Archive for 'respect'

Saturday, April 10th, 2010 by Sasha White

As someone who has always been a pretty mediocre student as far as classrooms and schooling went, the idea of critiquing someone elses work never really sat well with me. I always worried that I’d give the wrong advice, say the wrong thing, or worse yet…have nothing to offer as a critique partner. However, after years of writing and working with many different authors as both giver and receiver of feedback, I’ve learned a things or two. This little post is something I wrote up on the art of critiquing a while ago, and I thought I’d share it with you today.

Critiquing is a delicate thing. But I believe it’s a critical step in the process of improving your writing. For one thing, it can help you to build a rapport with other authors and a strong support system that is about more than the technical aspects of writing.

Receiving a critique is also a good way to find out how others view your work. You can see if the story in your mind is coming across loud and clear on paper, and find out where your stories need more development, more plot, less description…all sorts of things. Beyond that, giving a crit not only helps out a fellow writer, but it also help’s you to develop a more discerning eye towards your own work.

When you’re ready to open up your work to others for feedback your first step should be to find a critique partner that you feel comfortable with. Someone that is familiar with the genre that you’re targeting, who is willing to take the time to look at what you have, and that you trust will offer an honest opinion.

Writing is a very solitary thing. It’s also a very personal thing. Not matter what you’re writing; you put your personality, your effort, and a bit of your heart into every piece. It’s not easy to hand that over to someone and ask “Tell me what’s wrong with this.”

That courage needs to be respected.

Everyone has strong and weak areas when it comes to writing, and it’s important that we recognize this. And very important that we take care in the way we express our opinions of another’s weakness. It’s often easier to see mistakes in another’s work than it is in our own. But spotting the errors in another’s writing isn’t all there is to giving a critique.

When you take another person’s baby, (Don’t ever doubt that that’s how they think of it) and are given a red pen to do with what you will, be kind. But also be honest. You’re not doing that person any favors by telling that that they have written a fantastic story when you can see areas that need to be improved upon. Trust me, they’d rather hear it from you, than in a rejection letter from an editor or agent that will not give them a second chance to present their baby for consideration. However, there is no need to be overly critical, or superior, in the way you highlight those areas.

The key to giving a good critique is to be honest about trouble areas you spot, and equally honest about the good. Everyone enjoys a pat on the shoulder for a job well done and writers are no different.

You need to have the same strength of mind when receiving a critique. You need to know that no matter what anyone tells you about your story, that it is your story to tell and that the critique you receive is only suggestions for you to take or leave.It’s up to you to use or reject their advice. The most valuable tool a writer has is individual voice and that is something that you should fight to maintain.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re surfing around the web today, be sure to drop by my new Messageboard for the launch party. There will be guests, excerpts, doorprizes and giveaways.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Why I Write

I have about five different topics cooking in my skull right now, but am too scatterbrained to focus on any one of them.  I’m taking part in a writing workshop this week, and thought about discussing workshopping and critiquing, a topic that I have many rabid opinions about which I’m always happy to share.  I’ve also been wanting to write about genre, writing in different genres, writing in one genre when you think you’re writing in another, and how it’s all just marketing anyway.  But there’s time for all that later.  What really got me going this week was reading a couple of other blog posts about art, what it does, what it’s supposed to do, etcetera.  And that reminded me of the creative writing class I took in college.

I was a sophomore, and on the very first day the professor said, “Science fiction isn’t real literature.”  This was devestating to me, because I was a literature major — I loved books, I loved reading, I loved figuring out how books work.  And I loved science fiction.  “There’s nothing science fiction does that you can’t do in regular literature,” she explained.  I was too young (19) and insecure to point out that she had uttered the contradiction to her own argument:  science fiction produces the same effects as “regular” literature.  Ergo, science fiction is regular literature.  But like I said, I was 19 and floundering a bit.  So I didn’t write science fiction and fantasy for a whole semester.  It totally sucked.

To be fair, I did produce one meandering semi-autobiographical angst-ridden story of the type that was so popular in college creative writing classes at the time, and it went on to win me a bit of contest money, which was cool.  But I also expended the entirety of my childhood angst in that one story, which meant as far as college and university creative writing classes were concerned, I had nothing left to write about.

But I learned something.  By the end of the semester, I realized I was having a terrible time writing what the professor wanted me to write.  I didn’t want to explore my own angst.  I didn’t want to delve into the minutiae of psychological realism.  That wasn’t why I wanted to write.  I wanted to write about unicorns and spaceships.  Why?  Because it was fun.  I read for fun.  I write for fun.  I want to get excited, explore strange new worlds, have adventures, get swept off my feet, laugh, cry, etcetera.

What I also learned was I can do all that, have my fun, and still speak truth and write art.  I also realized I wasn’t going to take any more creative writing classes.  My degrees are in English literature.  Essentially, I majored in reading, and had an absolute blast doing it, while writing about unicorns and spaceships on the side.  How cool is that?  I got to have my cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
A Note of Deep Personal Importance

Or not.

