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View Full Version : Critting Friends--how would you handle it?



Sea Witch
12-29-2011, 01:08 AM
I wasn't sure where to post this, so I'll try here at the party.

Not long ago, a good friend of mine asked me if I'd look at a draft of a novel she had. This is a good friend with a fragile self-esteem. She didn't ask me to really honestly take it apart, it was more a tentative, "I'd love it if you'd look at it," as she handed it to me. Fortunately we were about to go somewhere so I only had a few minutes to read the first page.

It was terrible. Now I'm not suggesting I'm a brilliant writer, but I do have a degree in lit so I know a little about the written word--enough to have an opinion anyway. This was rock-bottom, unreadable, impossible-to-follow, eye-watering, TERRIBLE.

I made a few noises like, "wow, what a lot of work! what a massive manuscript! Where do you get your ideas?" and then we went out and on to other subjects.

How would you handle this situation?

Silver-Midnight
12-29-2011, 01:35 AM
You know, I really would like to know the answer to this myself. It seems when I review my online and real life friend they don't like because the review isn't long enough in their taste or I won't go in depth enough to what they did wrong. When I do try to go in depth they usually tell me "Well, why does it have to be this way?" or "Doesn't blah blah" and so on. So, in other words, they essentially want two or three long paragraphs of me praising everything they did, and get upset when I don't provide it. So, I obviously need help with this as well.

bettielee
12-29-2011, 01:36 AM
I do a lot of beta-ing. I don't know if this helps you now, but before I touch someone's stuff, I ask them what they want from me. Do they want line by line? Sometimes, they know it's not polished perfect, they just want story feedback.

So I try and read for what they want me to look at: such as pace, is it believable? do you like the characters? etc. Whatever they SAY they want to know.

Now, here's the beta code that I have. I feel it's my duty to tell them if I get thrown out of the story, if I just don't "buy" something, I get bored, or if I find a mistake, like, I know a lot about cross stitching, and if they get some embroidery thing wrong, I'll tell them.

I also say "You know it doesn't do you any good unless I tell you the truth, right?" Of course, I only have to say that to friends in meatspace, not AWers who have been around the bend and are looking for me to do a serious crit on a novel that is srs bsns.

Dealing with noobs sucks.

Kitty Pryde
12-29-2011, 01:38 AM
I would be honest (but not focus on her suckitude). Tell her that even talented, seasoned authors have to get their work ripped to shreds by critiquers and editors, and have to do massive rewriting, and you think she's too tender/your friendship is too valuable to upset her over her work's flaws.

People always like to hear "I can tell you are really passionate about your story" so I say it a lot when it's hard to think of anything complimentary. It also opens things up to say "Since you care so much about this story, I think you'll want to do lots of hard work to make it great!" which is nicer than "Your novel stinks on ice! Good luck polishing up that dookiebomb."

If she wants to get better you could always suggest some books to read or some general suggestions like How To Correctly Punctuate Dialogue or Go Easy On The Adverbs or Show Don't Tell that she can apply across her entire WIP without being butt hurt.

Anninyn
12-29-2011, 02:31 AM
I do crit my friends (one of them is my best friend, which adds certain obligations) but my friends who write are all reasonably skilled, so I've never been in this exact position.

I do however, warn my friends about my crit style. I always tell them when stuff works, but I am quite ... descriptive when something doesn't. I'm not this way on SYW because when someone doesn't know me they don't know 'if you keep writing sentences like this I will EAT YOUR INTESTINES when we next meet' or 'yawn, boring, why should I give a shit' is affectionate and not meant cruelly. My friends are, after all, used to putting up with me, my foul mouth and my inability to show affection without resorting to crude insults. Strangers aren't.


If my friends were as sensitive as your friend is, I would actually not crit them. It's very likely she isn't ready for anything other than a very gentle critique at this stage, and as you're her friend, any seemingly harsh thing you say could be magnified a thousand fold.

Finishing a book is an achievement, no matter how poor it is, so do compliment her on that at least. Perhaps ask her what she wants from your looking at it? Does she want an honest opinion? Praise?

scarletpeaches
12-29-2011, 02:37 AM
As usual, I agree with Anninyn. Especially when it comes to her private critting style differing from that which she uses in public/SYW! That's me all over.

It's a bit late to say "I wouldn't crit her work," but in future, it's something to keep in mind if she is that sensitive.

I think the best thing at this point is to suggest your friend joins AW. Praise the site, rather than critting the book written. Emphasise the benefits of socialising online with other writers.

John R. Gambit
12-31-2011, 06:06 AM
Lie. LIE! Pretend it's much better than it is, and leave the reality check to others. If she made it to adulthood and is a horrible writer, no career coaching is going to turn her into a great one. The only thing you'll gain with honesty is compromising your friendship. Stick to structural editing only, and avoid any topic of content. The world is full of talentless writers, artists, and musicians, and the rare few who are talented either learn to lie to others about their work or become the village asshole.

Yasaibatake
12-31-2011, 07:18 AM
I wouldn't lie to her - what good does that do anyone? - but I would definitely be very supportive.

I did this to a friend when I was first starting and quite sensitive (not realizing the situation I was putting her in) and, seeing as she's practically a saint, her reaction was perfect. The first part was basically, "what a neat idea!" and then she gave me a few small but basic points. I remember talking about the names I'd chosen - I had a bunch of Star Wars-esque names, then a main character named Alice - and my abundant use of said bookisms. All in the gentlest of terms, of course, and she gave two or three very specific examples of what she meant so I could see for myself. It was my choice if I wanted to change it, but that was her suggestion "to help make it perfect". She completely ignored the millions of other things wrong with it, and I remember thinking, ok, there's a few little things to edit, but maybe I can do this! It was very encouraging, and now she can rip my work to shreds without fear :D

Silver-Midnight
12-31-2011, 11:12 AM
Lie. LIE! Pretend it's much better than it is, and leave the reality check to others. If she made it to adulthood and is a horrible writer, no career coaching is going to turn her into a great one. The only thing you'll gain with honesty is compromising your friendship. Stick to structural editing only, and avoid any topic of content. The world is full of talentless writers, artists, and musicians, and the rare few who are talented either learn to lie to others about their work or become the village asshole.
I don't why, but this made me laugh.

Sea Witch
12-31-2011, 11:29 AM
Thank you to everyone for helpful suggestions and feedback.

It is my nature to treat others gently, so in the case of a close and fragile friend, I would most likely A) be as supportive and non-specific as possible and B) suggest she join this forum to get feedback from several writers.

JSDR
12-31-2011, 11:45 AM
At the most basic level, I go with the sandwich approach: What I like, what I don't like, what I like:

"I really like how you've captured the mood of this scene with your description. You know what might need some more finesse? This sentence where you tell me how the character's feeling. I'd like to see that with an action. I also like how you add another character to the scene here by having him crash through the door. But you know what I think might be worth a second look? How about keeping the focus on the dialogue between these two characters, and holding off on this third character's entry."

Or

"I thought this part was really funny. I've noticed that in this paragraph, a lot of the sentences start with 'I plus verb.' I wish I could see more of what's going on around the MC, rather than just what she's doing. You could probably do that by doing X."

As someone who has had friends crit my piece, I felt worse getting vague comments than specific comments. I felt like the person I'd shown it to either didn't read it or didn't care enough to take me seriously. Might be different for you and your friend, but wanted to add that for your consideration.