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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Critiques: Why Grandma shouldn't be your critter...

So you’ve finished writing something – a short story, novel, memoir, or even a technical manual. The what doesn’t really matter. You’ve written for countless hours, had more than one false start, changed your entire plot at least once, labored over seemingly frivolous changes and finally you feel like it’s polished enough to see the light of day.

Now, you need someone to read it, but who do you go to?

In childhood you ran to your parents or grandparents when you finished a drawing or wrote a story. With a big smile, any one of them would take the barely legible story or the strange, slightly disturbing drawing and thank you profusely. They look it over with what you now know was confusion and amusement while you waited anxiously.

The final judgment was invariably the same. “It’s beautiful, sweetheart.” After all, what self-respecting person would tell a four-year old that they’re never going to make it in the biz then drop their creation into the shredder? No, your masterpiece always ended up on the fridge. (I’ll be sure to add one of the masterpieces of my youth as soon as I get home from vacation.)

But is unconditional love what you want for the novel you hope to publish?

Hopefully it isn’t. Unconditional love didn’t paint the Mona Lisa or build the pyramids, and it won’t do your WIP any good. What all writers or artists of any type need are objective opinions and discerning eyes. You can’t usually get that from family or even close friends.

They want the best for you. They want you to live your dreams and be successful and they certainly don’t want to tell you that your story is flawed, your characters are flat and your dialog is stilted. No, they read out of obligation and they gush.

The sad fact is that it’s impossible for anyone who isn’t a writer to understand one. I talk about my characters like they are real people. I imagine how they would talk to me. I even had the realization the other day that my main character doesn’t like to be touched.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s wrong with that? That’s totally normal for a writer.” If you were the one listening to me, watching me go through my processes, you’d be whistling a different tune. The flummoxed stare on your face would read, “Where can I find a straight jacket on short notice?”

It doesn’t even faze my critique partners. We all do it. They listen to me rattle on about my characters problems and how they’re doing things I didn’t expect they to do and messing up an entire scene because of it. They invite me in on the laughs they have with their characters and turn to me when they need to get their imaginary friends of a jam.

Family and friends sometimes don’t get your dreams. They can be as loving and supportive as the day is long, but they don’t always understand you or what you want. One of my critters, The Magazinista, recently had an experience that goes to the heart of this problem.

She has been a writer for years, but now she’s trying to break into the fiction business. After watching a news report a few nights ago about a 40-something woman who’d recently started a fiction-writing career with great success, her mother had precisely the right thing to say.

“Of course she writes things people want to read, not weird things no one can understand.”
The Magazinista replied, “It's because they aren't smart enough to understand it.”

And that’s why relatives aren’t good critters. There’s really not any more to say.

Tune in tomorrow to learn my thoughts on finding the right critter for you and read about how the dating process went horribly wrong for me.

1 comment:

  1. “It's because they aren't smart enough to understand it.”

    The pop culture Americana can be rather baffling at times. How anyone could ever beat such things like He isn't stalking her; he's so taken with her that he couldn't help but break into her room at night to watch her sleep ... and I would LOVE it if my boyfriend got so jealous that he dismantled my car engine, just so I wouldn't visit my guy friends, is beyond me.

    Which leads me to this link: http://steepholm.livejournal.com/71401.html

    Pure win.

    Great post!