Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17

On critiques

I've been writing and critiquing other writer's work for 15+ years. So, needless to say I have a lot of experience in the area. When I first started I was absolutely positive I knew what I was talking about. Here are the rules, blah, blah, blah. But now after 15 years of experience, I am unsure of the true value of my critique because story telling and voice are such subjective things. Let me equate it to art. I personally prefer the old Dutch master's to Jason Pollack. So, what do most people do? Tell the Jason Pollack's of the world to throw away their pictures, they got it all wrong and start over. No- the world doesn't work that way. There are trends and appreciations that come and go. One is not more valid than the other. I don't care if it's DiVinci himself telling you this.

So, hmmm, if my opinion of a story or character may or may not be valid, what do I do? Copy edit? (Here's a secret- everyone house copy edits differently, so even that is subjective.) All right, so copy edits can help clean up a work, but may or may not be helpful to the author. I know a bit about the market (Not as much as some but more than others) so I can mention whether or not I think the book fits in the market. But then again, trends come and go and whose to say that the next big trend isn't going to be sky monkey adventures. Arrrg.

As you know I'm working on critiques for my MA program. The voices and range of story are fascinating. But I stare at one or two that are just off key and think... oh, what? So, I refer to my critique as my opinion-which it is- and dive in. It sounds off key and here is my reasoning. But I've also learned that for every opinion I have there is someone else who says I'm full of bunk and gives their own reasons why. Which frankly leaves me wondering why the heck I spend time on stuff like this if it is so subjective. Ugh, have I mentioned I hate critique.

A book you might hate and throw at the wall maybe someone else's keeper of a lifetime, having touched them in a way that changed their life. You never know. Who am I to tell them the story is crap?

Sigh, only 5 more critiques to go...


  1. It's been my opinion that for every bit of advice you give someone about their work, maybe one person takes it. Also, I have to be careful I don't try and turn someone's writing style into mine. Critiquing is so vital that one bad one can overshadow the good ones. But it's all good and you become a better writer in the end. IMO.

    Good blog.

  2. Here's my one ground-rule for critiques. Critique the book the writer wrote, not the one you would have written. Try to look at the work on its own terms, and given those, see if you can help make it better. You don't have to read in a genre to be able to successfully critique a book in that genre. Accept it for what it is and help it become more itself.