I posted my first draft of Antigone Rising for the Eight Ladies (those with the time and the inclination) to read and critique. I am extremely grateful to those who read it because it had to be annoying to read an incomplete story that had only gone through one quick pass of edits. I hadn’t even done my search and destroy edit looking for the words just, was, very, and quite (I use those excessively). What they read was the 35k-word Antigone Rising: MLA Project which is a different kettle of fish from the 100k-word Antigone Rising: The Complete Story that will come after I finish this sucker and graduate. You can imagine the size of the plot holes created with 65,000 words missing. You could drive a semi through them. I’ve never had a full manuscript critiqued before – only scenes. I am finding the critiques amazingly helpful.
Because this is my first full critique, I can’t say whether all critiques are as useful as what I’m getting or if I’m getting such great feedback because of our shared experience. We toiled through the McD Romance Writing Certificate Program together which gave us the same craft language, a common critique rubric, and an understanding of what is useful for the writer because of it. Or maybe it’s because the other Eight are simply fabulously gifted at critiquing fiction (I like that one the best). Here are some things I’m finding extremely helpful:
- When you get close to something, you don’t realize what is there and what isn’t. This holds true with writing grants (my day job). You get so involved in the project, that you think the details are on the page and they aren’t. In the case of grants, you don’t get the money. In the case of fiction, you lose the reader. That’s why someone else needs to read the draft.
- Michaeline couldn’t figure out if Sarah was from Bachman’s Run or a recent transplant and it is important to the story. She’s not, but it wasn’t on the page. I know she’s from Baltimore. I’ve known it for years because I’ve known Sarah for years in my head and in my stories. But it wasn’t on the page.
- Elizabeth pointed out a sentence that made it sound like Finch was running for office. He’s not, but the sheriff did and she was right – it wasn’t clear on the page. With one word change, it is (I think/hope).
- Jeanne couldn’t quite envision a cabinet shaped like a Greek goddess. No, no, no. The candelabrum that Genny pulled out of the cabinet was shaped like a Greek goddess. Right again. Must fix.
- The Ladies were very good at pointing out when they were pulled out of the story. And really, sometimes that’s all that’s important to know. The “What? Where did this come from?” comment in track changes is enough to get me analyzing why it’s there, what’s the purpose, and is the set up there for it to make sense. Comments that essentially asked how the characters got from A to B, or comments that basically meant, ‘nope – this doesn’t work for me,’ are valuable, especially when more than one person is caught by the same thing. I hint at Sarah’s reason for her project, but don’t fill in the details. More than one person noted this. I had a notion to put more detail in the full novel about this, but now I know it’s important to do so. I probably won’t in this version, but it is clear that I will need to in the full story.
Another thing that came out of the critique was the result of the way I write. Despite having a scene list that aligned Greek Tragedy with the Hero’s Journey and the structure of popular fiction, the story was developing as I wrote it so the first reference to sex trafficking was scene 19 out of 27. That pulled two readers out of the story. I have gone back and added references to ‘inventory’ and a girl who disappeared. It might make it less jarring for the reader of the MLA project, but I know some of the 65,000 words that are added after that will have to address it.
Some of the problems pointed out, I knew about. The relationship development between Sarah and Finch needs to be beefed up. There isn’t a lot of it on the page now because in Sophocles’ Antigone, she and Haemon are only on stage once together and Antigone is already dead and Haemon commits suicide. Not a lot to work with in updating the story (spoiler alert: Finch does NOT commit suicide). Leon and Ashley have some junk to work through, but that’s not on the page, either, and won’t be. I can write one scene so it makes more sense, but it’s a subplot that will use some of those 65,000 words.
I am getting great feedback and using every bit of it. Some I fix, some I note to fix in the full manuscript, and some things I keep (because sometimes that’s right, too – it’s my story).
What is helpful for you in a critique and what isn’t? Have you had good ones? Have you had horrid ones?