Thursday, August 30, 2012

Loose Threads

Where did she go?
We'd pulled into the dollar store, shopped, and pulled out again.
Did she have family? Did they know where she was?
This was downtown, in the middle of stores and traffic. I imagined she had a few dollars and change in hand. Perhaps, she was getting something to eat—or maybe something to relieve her pain.
She wore a marshmallow type coat, brown. Nothing covered her silver hair. It was getting late. It was getting chilly.
I had seen her slowly crossing a gravel lot, far in the distance. Then she was gone. Her thread crossed mine, pulled it taut for a fleeting moment, and then it slipped away.
Image: Copyright 2012 Gina Fairchild 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Critique vs. Review

A few days ago, I wrote a review for a novelette I read. I generally don’t do that, but since I won the ebook for free, I felt it was proper. It took two drafts and between the two, my awareness of the difference between how I critique and how I review, and sometimes how I cross the two, increased. Mainly, with a review I’m addressing another reader, and not a fellow author. Here are some other things I learned.

An inordinate amount of technical jargon means I’ve written a critique. POV, formulaic, characters, passive vs. active, showing vs. telling, protagonists, plot, cliché, etc, etc—an author can recognize these shorthand terms and know what to do with them. That’s not necessarily true for readers. Too much of that means I’m analyzing the story as a writer instead of as a reader. It’s a sign I’m more hung up on style versus substance, which, if the style isn’t an utterly distracting disaster, shouldn’t be the main focus.

A lack of ‘story’ means I’ve written a critique. A critique assumes the reader (who is usually the author) knows the story. A review doesn’t. There should be a sense of progression, if possible, in explaining to the reader what the book is about and how I experienced it from beginning to end. All with a minimal amount of spoilers.

Too much objectivity means I’ve written a critique. Objectivity is good for critiques. A review is inherently subjective. I’m writing about my unique reading experience, so the piece should convey my personal impressions and not generalized observations. It’s okay to use ‘I’ and ‘me’ because that’s who I’m speaking for. It helps punctuate the elements in the story that affected me most.

A lack of proportionality means I’ve written a critique. My first draft focused only on the things I didn’t like, because those were freshest in my mind. With a critique partner, I can do that and the author will know I still like the overall story and writing. Not so with a reader browsing through reviews. The balance between positive and negative in my review should be a fair representation of my reading experience. By the second draft, I recalled several highlights I had overlooked—not things I had to hunt for, but things that buoyed above and made the read enjoyable for the moment. It wasn’t fifty-fifty, but there was a lot more to appreciate than I had originally stated.

In the end, I wrote the kind of review I wanted to read, the kind that could help me decide whether to take a chance on a book. For me, that review is comprehensive but concise, and, yes, in the age of e-publishing, it lets me know how the writing and editing stacks up. So, I felt it was okay to include a brief paragraph about technical issues—not a detailed list, but a general take on whether it was clean or problematic.

Also? Don’t publish your first draft cold. Let it simmer or write another. It just might be the difference between an unhelpful critique and a fair, honest review.

Photo: Copyright 2012 Gina Fairchild

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's Gonna Be Good

“It’s gonna be good.”

I've heard some version of that on these skilled reality competitions, the cooking and designing ones where the contestant’s skill level accounts for most of their survival. The designer sketches something out, gets all excited about the vision, gathers the material, and makes it work. Someone comes along and picks apart everything, doubts the overall vision, questions the designer’s taste or his ability to pull it off.

Often, this is followed by a brief moment of panic. She might drop several crucial elements. He might go with a safer, backup choice in fabric, instead. The whole thing might be reimagined.

Sometimes, the unperturbed designer responds, “It’s gonna be good.”
And, sometimes, that’s the best way to go.

I’m not a meticulous plotter. In the thick of it, my first draft can look pretty bleak, doubtful. I lose track of the plot and lose touch with the characters. Back when I started, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get this really awesome idea out of my head and onto the page. Then I get to a point, usually around the final act, where I start contemplating whether to drop several elements and go back to switch things up.

This time, I’ve decided to skip the panic session. This draft is nearly complete. I’m going to put my head down and keep working, doing what I know how to do as best as I can.

It’s gonna be good.

Photo: Copyright 2012 Gina Fairchild