Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What I Learned from My Partial Critique

Having my work critiqued by an agent was an eye opening experience. I submitted the first thirty pages of Product of an Illusion to Nathan Bransford for a critique that I won via Brenda Novak's auction for Diabetic Research. I won't go into the nitty gritty details, but I will share some things that I learned, how I digested it, and where it leaves me at today. For those who don't regularly follow this blog, the manuscript that I submitted to Nathan was a rewrite, of a rewrite, of a rewrite. Five years in the making, it was the best that I thought I could put out.

1. He liked the plot. (inner squee!!)
2. He thought I could craft interesting scenes and images (double squee!!)
3. I need to polish my voice. (hmmm....I'll have to work on that)
4. Too many adverbs (Wince. How did I miss those? I know adverbs are a no no)
5. Too many exclamation points and italics are used to say rather than show what is going on. (Stupid me. I know you're supposed to show rather than tell. I know that.)
6. Inconsistent narrative.
7. The protagonists is being bounced around rather than playing active role. (I feared this. I really did. And I am so glad Nathan came right out and just said it.)

And now for the most important thing Nathan helped me realize....

The cast for Product of an Illusion is large. Each character has a unique back story and in some way contributes to the protagonist. But, its been difficult orchestrating everyone and moving the plot along because I chose to tell this story from first person. I've always written everything in first person. I'm not sure why that is. And, I've always seen writing in third person as daunting. On a whim, I did write the prologue in third person, and after I wrote it there was this voice in my head, haunting me, telling me....You should tell this story in third person. You should tell this story in third person. But I just didn't do it. So I asked Nathan what he thought about me rewriting the story in third person. He thought it might be a good idea.

So, I'm back at square one. Pages Zero. Not only am I going to switch the point of view of the story but I'm going to change up the plot so that Maya (the protag) is actively moving the story along. I think I'm just going to lay low for awhile. Research. Brain storm. Write some other things for fun. And maybe with the start of the new year jump into the rewrite.

Happy Writing!


  1. Sweet :)

    I mean, stinks to have so much more work, but it's nice to have a professional's opinion, right?

  2. I think I would've been terrified to even read the critique. You are so brave. You may have a bit of work in front of you, but it sounds like the foundation (the story) is solid. IMO if you have a good story and all you have to do is find the right way to tell it, you're doing good. Take your break and then jump back in. This is your dream, right?

  3. Some of Nathan's points remind me of things that were said to me about an early version of my WIP: active protagonists, too many people and backstories, etc. You are lucky to have input like this from an industry professional and all this is bound to make your text better all round.

    It's wise to wait for the new year -- what better time for a fresh start on what may well be your final revision. It's a strong story (from the little I've read)--how fortunate to have been shown how to make it stronger still. Good luck:)

  4. Hey guys! Thanks for dropping by. Yes, I do have a LOT more work to do. But I think after I have a bit of a break I'll definitely be up for the challenge. Because as Renee asked....Yes, this is definitely my dream. =)

  5. It's the voice one, IMO, that's trickiest and what ultimately lands the agent. All that other stuff is just X's and O's, but getting the voice down is my biggest problem.

  6. I'm so glad Nathan's critique was helpful- when I got one from Janet Reid I was crushed by her comments at first, but she was dead on. I used her suggestions to clean up the whole manuscript- it's much better for the bruising I took.

    Yay for you!

  7. Sounds you walked away with some gems! There maybe hard work ahead but direction in getting there makes the trek less daunting.

  8. Taking a break to regroup is not a bad idea. When you return to your book, you will be reviewing it from a fresh perspective.

    I'm 2/4 of the way through the first draft of my manuscript,and I have to admit that I'm dreading my first critique:) Hang in there. Best wishes.

  9. Getting a crit from Nathan is an amazing Christmas present! He's given you such concrete feedback and a real focus for the future of this work. I bet the story will fly out of your fingers once you've given the advice a while to settle in your head!

  10. Thank you so much for this post, Anita! Even though I don't know much about your novel, I could sure relate to those critiques (I have yet to be professionally critiqued, but that feedback sounded a lot like what my beta editors have told me in the past.) I know five years seems like a lifetime, but it's clear from Nathan's POSITIVE feedback (of which there appears to have been a lot!) that you are moving closer and closer to a gem ... best of luck in our shared struggle! ;-)

  11. Yeah, getting the voice down is always a struggle. But still, knowing that you can craft interesting scenes/images and the plot is cool are extremely good things!

    I'm curious about #6 though ... does that mean there were plot holes? Bits of information you mentioned that never achieved "Chekov's gun" status?

  12. And oh yeah ... consider yourself tagged, madam.

  13. Matthew-
    I'm not cool enough to know what "Chekov's Gun" is but but this is what Nathan said about #6:
    "There were times when the narrative came right out and told the reader what they needed to know and other times when things felt a little coy and the reader is kept in the dark."

  14. "Chekhov's gun" -- An axiom attributed to playwright Anton Chekhov, stating "If there's a gun on the wall in Act I, then it must go off by Act III."

    "Chekhov's gun" is a type of foreshadowing in that it draws your attention to either information, actions, or the setting in order to set up something that happens later. Therefore, if you mention that Character A is afraid of flying, then it must play in to something later in the story.

    Unless said information is misdirection of Character A by Character B, then "Chekhov's gun" doesn't apply.

    I read TvTropes.org waaay too much.

  15. Anita, you little devil! Tagged, huh! I was so confused! I traced back to Matthew's blog to uncover the mystery!!! Like he said, great post idea! My mind is numb by Friday!

    Thanks girlie!

    xoxo -- Hilary