasy!

Welcome to my third obsession.

Vampires. Werewolves. Witches. But especially vampires. I mean, if you could see my office walls, you’d think I was a vampire freak.

After devouring book after book, I knew what I wanted to write. What I needed to write. And I finally understood why all the stories I started years before seemed wrong. I wasn’t writing about what I wanted to read. I was writing what I thought other people wanted to read.

I decided to combine my three obsessions. Reading. Writing. Vampires.

There are thousands of vampire stories on the market. And if you asked any agent or editor, vampires were a no-go. A non-starter. Oversaturated in the market. No one was buying what I wanted to write, but it didn’t matter because I was determined to write my vampire story, and it would be something never read before.

That meant if I was going to write a vampire story, it had to be original. Not just another retelling of someone else’s idea. A Jenn Windrow original. But how do you approach a subject that so many other authors were writing about and give it your own spin?

This is where my first obsession came in handy.

You study and get creative. You read what others are writing. You watch TV shows and movies. You take notes of what works and what doesn’t. Learn what you can use and what you can’t. What readers enjoy and what they don’t. You treat that research like the job it is.

Now that my research was done, my goal was to find my own take on my vampire obsession and figure out how to stand out in an overcrowded genre.

I had an idea, and it was a good one. Original. Something no one had done before. Seeped in lore, but with enough originality to make it my very own.

Obsession three was complete. That left me with obsession two. Writing.

I blamed my horrible writing and inability for completing a story on not finding my niche. Now it was time to see if that was true. Could I successfully finish a novel I was passionate about?

You never know until you try.

I wrote. On my lunch hour. In the evenings. On the weekends. Even while my first baby was napping, I worked on my vampire book. You could almost say I was obsessed with my world and characters and story.

It took me years, but I finished my passion project.

Was it well written? No. It was horrible. But you can fix horrible.

I took classes, read craft books, did even more research on my second obsession, and I must have rewritten that book at least a dozen times. I went from third person to first person. From an opening scene loaded with back story to diving right into the action. I found my own voice. I made it funny. I killed a character in the second chapter that has gotten me hate mail. I broke rules and even created some of my own.

But in the end, it was my story—the perfect combination of my three obsessions. I was damn proud of that book. So proud, that I’m now writing book four in the series.

I guess the point of all my rambling is to remind writers not to force themselves to write what’s popular, in demand, or what might be the next big thing. Write what you love, what inspires you, or are just plain obsessed with.

Why?

Because in the end when you’ve written something you’re passionate about or obsessed with, it will show in the words and the character and the story itself. It won’t feel forced. It won’t be bland or boring. That obsession is passion. And passion is what will entertain readers. Impress your mom, your dad, and your long-lost cousin.

Embrace those obsessions and turn them into a profession you can be proud of.

Share a comment below and tell us about your experience.

About Jenn:

Award winning author of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. Vampires, Greek gods, and a bit of Freak Show fun for everyone.

JENN WINDROW loves characters who have a pinch of spunk, a dash of attitude, and a large dollop of sex appeal. Top it all off with a huge heaping helping of snark, and you’ve got the ingredients for the kind of fast paced stories she loves to read and write. Home is a suburb of it’s-so-hot-my-shoes-have-melted-to-the-pavement Phoenix. Where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a slew of animals that seem to keep following her home, at least that’s what she claims.

Follow Jenn on her social media here:

https://www.facebook.com/jennwindrow

https://twitter.com/jennwindrow

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14160136.Jenn_Windrow

https://jennwindrow.com
Read More
Add a Dose of Relatable Dimension to Your Character

by Miffie Seideman

As authors, we know our characters need to be multi-dimensional, with emotions, characteristic traits, backstories, and flaws that speak to our readers. So, we spend countless hours designing characters. A number of great tips can be found in these previous posts for creating characters that are genuine, strong, or stand out.

One additional way to create a relatable character with dimension is to give them a simple trait, quirk, or habit—one that resonates with readers. Just a little something to bring the character off the page and make them memorable.

For example, what quirks, traits, or habits come to mind when you think of these characters?

An often-overlooked approach is to give a character a habit involving socially popular drugs.

Not all drugs require big, bold, and deadly scenes

Think writing about drug habits is all about hard core drugs, overdoses, and addiction?

