Saturday, July 20, 2013

Infinite Critting Loops

Writing has a strongly subjective element, obviously, and it's particularly hard to be completely objective about something you've written. You know what you're trying to say, so it can be really tough to spot even basic typos and grammar errors when you re-read. When issue with your prose move into the realms of opinion, it can get even harder. Putting something down and coming back to it can be beneficial, but here you can run into the opposite problem. Now, everything has gone from being lovely, flowing prose to impossibly clunky crap.

Soliciting feedback from reviewers can be invaluable once you get to this stage of your writing. But when you ask for criticism, you'll get it. Even if there really is nothing wrong with your writing, and a lot right with it, reviewers will be falling all over themselves to find something that could be improved. Everyone has preferences, of course, but there's also just that desire to be helpful. So sometimes people will hold their critting partners to a higher standard that they do the books they read for fun. Sometimes sharing something you've written can feel like you're getting this treatment:

And sometimes you feel like you've gotten stuck in an endless loop where fixing one issue creates another, and another, and another...


You write: She frowned. Critter 1 says: "Booooring. Doesn't evoke anything. There are so many ways someone can frown. Also, you have too many sentences starting with he or she in that chapter.

So you write: Her frown was doubtful. Critter 2 says: "Now you're using a "to be" verb. Horrors."

So you write: She frowned doubtfully. Critter 3 says: "Aiyeeee, an adverb. Kill it!"

So you write: She gave him a doubtful frown. Critter 4 says: "How can someone give another person a frown? That image is pretty hilarious, actually, because it makes me think of someone extending her hands, offering a frowning mouth.

So you write, A doubtful frown twisted her features. Critter 5 says, "Ack! Disembodied action. No!"

So you try, He noticed her doubtful frown. Critter 6 says: "Ew, filtering! And anyway, what's a doubtful frown look like anyway? Show me, don't tell me."

So you try: Head cocked to the side, she frowned, lips at that precise angle that suggested doubt and not anger. Critter 7 says: "Now you're giving me too many details! You don't need an exposition.

So you try your passage without the frowning in it at all, and someone says: "Your passage is too 'talking heads.' You need a beat or action tag to break up the dialog here and to show some description.

So you write: She frowned.

At the end of the day, there's no approach to writing something that will appeal to everyone, so all you can do is weigh all the criticism carefully and then respond in the way that seems best, knowing that you'll never write anything that all readers will think is flawless.

And don't forget to breathe now and again and to read some books by authors you like to see how they handle various things. Chances are, you'll find plenty of sentences that the critting puppies would nibble to bits.


  1. Truth all around. There comes a point where you just have to trust yourself, especially when you get that sort of conflicting information.

    "people will hold their critting partners to a higher standard that they do the books they read for fun." If you ever participate or read over a 'first line/paragraph/page contest', you would believe that nobody ever buys or reads any books at all!

  2. I have had two crit partners ever. One has been tremendous because she's a brilliant writer herself, with very exacting standards, but also because she actually likes what I write. The other is a good writer, but she doesn't really 'get' my stuff. The former has been invaluable for finding inconsistencies,organising the order of chapters and events, and characterisation. The latter has been good on commas. I have accepted all the suggestions the first crit partner made, hardly any of the second's. I think it all boils down to empathy and honesty. Honesty is no good if you aren't on the same wavelength as the author, and without it, a crit is worthless. But if you find somebody who loves what you write enough to be able to point out its shortcomings, you've found gold.

  3. A good article - that crit loop illustrates why it's generally best to get all your crits in before you change anything, then pick and choose what you're going with. That doesn't invalidate the other crits, but ultimately it's your story..

  4. In my case, the evil nit picky critter who's asking for these changes is most often me. Sadly, pretty much anything I've written reads like crap to me once I sit it down and come back to it :P