Happy April Fool’s Day!  The obvious thing for me to do would be to post a bunch of really bad writing advice.  Unfortunately, lots of sites already do that, every day, and pass it off as the real thing.  Like lying on your cover letter.  Dude, just don’t.

This LA Times blog article shares some gems of bad writing advice:

  • Remove all your commas. Editors don’t like commas and they pull the reader out of the story.
  • The first page of your novel MUST include the protagonist’s sex, age, physical description and location. Preferably, this is all revealed in the first paragraph.
  • Worst advice: Your character should experience only one emotion per scene.
  • Narrative is what makes a good story.  Get rid of all the dialogue.

Gawd, that’s awesome.

I could write a parody article.  But this industry offers so many opportunities to make fun of itself, it’s hardly worth the effort for me to try.  Especially when so many people are already doing it better than I could.  The Onion, God bless ’em, conducts much mockery on our behalf.  My favorites stories are probably “Author Wishes She Hadn’t Blown Personal Tragedy On First Book” and “Author Too Much Of A Pussy To Kill Off Characters.” Thank goodness I’ve never had that problem.  Killing off characters is so much fun!

Slate tells us how to write a fake memoir without getting caught.  Those of us on Genreality have solved that problem by writing, you know, FICTION.

And everybody’s heard about the Atlanta Nights sting operation from a few years back right?  This wasn’t an April Fool’s Day joke, but it could have been.  A group of science fiction and fantasy authors got together to purposefully write the worst novel ever:  Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea.  And then PublishAmerica accepted it.

I’m going to end with some good writing advice.  Good, and snarky.  You know, the kind of advice that makes you think, “Um, yeah, I might have done that a couple of times and I probably shouldn’t.”  It’s John Scalzi’s Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice, and it’s one of my favorite writing advice articles.  Here’s the summary:

  1. Yes, You’re a Great Writer. So What.
  2. I Don’t Care If You’re a Better Writer Than Me.
  3. There is Always Someone Less Talented Than You Making More Money As a Writer.
  4. Your Opinion About Other Writers (And Their Writing) Means Nothing.
  5. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, You Know.
  6. Until You’re Published, You’re Just in the Peanut Gallery.
  7. Did I Mention Life’s Not Fair?
  8. Don’t Be An Ass.
  9. You Will Look Stupid If You’re Jealous.
  10. Life is Long.

I’ve known a couple of writers who’ve been offended by the attitude here. For my part, I’m not sure how anyone survives in publishing without a very healthy sense of humor.  Now, go forth, laugh at yourself and this crazy business, and have a wonderful day.

Monday, January 26th, 2009 by Alison Kent
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Redux

One of the things all writers face, whether writing genre fiction or not, is deadlines. I’m facing a February 2nd one now, so am cramming on this post. As promised last Monday, I’m continuing to look at the subject of respect as it relates to a genre author.

Previously, I addressed respecting our creative process, whatever it may be, however we find it, through trial and error, intuition, workshopping, pharmaceuticals *g*, etc. Today I’m going to cover (or skate over anyway!) other areas deserving equal consideration.

Some of this may sound stern. Do this. Don’t do that. Yes, I put down my thoughts in a hurry, and for that terseness, I apologize. For the rest . . . mmm, not so much. Here’s the deal. I wish published pros had said these things to me years ago, stern, terse, or not. I bear scars, and still limp from running into some of these things sans shin guards. *g*

Respect the Story & Characters

You wear a red shirt in Star Trek? You’re going to die. You wear a black hat in a western? You’re the bad guy. Every genre has similar character shortcuts, cliches, stereotypes. Avoid them. Or if you use them, make them your own. Don’t rely on them as lazy attempts to convince your audience that your characters are genre authentic.

Plot points, character actions, interactions, reactions. Make them logical, believable, not contrived. If you can’t tell that your story’s flowing true, ask. A critique partner, a beta reader. Your mom. Don’t leave plot threads hanging. Don’t wave a magic deus ex machina wand to rescue your people from the hand from the grave. Make them, and the hand, work for it.

If you’re writing a feisty romance heroine, she does not have to have red hair, or see stars when she flies into orgasm. Your alpha hero does not have to be a bitter orphan named Brick Hawk. Neither does he have to hate all women because he was once done wrong – and the woman who done him wrong does not have to be a bitch with stilettos and red fingernails.

Be respectful of your story and your characters. Make them unique. Make them real and true.

Respect the Genre

In a mystery, the puzzle will be solved. In a thriller, the killer brought to justice. In an inspirational, protagonists will also have a relationship with God. In science fiction, there will be science. In fantasy, intricate worldbuilding. In a romance, the boy will get the girl. Simple, yes, but those are genre expectations. Don’t mess with genre expectations. If you can’t write within the constraints, write elsewhere. A reader who picks up a mass market paperback with “romance” on the spine expects – and rightfully deserves – a happy ending. That’s why s/he is buying the book. Genre expectations. Learn them. Live them. Respect them.

Respect the Publishing Process

From day one of the call, work with your agent, editor and publishing house to set reasonable deadlines. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you find yourself unable to turn in a manuscript by the expected date, let your editor know ASAP. There is usually room for forgiveness and flexibility, but do not abuse the process. Do not take advantage. Do not assume each time you ask for an extension that it’s no big deal. In fact, assume the opposite. Better yet, respect your contractual obligations and get your book in on time. (I learned this lesson the hard way, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that (tm Forrest Gump).

Unless you and your editor have already established such a working relationship (as in, s/he wants to see your work in progress and give input ::shudder::), do not turn in drafts. Polish and edit and revise until your fingers fall off, and then use your toes and start over. Proofread. Verify word meanings. Use correct punctuation. The easier you make your editor’s job, the easier your own. That said, your editor is not your friend. Neither is s/he your critique partner.

S/he has dozens of other authors s/he works with. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but eventually, the editor gets rid of the one that’s high maintenance and buys a replacement model. You don’t want to be replaced in your editor’s garage by an author who turns in perfect prose, so respect your editor and turn in your bestest BESTEST work every time.

Respect the Readers

A reader who picks up a novel with “romance” on the spine wants a happy ending. S/he wants hope and happiness. S/he wants to turn the last page and know that after all the pain and suffering, the characters with whom s/he’s spent hours, did indeed find true love.

Research is your friend. Readers will KNOW if your cop is carrying the wrong gun, if your Earl can indeed be called Sir Dude (that shows what I know about titles). Readers will call you on it if your baker is wearing a ponytail but not a required hairnet, if your peace officer works for a department that doesn’t exist in the state where you’ve set your book (saw that one recently). Yes, it’s fiction. But if your fiction is representative of real life (as opposed to those things which we don’t know are real), readers want to find and recognize the familiar.

Assume your readers are smart. They usually are. Often smarter than you. Don’t dumb down your prose. Don’t cheat. Don’t info dump to make sure they get it. Don’t beat them over the head to make sure they don’t forget. They get it. They don’t forget. Neither do they forgive if you treat them wrongly. A reader fan can give you publicity you can’t pay for, and many do so daily on their blogs. Word of mouth is the only proven-to-be-successful promotional tool.

Respect Yourself

Creativity can be glorious. It can also be grueling. Eat right, move more than your fingers, sleep many many hours. You don’t want to work yourself to death, and not be around to enjoy the fruit of all that labor. When the words dry up, fill the creative well. Take a walk in the park. Visit a museum. Go to the zoo. Plant flowers. Watch waves foam on the sand (my fave).

When the noise of industry news, publishing gossip, author bickering, bragging, and speculating interferes, back away from the blogs, loops, the email and IMs. You can’t exist on a steady diet of crap and expect to produce good work. Garbage in, garbage out, and all that.

Lastly, don’t ever forget your non-writing friends and family. They are your rocks, your anchors; when you spend hours a day in a fictional world, that real life touchstone is vital. They love you. Be there for them. Lean on them. Never let work get in the way of that precious gift.

Monday, January 19th, 2009 by Alison Kent

If you’re a genre author, unpublished or pro, you’ve likely taken a hit that smacks of disrespect – and if you haven’t yet, duck. The swing, it’s a-comin’, whether an offhand remark from a family member, “helpful” support from a non-writing friend, a teasing jab from a co-worker, a twist of your words by an interviewer, even a derisive insult from a stranger who walks up to your table at a booksigning. It’s all part of the GenReality of writing commercial fiction, popular fiction, fiction that’s published in a mass market format because it’s what the masses read.

As an author writing in what’s undoubtedly the least respected genre (Is there another where a publisher’s name has become derogatory shorthand for crap?), I’ve heard it all: “When are you going to write a *real* book?” “Oh, you write those trashy novels!” “Hey, baby, need any help with your sex research?” I’d like to say I shrug them off and laugh all the way to the bank.

I do shrug them off. The bank part . . . unfortunately, not so much. But I don’t get angry and defensive. I don’t campaign to set the record straight. I don’t try to “educate” these “misguided” souls; half the time, the readers calling what I write trashy, who refer to my books as guilty pleasures, are those who buy romance in bulk and will sell their firstborn for an ARC.

I don’t spend hours on forums venting over insulting remarks. I’m rarely insulted. I have no reason to be. The people who say these things – and who mean them – are not my audience. For me, getting up in arms or firing back a biting retort is a waste of energy. YMMV, but I’ve been at this a long LONG time. It’s gonna take something really sharp and cutting to pierce my tough rhino hide. No show of disrespect, whether made jokingly or with serious intent, has stopped me from doing what I love to do, or thinking less of myself for doing it.

Now, if someone who *is* a romance reader tells me my writing is trash (note: not the same as fondly referring to a beloved genre as trashy reads, guilty pleasures, etc.) then I’ll perk up because it means I’ve gone off track, and have failed to give my books the respect they deserve. That’s right. The only respect I worry about is the respect I give to my work.

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