Think again!

While an overdose scene might get you one page-turning moment, characters with regular habits involving socially popular drugs can make your character pop off the pages and into your readers memory.

Below are 7 tips to help you develop a realistic habit for your own character.

1. Everyday drugs as a prescription to a memorable character

What are “socially popular” or “everyday” drugs? Well, that definition is actively changing these days, but in general, it means typical everyday substances that are tightly woven into the fabric of society and to which the reader will relate, in some fashion, such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • E-cigarettes or Vaping
  • Caffeine

Did you know about 80% of the US adult population drinks coffee every single day? How’s that for being relatable to your reader? And despite the health hazards, 40 million US adults and another 3 million US mid-high and high schoolers smoke. Over 2.5 million teens use electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). I’m not advocating making any kind of smoking look cool to teens, but if your character succumbs, it may evoke memories from your reader’s own experience or struggles.

More recently, with expanding social norms and legal changes in some US states, the growing list of socially popular drugs can be argued (in some places), to also include:

  • Marijuana
  • Psilocybin mushrooms (“Magic mushrooms”)-especially microdoses
  • LSD-in microdoses

From medical to recreational use of marijuana, dispensaries are becoming more commonplace, some even including a courtyard to smoke the “flower” right there. The smell of marijuana is also becoming more prevalent. For example, in a recent stroll through Washington D.C., the aroma of marijuana was very apparent.

The hallucinogens in psilocybin mushrooms and LSD are growing in popularity, especially in tiny (“micro”) doses thought to help depression. These drugs are also part of the new trend of “psychedelic parenting. (You can read more about that here.)

2. A little goes a long way

Subtle habits integrated into your character’s daily life can make them seem more human than fiction. And when your reader is curious as to why the character has that specific habit…ah, now they’re starting to care about your character’s backstory.

So, skip the heroin and fentanyl and consider developing a character that puffs on a cigar or takes sips of his favorite nightly bourbon by the fireplace.

Cigar as a character prop
Photo by Valiant Made on Unsplash

3. Putting the concept to work for you

The transformation to a character with a quirk or habit isn’t very hard and only takes a few simple steps. Just a few details added to the scene can be enough. Too much detail is unnecessary and runs the risk of making an error that is obvious to your reader (unless you have a good working knowledge of that particular habit.)

Simply begin with a scene and play with what habit and how much detail to add, until you get the affect you want.

For example:

  • Step 1: Before

She smirked at him, then turned away.

  • Step 2: Weaving in the character’s habit

She smirked, blowing a plume of smoke into his face, then tapped the dangling ash into his Grey Goose martini, before turning away.

4. Packing a punch

When you look past the smoke (see what I did there?), these few added details have not only enriched the scene, but given the reader a wealth of information about each character, such as:

  • His upscale liquor hints at money
  • Her passive-aggressive behavior towards him hints at their antagonistic relationship

(And she’s either a real jerk or pretty boss, depending on what the reader thinks).

5. Morphing the scene

If you want to alter the underlying message even more, continue to change a few details and reassess the outcome.  

For example, consider how these modifications would change our scenario further:

  • What if her smoke smells skunky- hinting she’s puffing on marijuana?
  • If she reaches across the table to swipe his bourbon and chug it down in one gulp, what does that convey?
  • If he leans in to light her cigarette, what does that say about him? And what does it say about their relationship, if she expects him to? 

6. Putting it all together

This is what our initial starter scene has morphed into:

She fell into the chair, grabbed his bourbon, and downed the dark liquid in a single gulp. Her fingers shook as she fumbled for a cigarette, then leaned toward him, waiting. When his lighter clicked, she tipped her cigarette into the flame and inhaled deeply. Her eyes fixed on his, before she blew a plume of smoke into his face and turned away, smirking.

Now, we have very different characters and dynamics.

7. What to avoid for success

A throwaway habit:

As Larry Brooks wisely said in Story Engineering, don’t just add a quirk, habit, or trait for the sake of adding…well, a quirk, habit, or a trait.

Add it for a reason.

If our character chugs that bourbon, puts the glass down, and we never care about it again, there was no reason to add that to the scene. It’s not nearly as important that our nervous character chugs that bourbon, as why she did. Or why she smokes, in the first place. What happened to bring her to this point in her life?  

