Please wait…

Something I’m finding in the crits from WriteOnCon has me wondering again.

See… it’s not limited to the forum, although I’m lucky in that my CPs usually don’t step in this trap.

A trap named being overly critical.

Now before I go on, let me just say that this isn’t about me being unable to handle my criticisms. Because heaven knows I give as good as I get. And I don’t just see this in my own works, but those by others too.

But the thing is, I think for and CP there’s a very real risk that they’re so focused on being a CP that they forget they’re supposed to be readers too.

And here’s one thing readers do a lot of: they wait. They wait to find out what happens in a chapter. They wait to see if the characters end up together. They wait to find out more about something that intrigues them.

They don’t care that they have to wait, though, as long as there’s plenty going on in the mean time. Or enough things readily available in the story right at that moment to keep them going until they don’t have to wait any more.

Make sense to everyone else?

So why is it that my first five pages seem to be getting crits where people seem to want to know everything right now? They book is 110k words long. If I told anyone I’d put the explanation of some of the biggest factors in my book right in the first five pages, they’re probably laugh and call me mad.

Same with the first 250 words. It’s 250 words. In a 110k novel. At the start. And I was a good girl and didn’t start with an action sequence. Where would anyone expect those first words to go? They only gain their meaning as the chapter progresses.

In other words: wait.

And yes I start those 250 words slowly, because I want to lull the reader into the fact that, yes, the story starts somewhere they didn’t expect. I’m actually fulfilling my first job as a writer: gaining a reader’s trust. The trust that’s needed for a reader to be willing to wait. Because why would they wait if they didn’t think I’d reveal what I need to reveal in due time?

But yeah… being a CP means you need to think as a reader and a writer. Not actually as a CP. As a reader you need to think: hmm… if this was a published book, I wouldn’t have thought of the comment I’m writing now. As writer you’d think: hmm… this is different, but why is the writer doing this?

As supposed to just blasting away with crit that writers have to dismiss because it’s neither pointing out an unforced error nor pointing out why a reader would have a problem with this.

So if someone who’s never been a CP asks me for advice, I’d suggest the following: Think before you comment. And if you’re a trigger happy commenter, read the piece at least once before starting to crit. Because you’d be surprised at how many times the answer to your question is only two sentences away.

What about you? Do you also get a little annoyed when you read comments by people who clearly didn’t think before they wrote?


43 thoughts on “Please wait…

  1. I've never wanted to high five someone as badly as I do right now! I totally agree with you. 250 words of a novel is nothing. Yes, it needs to grab the reader, but it can't have every detail that people need to know – if it does – it would be considered an info dump!

    That's not to take away anything from the wonderful people who have left critiques for me on my WriteOnCon sample – because I do appreciate them and I've been very lucky in that I've had very constructive advice. But I definitely agree that the first 250 doesn't need to have absolutely everything laid out.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. I'd say more, but I think you've summed up completely how I feel about the whole thing.

    And also, just because something is up for critique doesn't mean you *have* to find flaws in it.

    And did I mention how completely I agree with you?

  3. I'm with you. Most of the crits I've gotten -particularly on my query – have been most helpful. But there are some comments that really have me wondering if the person who wrote them thought at all. :-/

  4. “And also, just because something is up for critique doesn't mean you *have* to find flaws in it.”

    True that. In fact I try to point out things I like as well, since I am quite strict in my crits.

    Still, there's a difference between being strict and being ridiculous in what you're expecting.

  5. I think that situation is pretty common, especially when it's up in a free-for-all environment.

    That said, I expect CPs to point out anything that jumps out at them. You cannot be a reader at that point. You have to be an analyst first. If I wanted a reader, I'd give it to my mother.

    The greatest comment I can get from a CP is when he tells me, “I was in reader mode.” That means he forgot he was there to analyze and got lost in the story.

  6. Agreed, but “analysts” analyze before they comment too.

    I also comment on what jumps out at me. But I'd ask something like: hmmm… wonder what this is. hope to find out later.

