Monday, March 16, 2015

The Scientific Classifications of a Critiquer - Part I
By Aaron Michael Ritchey

So I’ve been doing critique groups for nine years. Over the years, I’ve noticed there are several kinds of critiquers out there, and being the good student of Western Civilization that I am, I thought I would classify them. Yes, critiquer, as in critique group partner.

I feel so Darwin and scientific.

This will be the first part in a multi-part series. Thank you, Pikes Peak Writers, for indulging me.

Yes, the grammar nazi. You and your commas will pay dearly for your impertinence. Now, keep in mind, this is not Captain Re-Write (see below); this critiquer respects your verbs and clauses, if your papers are in order. If they aren’t, we have ways of making you write better.

i. THE DANGER: I don’t bring perfectly polished pieces to critique group because there is a good chance I will have to re-write everything anyway and my poor antecedent-subject thingy will be like tears lost in rain. Stupid me, I take things so personally. I can get depressed about my lack of grammarnicity.

ii. THE POSITIVE: Grammar Nazis generally love to teach! Learn better grammar. Learn to wield a semi-colon like Excalibur! Yes, Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, and I will bring the semi-colon back.

If you write “Dick listened for Jane’s footsteps in the morgue,” Captain Re-Write will save you by writing it as “Dick cocked an ear, hoping for some sign of Jane’s footsteps in the morgue.” Yes, your perfectly good sentence isn’t good enough. You obviously need help and Captain Re-Write has come to save the day.

i. THE DANGER: I had Captain Re-Write in a critique group and she would ink up every single sentence. This made going through her critiques time-consuming and depressing. And it made me question if I could write at all.

ii. THE POSITIVE: A Captain Re-Write makes me question every sentence, which is not a bad thing. And at times, I like the new version of the sentence better and that makes the story better. So take Captain Re-Write with a grain of salt, but look for the pepper. That caped crusader just might save the day.

This critiquer is not there to help. They are there to hate. They will hate your story, your characters, your voice, the semi-colon in the fourth paragraph. They probably won’t offer any ideas to make it better, just a lot of “This didn’t work for me” or “Maybe you should tell the story from the point of view of the dog because your characters are so flat.” Sometimes Harry Haters might change their colors. Sometimes, they love other people, but not you. Other times, they love you, but not your book. And sometimes, they aren’t haters at all. But we’ll discuss that in another post.

i. THE DANGER: Obviously, the Harry Hater will make you want to burn your book and slash open your stomach with a katana.

ii. THE POSITIVE: I love Harry Hater and do you know why? Because Harry Hater is the real world, and no matter what you do, some people will hate your books. They will hate you. They will plot your death in the wee hours of the night. They will review your books on Amazon and leave one star reviews because they hate you, hate you, hate you. Cuz in the words of that immortal bard, Taylor Swift, haters gotta hate. Might as well get hit with hate right away and learn to use it to thicken your skin. And like Captain Re-Write, every once in a while, Harry Hater will have a great idea you can use. Again, listen to everyone. If you can ignore Harry Hater’s critique, do it. If you can’t, there might be a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Their job is simple: They love everything you write and will spread rose petals across the room when you enter. They applaud your use of the semi-colon in the fourth full paragraph. They love your characters. They are the evil anti-Harry Hater. Love them because they love you. I truly hope you have a fan in your critique group. I’m not sure I could live without one.

i. THE DANGER: The last thing I need in the world is for someone to agree with everything I write. If I had a critique group full of fans, I wouldn’t get what I need, which is an honest appraisal of what works and what doesn’t from multiple points of view. In the end, praise is cheap and doesn’t really help me. It’s like soda. It tastes good, it might give me a pleasant jolt, but I can’t live off it. Yes, even Dr. Pepper wouldn’t keep me alive for long and it has prune juice in it.

ii. THE POSITIVE: Duh. They love what you write! And if Harry Hater is the real world, so is Your Biggest Fan. You will always find people who love your writing because this is a subjective business, and most readers WANT to love you.

Stay tuned for Part II. Next month we will codify The Idea Genie, The Plain Jane Reader, The Fashionista, the Choreographer, and the Genius Wunderkin. 

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of Long Live the Suicide King, a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite contest. Kirkus Reviews calls the story “a compelling tale of teenage depression handled with humor and sensitivity.” His debut novel, The Never Prayer, was also a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest. His forthcoming works include a new young adult novel from Staccato Publishing and a six book YA sci-fi/western series from Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was nominated for a Hugo. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two goddesses posing as his daughters.

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey.

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