Welcome to the blog of science fiction author Eileen Rhoadarmer--where science fiction and Mommyhood collide!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What I learned from my first round of Critters

Wow!  The Critters website indicated that around 15 critiques is average for a story, so I was floored when I received a total of TWENTY-FIVE critiques!  Incredible!  I was nervous before opening each one, especially after receiving a few that felt a little harsh (they're not attacking me, they're trying to help me improve my story, they're not attacking me...) but overall I got a good idea of what works, what doesn't, and what to expect from a science-fiction-loving audience.  I've never had a SF/F/H audience in a workshop before, as most of my workshops have been in school with only a few hardcore fans, so a few things they pointed out were eye-opening.  And after reading back through each critique now that the week is over, the effect is blunted a bit--they were hardest to read the first time.  Here are a few things that I learned:

Getting critiques through email is more painful than face-to-face.  As writers, we have to develop a thick skin because of how dearly we hold our masterpieces--and we have to accept criticism, no matter how painful, in order to improve our craft.  I think I have a relatively thick skin--I can usually find the good in a critique and not just get defensive about it (at least, after my knee-jerk reaction is over :) )  But I have a confession to make.  When I first read the "diplomacy" guidelines for Critters, I thought, "Wow, some of these people must have really thin hides."  The guidelines suggest adding "I think" or "I feel" to pretty much every statement, and recommend against phrases I remember using regularly in workshop classes a few years ago.  Well, now I understand why.  When making a statement in a workshop, the author is in the room and can hear the critiquer's tone-of-voice, can see their body language, and can hear everyone laugh when something is presented as a joke or exaggeration.  An email critique is blind, so everything becomes just a little harsher.  This is the same reason why people misinterpret things said in emails, IMs, message boards, etc.  Even with emoticons, the written word cannot express as much as tone and body language.

There are a heckuva lot more people who believe in some variation of Asimov's Laws of Robotics, or at least believe that machines would not be able to break their programming, than I realized.  This is something I never would've learned without a science fiction workshop group.  Of course, now that I've had a little time and am reading the critiques for a second time, I can see that some people may have said this simply because I didn't show much (okay, any) development on the part of my android.  But I was surprised at the number of people who said some variation on this theme.  At least now that I know these people are out there, I can attempt to acknowledge them in my work.

You can never please everybody.  Okay, so I knew this already, but I saw even more evidence in my critiques.  They were about evenly split between liking/disliking the ending, thinking it was original/saying they'd seen it done before, and a few other, minor things.  I'm not trying to please everybody (even though I'd be incredibly flattered if everybody liked my writing) but I thought it was interesting how many things people had split opinions on.  A teacher from years ago (the teacher of a Science Fiction literature class, as a matter of fact) once said "If you haven't offended somebody, you haven't really said anything."  I'm a firm believer of this, although it could easily be the subject of it's own post (and probably a lot of them.)

There will always, ALWAYS, be somebody who Just Doesn't Get It. When the critique itself is confusing--or perhaps the critiquer just doesn't communicate well--it's best to just skim through it for any kernels of truth, and then disregard it. Luckily, there was only one major offender of this type.

People were very friendly (I even got some really nice compliments) and I'm impressed with the quality of this workshop.  I'm looking forward to my next one (early June) and I will probably keep an eye out for the names of people who critiqued me as they go through the queue.  (If you're visiting from Critters, and you critiqued me, please don't be offended if I don't read yours--with an eighteen-month-old nipping at my ankles, my time is limited!)

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