The Importance of Critics

At our Emerald Cove writer’s group meeting last week, I was reminded once again of how important it is for authors, particularly Indy authors, to have trusted people critique their writing. Reviewers see the mistakes a writer misses. All writers, of course, understand the need for a skilled editor to catch typographical errors and to help tighten manuscripts. However, we also need those critics who are willing to dig deeper, to catch plot holes and tell us when our precious ideas (that we just spent weeks carefully crafting into words) really don’t make sense.

I suspect that many of us are familiar with the phenomenon of reading what you think you wrote, not what is actually on the page. For example, if you accidentally leave a word out of a sentence, your brain can fill in that missing word when you proofread the sentence later. (And, if you’re like me, your brain will always fill in that missing word, no matter how many times you proofread the page. *sigh*) A good writing critique by someone other than the author can catch those mistakes.

The same phenomenon can apply to a plotline. As a writer, you can grow so enamored of that wonderful plot twist you developed that you miss how implausible it might seem to a reader. A good, honest critic will not be afraid to point out that implausibility and explain why it is a problem.

Unfortunately, that also can be the hardest kind of criticism to hear as a writer. Typos are easily fixed. Poor sentence construction can be remedied with a little work. But tearing apart a plotline is a stab through an author’s heart. We want our stories to be clever and interesting, and we usually don’t let others read them unless we already think our words are worth reading. We want our critics to boost our egos, not bruise them.

In addition, correcting those plot inconsistencies can often require a lot of work. If you’ve written what you think is a great story, having to rework the plot can be a daunting task. However, rewriting is always necessary in any work of fiction and is often as important as writing the initial draft of the story.

Case in point: My short story for the upcoming Haunted! anthology takes place, in part, in some pipelines under a construction area. At a certain point in the story, I was stumped for how to proceed and my beloved co-author suggested that the pipes start flooding with water. I loved the idea — it sounded perfect to advance that section of the plot. When I submitted the completed story to my fellow authors at Emerald Cove for review, however, they pointed out many problems with the way I had incorporated that particular plot element into the story.

I accepted their criticism with my usual calm, adult reaction (which involves panic and me thinking, “Blargh!! What do I do now?”). After talking with John and giving the matter a lot of thought, I concluded that the best way to fix the problem was to remove the flood. (That’s why I don’t mind mentioning it in this blog — no need for spoiler warnings, because it’s not going to be in the story.)

But as tough as it was to hear their criticisms and as tough as it will be to revise the plot of the short story, I am very grateful to my fellow authors for their comments. The published version of the short story will be better because of their willingness to read it and give me their honest opinions.

-Susan 10/16/20

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