Critique fallout


Joe’s Post #41 — I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m still processing all that I heard at the Writer’s Retreat.

But as I think about solutions to the issues raised, I wanted to get back to reading for fun, again.

Not as easy as you’d think. It’s a switch from being all left-brained and analytical to right-brained and creative and locked into the pure pleasure of reading.

I couldn’t quite get there and so, while I read David Baldacci, I thought back on what happened at the critique retreat. Baldacci has at least one scene with people talking in a coffee shop.

Didn’t we all ding each other for such scenes?

We did.

But here’s the lesson I learned. There are things that could be fixed to make a better story and things that really HAVE to be fixed. If Baldacci was a new writer, he might well have to rethink a coffee scene, but he’s not and here’s what he does with the coffee scene. There is vital, critical information that the character HAS TO know. There is a chance that they are being watched. And both men come to the meeting armed.

So, does this have to be fixed? No. The reason a coffee scene might not work is lack of tension. Two characters sipping a non-fat, no whip, double-shot dolce cinnamon latte with extra sprinkles and discussing the weather or back-story or nothing that really drives the story forward lacks tension. But add hidden guns, a meeting that HAS to take place and villains tracking them and the coffee scene becomes something else.

imagesCAMVB2MASure it could be fixed. But it doesn’t HAVE to be fixed?

Perhaps he thought it did.

So he made it something more than just a coffee scene.

But therein lies the problem. Can we see in our own novels what HAS TO be fixed vs what could be fixed? Even after a critique. Many suggestions are given. Some contradictory.

It therefore falls back to the writer. To not only hear what’s being said but understand why it’s being said. “I hate coffee scenes” may well be translated into “there is no conflict or tension in that scene.”

Easy, right?


My guess is I have about half a dozen things that HAVE TO be fixed. The rest are things that I will look at and ask myself, does this make the story better? Does it make my characters stronger? Does it increase pacing? Etc.

Because, for me, even if I can make my story even a little bit better, I have to do it.

It has to be the best I can possibly do.

It’s what I owe my readers.

1 thought on “Critique fallout

  1. Donald Maas talked about coffee shop scenes and his advice was brilliant – have coffee scenes as long as they have tension. No tension, no scene. One other point – people, real people, meet for coffee all the time – it’s part of what makes people people – we get together to shoot the breeze and drink beverages. If writers add the tension to coffee shop scenes in the book, then they’re winning on two levels – adding to the plot, building tension, etc. but they’re also making their characters behave in normal human ways, which deepens and makes your reader identify with your characters more.

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