Thursday, October 14, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday~ How to Critique

I'm out of volunteers at present. So if you enjoy Red Pencil Thursday and would like it to continue, please contact me through my website for details about how to submit your 500 words. Hopefully, we'll be back on track next week.

What little I know about critiqueing I gleaned from a terrific group of women in Seattle. I learned more about writing from them in a few months than I had in the couple years of flailing on my own. Here's how the group worked:

We brought enough copies of our pages (usually around 10) for each person to have a copy. Then the author read the work aloud while the group marked up their copies. Each member shared what they noticed, which was terrific because each person brought a different focus to the table. One was a consummate grammarian. Another had an ear for dialogue. Another writer knew how to tighten prose till it squeaked. Each of them gave me new things to think about. I still miss them all.

It's a fearful thing to show your work to someone in unpolished form, but the trust we had in each other trumped fear. Tact was our watchword. That's not to say we weren't honest with each other, but we realized that ultimately the author of the work was the final arbiter of how it should go. One of the best gifts a critique partner can give is a fresh perspective that sends a writer's thoughts in a new direction.

A few weeks ago, I had a guest critiquer take a look at the opening of my novella from IMPROPER GENTLMEN (July 2011). Because of the comments, I reworked the beginning. Here's the new version:
Royal Navy Docks, Bermuda

The soles of half a dozen hessians slapped on the stone seawall overhead. Aidan Danaher peered up from the man-sized drain he’d scuttled through and extended the fingers of his right hand toward the nearest guard. He loosed a suggestion and immediately the man raised a spyglass to scan the waves for the moonlit sail Aidan planted in his mind. In another moment, the rest of the guards at Royal Dock followed suit. Unheeded, Aidan loped across the open exercise grounds and up the hill to the Commissioner’s House.

The return trip would be dicier, since the Knack worked best when used sparingly. He’d worry about that when the time came.

Scaling the masonry and iron of the Commissioner’s House was simple. He knew where every finger and toe hold was. He’d helped build the blasted thing, after all, and cursed every stone of it.

But not this night.

Aidan ducked from the wide second floor veranda into the tall open window, leaving the balmy Bermudian night behind. The Commissioner’s thick-walled house was kissed by a soft breeze, a far cry from airless convict ship tied up at the wharf that had been Aidan’s home for the past two years.

Rosalinde waited in the shadows, as she had promised. Now she stepped into the shaft of moonlight pooling on the hardwood. Her chestnut hair flowed over her virginal nightshift like a wanton mantle. Her bare toes peeped from beneath her lacy hem, curling with nervousness.

“We must be quiet,” she whispered, her eyes flaring wide in the silver light.

Fear, to be sure. But he also read so much trust in them, it made his chest ache. “Aye, lass. Quiet as ever we can.”

Ok, it's your turn. Do you have any questions about how to critique? Does your group do things differently? Have you had trouble with a critique partner? How did you resolve those issues?


Nancy said...

HI Emily,

First you are so brave to have 10 people look at it. I get queasy with more than one. I had a fantastic cp or critique partner who did not write my genre, had no clue of western historical work but read for story and grammar. Like your group she made my work 3D once her critique was done. Unfortunately, she's had to concentrate on her own growing career so now I'm searching for another. You have a sentence that bothers me. The one after your hero reached up toward the man's boot. You use the word "loosed" was that a type-o? It sort of leaps out at me.


EmilyBryan said...

Ooops. My sentence wasn't clear. Only 5 crit partners, 10 pages from each of us.

I like to use words in unexpected ways, hence "loosed" as if he is loosing an arrow. Would "launched" work better than "loosed" for you, Nan?

Nancy said...

Yes it would but then I wouldn't have been curious enough to go to a dictionary or a thesaurus and look. Sometimes I like to be challenged! I like my authors to make me grow as a reader. So, knowing what I know now, and in context with the historical period, its probably a very good choice. Thank you for explaining that.


Marcy W said...

Emily, good fixes! I like the opening even better now :-).

MiaMarlowe said...

Thanks, Marcy! (In case the rest of you are wondering, Marcy is my trusted Beta reader)

Nynke said...

Hi Emily!

critiquing with tact - that's hard work. Kudos to everyone who does it!

I really like the renewed opening; I think the action comes across a little clearer, and showing instead of telling (well, telling only a little) what the Knack is works well! I did catch a new typo though, I think: "from airless convict ship" needs "an", if I'm not mistaken.

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