    As supposed to: what's this? you're not telling us everything.

    (above being an exaggerated example, of course)


  7. Ultimately, critiques are only opinions, and everyone has them, and they're all different. Writing is a creative art-form, and while there may be guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules.

    I absolutely agree that — in general– it's much better to open with something that captures the reader's attention and engages them. Plant some important story questions, invoke some drama, establish some tension. Especially as a new writer — readers tend to give less time for unfamiliar authors to pull them in.

    But I can also list many books that I absolutely love that started as slow as molasses, wallowed in back-story, and fiddle-farted around with dry and unimportant details, long before getting to the meat of the story.

    There is no reason any artist HAS to follow any guidelines, if they have a real vision of what they're trying to create. If you try to be safe on everything and write to please everybody, your work will turn out to be diluted, formulaic crap that is nothing but a poor copy of other writers' successful works.

    Take criticism as one person's opinion, weigh it against the opinions of others without stressing about it, and then do what your heart tells you. Follow your vision — it's YOUR work. IF you like it and think it's the best it can be, I guarantee others will, too.

    But a thick skin is vital, because I also guarantee you WON'T please everyone, so don't even try.

  8. So true, but what frustrated me is that I did create the questions, only to have a bunch of over-critical people want the answers a few lines later. :-/

    As for my skin, it's plenty thick. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to sift between crits/opinions to find what I need to do to improve what I've written.

    I just want to bring it to people's attention, because I think knowing how to crit well can be incredibly useful to a writer. 🙂

  9. Misha, I'm not participating in Write On Con this year, but I have heard this same thing from other writers who I know well. The criticisms are too harsh. It's not that they can't handle them, either. But those who are criticizing are picking out elements of the writing that seem irrelevant and are making comments that are over-the-top.

    I agree that we need to be thick skinned, but I also think that we need to put our foot down when others make outlandish suggestions about our writing. I mean, if this is the case, I have to wonder how long some of these commentors have been writing themselves. Perhaps many of them are new to the world of writing, which is why they seek out Write On Con.

  10. So true. And I'm thrilled to hear I'm far from the only one feeling like this.

    I also think it's a combination of never having critted before, but being forced by rules to crit now and not being all that experienced at writing.

    Now it's come to the point that I'm just leaving my 250 words and five changes to the end and seeing what people think must change. That way I can test against the law of averages. If fewer than half people want things to change, I'll keep them as is. 🙂

  11. Oh my gosh, thank you for this! I HATE when my CPs say things like “but I want to know this now” and I'm like, “well then it becomes a short story” >.< I actually had a CP say "in a short story we would know this by now" and I almost strangled her. I think many writing programs teach people to crit based on short stories, so people expect things a lot sooner. It drives me crazy.

  12. I know! Drives me up the wall.

    I also think people are looking at 250 words or 5 pages like they would flash fiction and a short story. Which is bizarre, because surely they don't expect the same treatment for their work?

  13. Had a similar experience on the WriteOn boards, Mish. More from an observational standpoint. (Though I had a couple of people whip their claws out for my stuff, too.) In general, I do think you need to consider the forum and circumstances around the crit process. Meaning: In a first 5 pages, and very public setting that the Con offers, the author probably isn't looking for a complete assessment of their writing chops. For one thing, you have very little idea of who these people are and if they're even qualified to offer writing suggestions.

    Maybe it's just me, but I think that's more of a setting for, “It works and I'd like to read more!” or “Maybe tweak the opening lines a little, because the second paragraph is more exciting!” or “I struggled to visualize the MC a bit, but loved your style.” Not all praise or anything, but certainly not a place to put someone's work through the strainer.

    For example, I had someone rake me over the coals for starting sentences with “-ing” words in my first 5 posting. 🙂 I do partially think there's some “an agent, official author, or whoever might be lurking, so you want your critique to sound official” going on. So maybe people feel the need to be overly analytical. Plus, I believe there's a touch of competitive jousting amongst writers, too. 😉

    That being said, I feel the overall atmosphere is positive, and I certainly gained more from my feedback there than I lost.

    In the end, I wouldn't worry about it. I think it's true of published work as well: Anytime you offer up something for public inspection and/or consumption, you'd better have your big boy (or girl) britches on. Someone, somewhere, is going to go out of their way to find flaws or simply let you know they don't like it. Doesn't matter what the context is, or if they are the intended audience or not.

  14. Listen to those with good ideas, but remember that it's YOUR story. Some people have no idea how to critique, but Nathan Bransford's sandwich rule is the best.

    If you can't find a grain of usefulness in the crit, ignore it. Like someone else said, it's one person's opinion. Move on.

  15. Yeah, you're going to get all kinds of people offering an opinion, and many of them won't be great. Focus on the ones that offer real constructive content.
    I don't know how anyone could critique an entire book based on so few words. Not sure what they expect at that point.

  16. If you had asked my advice on posting five pages on a forum like WriteOn Con, I would have said unabashedly NO! Those places are not helpful at all. You're throwing your manuscript into a tank of wanna be writers who will come at your work like barracudas in a feeding frenzy. There's a reason why people say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” They all have good intentions, but cutting into someone's prose without actually reading it to see what's there is a big mistake. I bet you could post five pages of J.K. Rowling's work anonymously taken out of context and not reveal the name of the author and writers would tear it to pieces. And she won a HUGO!

  17. As long as I'm interested in your story in those first few pages, I'll continue reading. I've had the criticisms come in the same way, however, maybe a few pages or a chapter along, I get, 'oohhh, now I see what you were doing'. While, we need outside input on our writing, it's important to trust your instincts as a writer. As I tell my workshop group, you're the god of your story.

  18. I agree – it's a tricky line to balance. As a CP, you're automatically in the mindset of trying to find ways to make it better, and sometimes that inadvertantly pulls you out of the “reader” mindset. You're absolutely right that, as a reader, I'm willing to wait and trust the author to give me the answers in time and in the most exciting way possible!

  19. Yeah, see that's why I don't put my stuff up on public forums. You're brave to do so and I hope, despite the over doing of the criticism, that you gained a lot from the experience.

  20. To think I've been wondering if two people critting was enough! Clearly it is. Though I don't mind the obvious being pointed out because it shows me my crit partners 'get' it, if you know what I mean.
    But too harsh criticism is counterproductive because it slows up your thought process – you end up questioning what you intended when you probably don't need to.

  21. Well, some readers/critters are just impatient. I see nothing wrong with setting up things more slowly (as long as it isn't molasses-paced, and things are happening). Draw the mystery out a little! That's intriguing. 🙂

  22. I really hate the trend I'm seeing a lot of now, people ONLY critiquing what they didn't like instead of mentioning what they did like. I tend towards a slower, more literary, more old-fashioned writing style myself, from all the old books I've read. For example, I had one beta reader who didn't work out, who criticized just about everything from a first chapter, like she didn't understand that's just my writing style. She also didn't like how I had one character explaining to the other a few things about how kosher works, and some other things about her level of religiosity. Sure I show her observance level plenty of times later on, but in the beginning, that's just establishing information, not an infodump or “showing”!

  23. I have a local crit partner who I get that kind of crap from all the time. Thank goodness not you. No, you should not tell the whole story in chapter one. Your job is to prick curiosity to keep the reader reading. But perhaps some of the CPs in the conference like predictable books. They're not your audience.

    Husband Unit doesn't want to hear about my wayward CP any more. Siigh. If I could dump her, I would. He told me to hum greasy grimy gopher guts [a stupid kids's song] whenever she give me my feedback from now on. Last time she felt The Backworlds needed a character list and a prologue. I did my best not not roll my eyes, but I think I did. There's maybe 12 characters between the two books, and I introduce two more in #3. My fans would crit me worse if I did what she wanted. Jeez. Not my audience. Not my audience. Not my audience. lol

    But I get what you mean. It makes you feel like you write in a foreign language. OK, I'll quit ranting now …

  24. I hear ya! I just got two crits back on my first chapter. They loved my writing, loved the opening, voice…just didn't love my character. Waaaa! Now I'm hiring a professional editor. I need solid advice.