When I taught drama to teens, I always asked them to consider their character’s motivation for any particular action, because what the character did and how they did it needed to make sense with who they were.

If your character is always drinking lots and lots of coffee, it needs to be because he has a real need for it. Maybe he works double shifts and is exhausted. Maybe he drank so much as a student, that he needs a lot of caffeine to have any effect. Maybe he has narcolepsy.

But there is a reason.

Avoid Discontinuity

The kind of habit you choose needs to make sense. Otherwise, a character-drug mismatch can frustrate your readers. When deciding how to develop your character’s habit, consider the following:

1. The character’s age

Habits vary greatly by age—not only because of age, but because of the social norms the person was exposed to while growing up. It’s more likely your teen character will be slamming tequila shots than sipping an Old Fashioned. Your grandma isn’t probably playing beer pong (although I know some that do, actually).

2. The personality of your character

Would it have made sense for James Bond to be sipping on Cosmos? Probably not.  

3. The character’s socioeconomic status

Pick something your character can afford as a habit. A $7 drive-through latte is not going to ring true if your character is barely keeping the household finances together…unless her spendy habits are exactly why her credit cards get declined. However, a wealthy wall-street executive might not think twice about ordering $100 shots of DeLeón La Leóna tequila.  

4. Geographic location of your story

Drive-through lattes are a norm in America, but in Buenos Aires, your character’s more likely to be relaxing at a café table, enjoying an espresso. 

5. The historical setting

A little research here can come in handy to make sure the habit you pick fits with the historical timeline of your story. Vaping won’t fit into a story in the 1930’s unless your character is involved in time travel.

Exercise: Now you try it!

It’s time to get a chance to play with your own characters. Take a scene from your manuscript and add a habit to one of your characters using a drug socially popular during the story’s time period. How might the edits change the reader’s perception of your character? Is the scene or character richer and more memorable?

It would be fun to have you share your before and after scene in the comments!

You’re in good company:

Some Famous Examples

If you’re interested in seeing how some well-read authors and screenwriters have used this method to create memorable characters, here’s a list to get you started: 

  • Sherlock Holmes: His habit involved a 7% solution of cocaine, which at the time was considered more socially acceptable and non-addictive.
  • James Bond: How many bartenders roll their eyes at martinis ordered “shaken not stirred?”
  • Cruella De Vil: Honestly, even kids pretend to wave around her cigarette holder. I’m not saying that’s a goal, but definitely memorable.
  • Indiana Jones: Who can forget Marion’s drinking competition in the bar? The said more about her character than any number of words on the page could.
  • Casa Blanca: Rick Blaine loved his smokes and liquor.
  • Sex in the City: Carrie made Cosmos very trendy in real life society.
  • Arrested Development: Lucille Bluth was synonymous with her vodka.
  • Scrubs: J.D. was known for loving appletinis.
  • The Great Gatsby: Upscale cocktail parties and mint juleps lace the pages.
  • Moses Wine - I read my first Moses Wine detective novel in high school. All these many decades later, I still remember what I memorized to get me though final exams: “Moses Wine does hash.”

What scenes would you redo in your work?  Join us in the comments below and share a line or two of your rewritten scene.

About Miffie

Miffie Seideman has been a pharmacist for over 30 years, with a passion for helping others. Her research articles have appeared in several professional pharmacy journals. She blended her passion for pharmacy and her love of writing into THE GRIM READER: Putting Your Characters in Peril (A Pharmacist’s Guide For Authors), which will be released January 2024 by Indiana University Press (Twitter: @iupress) and Dan Crissman (Twitter @DanCrissman). More information can be found HERE   She’s represented by Amy Collins with Talcott Notch Literary Services.  

An avid triathlete, Miffie spends countless hours training in the arid deserts of Arizona, devising new plots for her upcoming fantasy love story. She can be found hanging around her website http://GrimReaders.com offering tips to writers and at Twitter @MiffieSeideman…you know…tweeting. 


Photo credits:

  • Top Photo - Razyph from Getty Photos,
  • Smoker: Unsplash - credit above
  • Espresso with biscotti: Miffie Seideman
Read More
1 2 3 644

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts

Search

WITS Team

Categories

Archives

Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved