Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Critique Mining

(For whatever reason, I can't get my fonts - I've reloaded blogger several times to no avail. So pardon the typeface here.)

I'm part of the SF/F/H critique group Critters, which is a system for getting a lot of critiques from a lot of people in a short amount of time. The sessions run Weds to Weds; critiquing gets you "credit" so when you place a story in the queue, your status determines how high it goes ... and, of course, you can't continue on the list without maintaining at least a seventy-five percent crit ration. That is, one critique submitted every three out of four weeks.

My run of "Ten Cities Down" just finished, with what for some reason was a record number for me - fifteen, plus possibly a late crit or two tomorrow morning. At 6500 words, this was a fairly good response - responses drop off sharply, it seems, around 5k. My general process for working through the information I've got is this:

Starting with the first critique, I write down the general aim of each topic in the comments. I save specific language if I find it helpful, which it often is. Then I make a note next to it that says whether I agree, disagree or am unsure of the statement being made. I copy all the nits (minor grammar/typo points) to go through separately. Then I move on, copy anything new, mark it, and put tick marks next to anything that is repeated.

When I'm done, I take a look at what I have. Any comments I agree with, I generally mark for change. If there's something I strongly disagree with and only one or two people said it, I feel comfortable safely discounting it. If, on the other hand, there is something I strongly disagree with but it comes out resoundingly, I will give that a hard look. Oddly, I find this almost never happens - I tend to see where most commonly repeated comments are coming from.

This time, I'm doing something unusual. I'm jotting down ticks specifically for character development. This is because I got a rough mix of people who thought the characters were wonderful and people who thought they weren't well-fleshed. I'd like to see how it fills out.

When I start to work through the story, I generally start with the nits, then go to the simplest issue and build up. I've found this method works very well for a coherent workover, taking advantage of the wisdom of readers without losing my center. That notwithstanding, the process is a grueling ego-bash. Always. ;-)

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