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On Critting, and Other Updatery - Fruit of the Vine
Here There Be Goblins

Date: 2008-10-24 18:09
Subject: On Critting, and Other Updatery
Security: Public
Location:Home Office
Tags:critting, demonhead, metrics, reading
We had a great meeting last night, the Zombies did, and then some detailed email today as a result. I wrote the excerpt below in an attempt to answer some of the questions raised by the crit-ee, Leopard Head; I've adapted it here for general consumption and (I hope) usefulness.

[begin excerpt] I'll begin with some general observations about critting versus reading, and what we're trying to do here as a group. This is only in an attempt to make my specific comments below make more sense, and also because I hadn't really thought through the process of critting in this way before, although it's probably not new to the rest of you.

To my mind, at the top level, it comes down to a question of trust. When I read a published book, I trust that the writer knows what she's doing. That whatever is confusing to me or doesn't make sense, there's a good reason for it and it will all become clear in the end. Now, of course I've had my heart broken time and again on this, but I still approach a published book in that way, because for me that's the enjoyment of reading: take me on a journey. Trick me, fool me, delight me, surprise me. And, if you've done your job as a writer, and your editor has done her job, I find it's all worth it in the end.

On the other hand, when I'm critting a manuscript, I begin from a stance of no trust: I am looking for flaws, seeking them out. I am assuming it doesn't work, at least at some level, and I am trying to figure out why, so that I can explain it to you, the crit-ee, so that you can fix it and get that baby published.

So there's one level.

The next layer down is the way we do crits in the Zombie Club. We've just seen the first third of this book, and we all have questions. We don't know how all the stories and characters are going to come together. Some of us don't understand the references or know the background of the mythology (in your specific case, [Leopard Head]--but it works the same way for any of our writing, I think). So we point this stuff out to you, but it may not actually be a problem. It's really impossible to know at this point, only one-third of the way in.

As a reader-for-fun, I am perfectly happy reading above my intelligence/education level. I'm reading Neal Stephenson's Anathem right now, and I am totally not getting all the references and the science and the world-building. Heck, I have a rather vague notion of the central conflict, and I'm 300 pages into it. But I trust Stephenson, I'm loving what I do understand, and I know that at least enough of it is going to make sense by the time the next 600 pages go by. There will continue to be a big chunk of things I will not get, but that's cool with me, because the story still works, and I am connected to and interested in the main character. (And again, this is just me. Other readers may feel differently. This is why I can reread favorite books and keep getting more out of them--keep understanding at a deeper and deeper level. Maybe even learn something.)

Now to the specifics. As was mentioned last night and I said above, I don't really know what the central story is in your book, [Leopard Head]; the central conflict. So far it's sort of episodic; we don't really have a main character. [some stuff omitted] but I think we're going to want to see a connection more strongly brought forward, sooner or later. We want a story, not a bunch of episodes.

About the mythology: again, I'm cool with not getting every reference at every layer, if the layer that I am getting has enough story to it. [more detailed stuff about LH’s book omitted]

One final piece would be about the real world vs. fiction. I find that the truth is stranger than fiction, and it also doesn't work as well as a story. Real life has far too many people in it, and they do incredibly unlikely things, often for no good reason. So my reaction when any one of us uses real-life details in our stories, and the group objects to it in some way, and we defend it with, "But that's what really happened!", is that we have to let go of what really happened if it doesn't serve the story. [end excerpt]


Then I came home and did my thousand words.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
52,333 / 100,000

Here's some words from that:

Before she’d even gotten to Scott’s arrest, Dr. Wongsawat held up a slender hand. “No, Miss Boxer, I’m sorry. I’m afraid you don’t understand.”
“What don’t I understand?”
“The proper role of academia. Have you ever wondered why, when the rest of society fell apart, the university has remained relatively untouched?”
Sybil thought about the squatters living in Sproul Hall, the military barracks in the old computer science building, and the community vegetable gardens on the former football field, but she nodded.


And, finally, a note:

Dear Ambulance Driver, I know the purpose of your excellent vehicle is to transport sick and injured people as quickly as possible to a place where they can get help. That is why your vehicle is equipped with that special siren thingie that makes so much noise, it is impossible to ignore. Might I suggest, then, that you actually use that siren when you are in a particular hurry to fulfill your most noble mission? Because otherwise, pedestrians like me might not know you're there, and might walk blithely along, assuming that they have the right-of-way because they're on, you know, THE SIDEWALK.

Just a thought. Thanks for your consideration.
Post A Comment | 6 Comments | | Link

Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-10-25 03:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Nice essay.
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calendula_witch: Books
User: calendula_witch
Date: 2008-10-25 04:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thenk yew.
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Saruwatari Ayumi
User: junglemonkee
Date: 2008-10-25 16:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Leopard head? Leopard head?

Yeah, okay.
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calendula_witch: Lizard
User: calendula_witch
Date: 2008-10-25 17:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, I know it's still under there somewhere. You're just masquerading as a normal-haired person at the moment. It won't last. :-)
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User: xjenavivex
Date: 2008-10-25 21:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I enjoyed this very much. Thank you.In many ways my experience editing so far mirrors what you are saying here. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us.
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calendula_witch: Books
User: calendula_witch
Date: 2008-10-25 21:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you! I'm glad it made sense to you.
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