Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The power of a four-stage critique

by Kalexanderson on Flickr (cc)
Over at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing they have a free month-long First Five Pages Workshop I went through THAT IS AMAZING!

At the beginning of each month, they take submissions for the first 1250 words from the beginning of a YA or MG novel. They accept the first five entries that submit with all the required formatting. Each entry critiques the other entries, and there are two other critiquers, usually at least one a published author. This month's workshop details were posted here, and the next round will start in October, in case you're interested.

Each week you make revisions based on the suggestions and resubmit. And that's what so cool about this, not only do you get feedback on your original, you get feedback on your revision. And then your second revision - and then your third.

Here's what I learned from this powerful  four-stage critique on the first five pages of my YA SF novel, Star Tripped:

1) The first set of comments helped me rewrite to show and not tell. Yeah, I know, the most basic storytelling rule! - show don't tell! And I had completely fallen into the trap. I can catch "telling" immediately in other people's writing, but not in my own. The critiques also helped me tighten my writing. The original 1250 words got pared down to 1100.

2) After revising, the 2nd set of comments helped me zero in on what was confusing to my readers. It's amazing what seems perfectly clear to the writer can come across as something totally different to the readers. Comments also resulted in more tightening, down to 1000 words (cutting the fat by 20%!)

3) With my 2nd revision, the comments helped me load more impact into my first paragraph, fix passive usage, and remove overused or weak words like "but" "just" "feel/felt/feeling".

4) With my 3rd revision - well I'm waiting to see. It's posted here (gulp). Anybody else feel like they can't stand to look at their writing one more time after multiple revisions? You start to feel like it's been written to death. And if you can't stand to read it anymore, you think no one else will be able to either.

I learned so much from the comments received on my own writing, but also taking time to think through what worked and what didn't work with the other four submissions, not to mention reading other critiquer's comments for each submissions.

This four stage critique process is a brilliant method for providing feedback... now, if only it could be used for more than just the first 1250 words!

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