A book critique

Joe’s Post #28 — Without a doubt, this retreat critique will be the most challenging one we’ve ever done. We’ll be looking at a whole book and that’s quite a lot to look at, read through, critique, comment on, then, at least in my case, remember what you’ve just done. In the past, we’ve done 30 pages a time. Pretty easy to get to everyone in a time span from about coffee cake time to high-tea snack time.

A whole novel, though. 400-500 pages. In 8 hours. Wow. That’s an undertaking.

So here’s a few things we’ve learned from all our critique sessions.  The first part will be this week. The second part, next week.

First up.

IMG_11951) Breaks are important. It may seem like it’s a good idea to power through the time together and pound out critique after critique after critique, but the truth is, the longer we go, the more rushed we become and that does a disservice to the writer. So we’ll have to find a way to break up the whole day with yummy and somewhat fattening foods, maybe a wee walk, and certainly lots of coffee. As well, we’ll have to set up a space for the critiquing and when we’re on a break, we’ll need to walk away from that space. If we can manage that, IF, then every writer should be able to get maximum value from the session.

2) We can’t get distracted. Oh, boy. Can we get distracted. Often many fascinating topics come in the submissions. Talking about Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbour. France in the 1970s. Bridge construction. French memories of the construction of a bridge in Hawaii. And then there’s the writing subjects like voice and grammar and outlining and character arcs and sagging middles and the overuse of the word ‘and’ in some sentences. Oh, yes, we are a well-read and opinionated group and that makes for a huge distraction pitfall. If we give in to our intellectual temptations and wander into the wilderness of cool ideas and interesting topics, we’re doomed. So, this time, one of the worst gabby sinners will be moderating the discussion to make sure we stay focused. Me. God help us.

3) Don’t Dig Too Deep. When we’re looking at 30 pages, it’s easy to take time to mention the odd wrong word choice, or verb tenses or dropped punctuation or when a character entered a room wearing a red shirt that says, spank me and no one in the room comments, but we won’t have time for that. It’ll be a whole different level of critiquing. Not ‘in the trenches’ but ‘flying high above them’. It’ll be hard. I’ll want to comment on that red shirt, I will. It’ll be like a need to scratch something I shouldn’t scratch in public. The temptation will be there, especially if I think I can make a funny comment and I want everyone to hear it. But I’ll be strong. We’ll focus on what makes a good story. Character. Setting. Plot.

And that’s for starters. Next week, the other, even more difficult things.

As for me, since I’ve written the novel that everyone will be looking at, I’m going to get my head out of my ass and refocus as well. Queries, boys and girls, queries. Yesterday, I finished hammering out a 1 page synopsis. Damn that was hard. I kept thinking, oh but what about this character and that scene and this plot twist and that cool them? I simply couldn’t keep them all. But I got it done.

Today I sat down and found a few more agents.

Goal for next week. 10 queries. Easy, right?

5 thoughts on “A book critique

  1. Joe, you’re echoing my angst. Just reading the approximately 1600 pages will be a huge undertaking. To know we’ll be doing it with a ‘checklist’ both objective and subjective and then need to try to come up with a helpful critique of the whole seems so daunting! Can’t wait to read next week’s post with more sage advice and tips.

  2. (1) My response to Paula’s last post was to note the danger of spontaneous violence. You echo her trepidation, making me sound even more prescient. I’d cut back on the coffee if I were you (as in all of you). Hypercaffination is not a defense in the United States, and I doubt it will serve you well wherever you hold this (unavoidably adversarial) summit.

    (2) How do you choose agents to query? How many do you query at one time? How long do you wait for a response before sending out another batch of queries? A post or two on this subject would be timely for those of you who survive this dreaded critiquing marathon, and helpful for those of us who follow this blog. I would, however, urge each of you not to refer to the injuries you suffered or inflicted (especially the later), or to offer excuses for the absence or demise of anyone in your group of 5. Anything you say can and will be used against you. ;-\

  3. Thanks for the reality check Joe. My head is still in “tra-la-la-la oboy oboy oboy we’re going on a writers’ retreat” land. Yes, you’re right – it’s going to take some discipline for sure. I insist on one additional caveat: we have to have some fun, too!

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