Revision–Shannon Style (Part Three: Critiques)

February 15th, 2011 | Blog Uncategorized


For those of you who haven't been following this series (or just don't remember because I ramble about so many things it's hard for you to keep up) I've spent the last two weeks talking about my revision process. I've covered my drafting process HERE and my own personal revision process HERE. And today I'm going to talk a little about what I call the third “phase” of my revision process: The CP/Beta Phase.

Mind you–as you know from those previous posts–my poor CPs have already been involved throughout the whole process. In fact, by the end of this phase, they'll have read my draft three times (have I mentioned how amazing the Sara(h)s are? Cause um…YEAH! They = awesome.) So obviously the CP/Beta phase has a lot more to it than: send draft to CPs. (Though that would have made this post nice and easy to write).

And since today's phase is a pretty painful part of the process, I'm bringing out the big guns before we get started. The chocolate COVERED Twizzlers.

Why the big guns? Because what I'm really talking about in this post is: how I work through critique notes. Which is not an easy thing to do.

Though, I'll admit. I'm currently a very lucky girl. I have two wonderful, smart, talented Critique Partners who have the perfect blend of “getting what I'm trying to do” and “pushing me to make me better.” They still give me a ton of notes to wade through. But I never have to worry that I will completely disagree with their take on my project.

It…wasn't always that way. For a long time I didn't even have CPs. And then, as I tried to find them I had some…interesting experiences.

Nothing against those readers–at all. Writing is just subjective, and not everyone will like the same things or get what you're trying to do or read things as fast as you'd like or work well with you. It happens. And I'll talk more about finding CPs in another post someday (once I figure out what the heck to say in it) but for now, since we're talking about critiques, I'll just briefly cover how *I* judge if I can work from a critique, or if it's…off.

Here's the thing. I actually have a very thick skin. No really, I do. I couldn't have survived film school if I didn't. (Let me put it this way: we had to read our scenes out loud, in front of the class, and then everyone–including the teacher–told you what you did wrong. It. was. brutal.) So…I'm good with criticism. I don't ENJOY it. But it doesn't freak me out. At least, not when I can see their point. And I'm pretty darn good at seeing their point.

So when I get notes back on my draft, I've learned to listen to my gut reaction to them. Let's face it: even though we all know we're going to get notes back, and they're not going to say: IT'S PERFECT–DON'T CHANGE A THING!, deep down, we're secretly hoping it'll be like: add a few commas here, tweak these five lines of dialogue and you're golden. So…when we get back SIGNIFICANTLY more notes than that, it's kind of like a punch to the gut. Like, “crap…I have a lot more work to do.”

But that is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FEELING from: “wow…they, hated my project” or “wow, I completely disagree with what they're saying” or “wow, I hate their suggestions.” That reaction is a sick-to-your-stomach-curl-up-in-the-fetal-postion-and-sob kind of reaction–and I've learned from past stressful experiences that it means the critique is off. Doesn't mean they're WRONG (maybe their suggestions would work if I wanted to change the book into something different from where I was going.) But they're not right for me.

So I have actually thrown out entire batches of notes from people, because they just didn't see my project the same way I did. It was scary and hard for me to do that–because I'm not one to dig in my heels and say, “no–I'm RIGHT!” But if thick-skinned me is nauseous because I just don't like anything they had to say about my draft…well…I've learned that my gut is telling me what I'm too afraid to admit: that the critique is off. And if the same thing ever happens to you, I hope you'll come to realize that it's okay–you don't HAVE to do what the notes say. Think carefully about them of course. But you can reject them if they don't fit.

And fortunately, I now have The Sara(h)s, so that hasn't happened to me in a long time. But…that doesn't mean I apply every single one of their notes. Again, I've learned to listen to my gut. I have some methods I use to judge the notes, but I'll cover those next week, because that is a HUGE part of my fourth phase of revision: The Agent Phase. So for now, let's just skip to the part after I've decided what I do and don't agree with and have a plan. Here's how I tackle the draft from there:

The Sara(h)s send me their notes as a word doc, with comments in the margins. Before I start working on them, I create an entirely new version of the draft (usually Master Draft 2 at that point). Then I open their notes file, along with my new draft and work side by side. (Oh, and I should mention, I tackle one Sara(h)s notes at a time, so every chapter gets reworked at least twice)

I scroll to their first comment. Scroll to that part of the draft, and reread. Half the time it's a quick fix. Adding more description. Clarifying or correcting an inconsistency. Trimming something repetitive. Finding a better word. Etc. Sometimes it's something bigger and I may have to rewrite a large section of a scene, or make a big cut. Either way, as I work, I highlight all the changes in teal highlighter, so they stand out in the draft like this. 

I do that because it makes it easier for me to see the draft evolve. I know some people do “track changes” and let Word keep track of all of that for them. But that feature drives me crazy because it marks every. little. change. I just want to track the big stuff, so I can see what I did to the scene and really make sure the new stuff is consistent with the other stuff. If it reads seamlessly–even with the glaring teal highlighter–I know I have it right. If the new stuff stands out, I need to blend more. 

Bonus: I can resend it to the Sara(h)s with the highlighter in there, that way if they're strapped for time, all I ask is that they read the highlighted sections to see if they're satisfied by the change. They don't have to reread the whole thing again–unless they want to–because they've already read it twice and are starting to get too close anyway. 

Which is where my Beta Readers come in.

I know, you're probably wondering what the difference between a CP and a Beta reader is. Everyone draws their own distinction, but for me a CP is someone I'm going to let read my REALLY messy stuff, someone who's going to brainstorm with me, someone who's going to read chapter by chapter because I want them to be really thorough, and someone who is going to read the draft multiple times. My Betas are the people who get the full draft all in one go (sans highlighting), it will be much cleaner (in theory) and they will probably only read it once. Basically I'm bringing them in for “fresh eyes.” 

They also read much quicker because–while I, of course, want them to note anything that bothers them–I don't want them constantly having to slow down to make tiny tweaks and comments. What I'm really looking for at that point is: pacing, believable character arcs, and does the plot make sense? And that becomes MUCH clearer when the draft is read in as few sittings as possible. 

I have a number of different people who Beta-read for me, and I use them based on their availability. Usually they get a desperate email saying, “Hey–are you too busy to do a quick read?” And if I send the draft to them, they know I'm hoping to get it back from them in about a week–unless of course something comes up for them. They read nice and quick and send me the draft back–usually with a lot less comments than a critique. But it's AMAZING what they catch. I definitely, DEFINITELY recommend using Betas in your process.

From there, I do one more round of adjusting based on my Beta-Reader's feedback, sometimes asking The Sara(h)s to read isolated scenes or chapters if I made a major change. And once they're happy and I'm feeling like I've done all I can do, then…*gulp*…it goes to Laura. 

And we enter the dreaded Agent Phase, which I will talk about next week.

*Phew*–do you see why we needed the chocolate covered Twizzlers this time? That is a LOT of work. I tell ya, this process is not for the feint of heart! But it's what turns my draft from a mess of word vomit into something presentable enough to show my agent–so it's worth it.

Still…I think I'm going to need some chocolate covered Twizzlers now. *noms* Anyone want to join me?

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