Monday, February 27, 2017

The Mystique of a Good Critique


I belong to a critique group of nine writers, some of us are published authors and some of us would like to be, but we all bring to the group different degrees of expertise.  Some of us have a good sense of story, some of us have a good eye for mechanics and grammar, some of us have a good command of human dynamics.  We have been together for several years, so we keep each other focused on critiques of our work and not on criticisms.  If that should happen, we delve deeper into what caused the emotion.  Only then can we offer suggestions to the writer.  

“This chapter went nowhere.”

“Your lack of commas confused me.”

“I didn’t like the character.”

A criticism is a judgment, a disapproval, based on an emotion.  Stated in such a vague or negative manner, it comes across as a personal attack of the writer instead of focusing on what the person has written.  It faults the person and zooms in on flaws and weaknesses.  It condemns what is lacking on the page and it is a painful censure of the person’s skill. Its offensiveness puts the writer on the defensive, and both parties gain nothing from the “critique,” other than ill will. 

How does one turn a criticism into a critique?

First of all, neither is painless. 

A good critique is an evaluation, an analysis, based on evidence.  Stated in thoughtful and detailed concrete examples, it looks at things the author has done well and at those that might need to be clarified or revised. A good critique looks at structure, trends, patterns, strengths. It focuses on the written page and how the author crafted it.  It is not all sugar and sweetness; it is specific and helpful.  If something is awry with the story or the structure or the semantics, then a good critique partner can help the author to find a solution and allow for improvement.

Secondly, it takes practice.  Learn how to turn a criticism into a critique.

“This chapter went nowhere.”

Ask for clarification.  “What were you trying to do with this chapter?  Is this chapter or scene necessary?  What other way could you say that?  Does it help to look at the scene before this or the scene that comes after?”

“Your lack of commas confused me.”

“I helped you here with a few examples but you need to double check a good manual and learn their use.” Recommend a good grammar manual.  “From now on, double check your commas before handing out critique pages.”    No one likes to work with someone who continues to do the same proofreading mistakes over and over again, and depends on the critique partner or group to edit and proofread for them every week.  After one or two reminders, I stop proofreading mistakes that the person has refused to fix or learn to fix.

“I didn’t like the character.”

Question the author about this character.  “Is this character integral to your story?  I didn’t like this character; is that how you wanted me to feel? If not, then what was I supposed to feel for him or her?  How could you delve into their character more to soften/change/depict them differently?”  


          There is no mystique about critiquing well.  It takes practice and a dose of kindness. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Nine


Down the gravel road away from my house, they take their chatter, laughter, and energy.
There is a food stain on my new table cloth, dirt on the carpet.  The sofa sectionals are askew, and a blue ball hides under a chair.
Half-full water bottles sit abandoned throughout my house. Someone ate the leftover rolls.  The roast is gone, so is the mac and cheese, but there will be lots of salad for Grandpa HoneyBunch and my dinner tomorrow.
My grandchildren came to visit and they brought their parents with them. My two sons, my daughter, and their spouses are their chauffeurs and they generously include us in the upbringing of The Nine.
The quiet is deafening.  The house sighs.  I need a nap, but first I sit and smile, remembering the day and missing them already. 
Watching The Nine grow reminds me of how quickly time escapes through our fingers.  It brings back memories of when my children, their parents, were little and their chatter, laughter, and energy filled my days. The memories are sweet. 
So when I watch The Nine run about, chatter, eat up all the food it took hours for me to prepare, I am grateful to be around to see life repeat itself.  It is comforting to see it all happening once again, the wonderful moments I once took for granted.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Get Married?

      
The headline said she was divorcing her husband because he voted for Trump.  Another said a woman shot her husband over a taco.  Some have tried to divorce their spouses before claiming their lottery tickets, but that never works.  The ex always finds out and sues and still gets his or her share of the dough.
          The truth is they married for the wrong reasons. They are divorcing because of them.
          Why get married, especially in this permissive day and age when no one raises an eyebrow if you don’t?
          I married HoneyBunch because I wanted to live with him, day in and day out. I wanted to sleep with him in the same bed and wake up with him the next morning.
          I married HB because I liked him and cared for him and I wanted to be around him, holding his hand, kissing him, and making his life easier for him. If he was sick, I wanted to warm him a can of soup and offer him medicines.  When he was well, I wanted to laugh at his corny jokes and shake my head at his stubborn opinions. 
          I married him because I wanted to be acknowledged as his legal partner.  I wanted the security and the legality that the home and the life we made together would still exist after one of us didn’t.
          I wanted him to be my permanent date in life, my dance partner, my plus one to parties and family dinners.
          We don’t always agree on politics or how we like our tacos, and if I ever win more than the usual dollar playing Lotto, I would most certainly share my winnings with him.  The love I feel for him is grounded in something deep that mere words cannot explain. It’s the same kind of love I feel for my children and grandchildren, my family, and my belief in God and country. It is as much a part of me as the blood that courses through my veins.
          So, the next time you read about people divorcing over Trump, tacos, or legal tender, they shouldn’t have married in the first place.  

          PS:  HB wants me to note that he is hardly ever sick.  He soldiers through colds and pores hydrogen peroxide on boo-boos, so his health is an unintended plus in our marriage. 

          

Monday, February 6, 2017

Loose Lips


          The politician’s wife walked next to her husband.  My eyes were drawn to her blue outfit. 
          “She’s lost weight since the convention.”  I look over at my husband and his eyebrows acknowledge my statement.
          It is inauguration day and we are watching a TV station that limits its commentary and editorializing. It lets its viewers think for themselves.
I press the remote and it instantly transfers to another TV station.  A tiny man perched on a stool sits center stage.  He peers at a paper clutched in his hand and reads a comment “someone else” has said about the woman in blue.  It is mean and derogatory, but the commentator is blameless.  He is only repeating what “someone else” has said.
I switch back to the station without the snide remarks and look at the politician’s wife.  Word has reached her long before the little man voiced them on national TV.  It is evident she has lost weight and changed her hair style and wardrobe in the last few months, but no one on this station comments on her looks, no one reads the mean comments of “someone else.”
SOMEONE says something. ANOTHER repeats it, but the blame is not on them.  It is on SOMEONE else. And so it goes.  The opinion, whether it is true or not, takes on a life of its own and it does not matter who it harms. 
It becomes gossip, mean, ugly, demeaning. 
I switch back one more time to the little man.  He could use a meal, maybe a doughnut or two.  He too is trying to fit in, to build up his own worth, but he does it at the expense of someone else’s discomfort.