  25. When I read a few pages or a chapter I tend to concentrate only on what's in front of me–voice, dialogue, style, tension. I don't look for the big picture, although I do want the characters to be doing something and be headed somewhere. I only critiqued one sample last summer on the boards. I read it several times and gave pointers on how to make it stronger. People should be more careful, as well as supportive, when posting feedback.

  26. Very true.

    In some cases, I can see some of the writers even tried to imitate my critiquing style when they came by to return the favor.

    In a way I think it's sweet. Difference being though that I critted where I saw issues. I.E. a person not being introduced in a scene and then suddenly talking and other characters reacting like he'd been there all the time.

    What I got back was: (after I pointed out it in writing that came by suddenly and without warning – as it always does) This came out of nowhere. What is it? (answer coming out later) Why is it there? (answer coming out later) etc. And it really… annoyed me.

  27. You're right. Some people really don't have a clue. I also learnt the hard way how to crit, but before I ever start with any CP, I always ask what they want and how intense they want me to be. 😀

    It's worked thus far.

  28. I know, right? I came to the point where I read the comments and only edited to fix the REALLY valid points.

    Even with the Queries, which I admit I know very little about. Learnt a lot. Especially after an Agent gave me some crit.

    But everyone's like: add this add that add the other. And then towards last night, they were like: … your Query's too long…

    So apparently querying's just another art I'll have to learn on instinct. 😉

  29. Definitely. When I write, I pick what feels right and what feels wrong about what I've written.

    So it didn't bother me to ignore 90% of what I read. Still doesn't.

    What bothers me is that I had to ignore them. People spending so much time writing should know better. :-/

  30. Hahaha for what it's worth, the 5 pages and 250 never went up for critting. Not really. They were purely as companions to my Query, in case someone wanted a look-see. 😉

    You're still my one and only copy-CP extraordinaire.

  31. I also get sucked out of reader mode, even when I'm only reading. But then my fall-back is still writer-mode. I.e. if I'd written the story, would I have put the answer in right now? No? Why not? Yes? Why? And then if the answer's yes, I'd comment on it and my motivation in the crit.

    I never crit as a critic. It just never helps anyone.

  32. I definitely learnt a lot more from having my Query critiqued.

    Reason is twofold: 1) On night 1 a ninja agent gave me tips.
    2) I knew next to nothing to start with, so I had to learn SOMETHING.


  33. I actually like more rather than less CPs, because then I can weigh opinions up on each other.

    Say I have six CPs. If one points something out and I disagree, I just ignore it. If all of them point it out, I know I have to put in some thought.

    But a forum where there's only a limited amount of pages to crit is pretty much useless. 🙂

  34. That's so true. Apparently people got annoyed because I don't start with action.

    “Taking too long showing her riding her horse…”
    “Too much introspection.”

    But my doing that did something no action sequence does. It lets people get to know and care about the character before something happens. A lot of time I read stories opening with action and all I'm thinking is: “So?”

    I hate that, so I promised never to put my writing through the same thing.

  35. I know! Another thing I saw in crits to me. People have no idea what's telling and what's showing. Really annoyed me, because I'm pretty sure all of my true CPs will say that my story is at least 70% show.

    If that little. Because telling is one thing I've rooted out ever since I finished my rough draft.

  36. Hahahaha I might steal your mantra. ;-P

    Seriously, from our previous discussion about this CP of yours, you know I think she's a Bitch and has NO clue what she's doing.

    Because she's seriously out to find fault with everything.

  37. I agree. I also look for things that yank me out of a story.

    Like characters appearing out of thin air or doing things that are physically impossible based on what was described a few seconds ago.


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