Things to Do With Your Critiques

As many of you know, I’ve spent the last few months editing my first massive attempt at literary fiction. This was begun after a full 15 months of marination. I believe the common judgment is to let your creation steep for a couple of weeks or a month, tops. I take that back; I did attempt a preliminary edit not long after typing those lovely words “The End” but I was so horrified by my work (terrible, truly obnoxious), there was no way I could continue. I barely made it out of taking the “ly” and other adverbs out without a severe case of vomiting.

Once I had an entire year of putting my book on the back, back, back burner, I finally overcame my embarrassment and opened the file. What I noticed is that the story is good and solid. Lots of plot twists, a lot of angst and conflict, many scenes. Someone should be able to make it work. Besides, my more commercial venture was in the good hands of an editor, and I really didn’t want to start a new book before November. (I’m an ardent supporter of NaNoWriMo. Fabulous tool.) So I rolled up my sleeves and set off to work.

Editing, as many of you know firsthand, is not for the weak of heart. It’s grueling. You not only have to make your sentences and paragraphs crystal clear and tight, you have to have the courage to slice and burn, and slice again. You can defend your voice, but not your sloppy writing. You have to listen, to other readers, to other writers, to people in the know.

Meh, what do I know? I’m still aspiring, remember?

I decided to let my critique group look at the first third of my book. It’s about 150 pages and 13 chapters right now. I’d like to cut out at least 25 pages and a chapter or two. It’s getting tighter, but it’s not wound tight enough for me.

For those of you thinking this post has to do with creatively thought out physical things to do with your critiques, I will humor you:

1. massive bonfire.

2. 450 paper airplanes.

3. 450 origami cranes.

4. wallpaper the daughter’s room.

5. use pages to line a path in the garden.

6. recycle.

Now that we have gotten the hilarity over, I can discuss what to really do with the critiques. 🙂

Three of my crit partners felt the same way about the book. They all claimed to like it very much. They each brought up the same points in the same places. It was uncanny and quite weird. They also did not give me any guidance as to what to cut. Seems like they liked the internal dialog Cadence is having with herself. I can’t say I don’t like it, but I’d like the story to move along a little quicker. Some interaction with the other characters would help. When I started the novel, I couldn’t write dialog at all. Like Cadence, I was frozen by my inability. The dialog is coming easier these days, but I have to admit that I think in linear terms. If you’ve ever read any Anais Nin (or any writer from her era), the stories are told with very little dialog. (Yes, I know it is old fashioned.)

The fourth woman gave me what I really needed: certain paragraphs to take out completely. I may not agree with all of her suggestions, but I’m listening. She also pointed out some pretty obvious errors as to time, spatial elements and direction in the first couple of pages. Now how did I not notice them? (Answer: Too close to the book, duh!)

Her eyes were very good. She saw where I stated things twice (sometimes more than that), and her red highlights were welcome. Although she left me apologetic notes next to the red, “Sorry, it’s my POV.” or “Sorry. You told me you wanted to slash.”

So now the critiques are side by side by side by side, and I’m thinking long and hard about my next step. Should I deconstruct Part I or plunge on through Part II?

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