Last time I was on the Pikes Peak Writers blog I started the very nineteenth century occupation of codifying the existence of various types of critiquers, critiquers being those people who read your work and feel inclined to offer their sometimes sage, often questionable opinions.
Ah, the prose that is purple and that uses so many wonderful words is such fun to write in a convoluted way.
Today I will continue the classifications of that curious animal, the critiquer.
1) THE IDEA GENIE – This is the guy or gal who gets excited and starts throwing out ideas. They are born storytellers who have seen way too many movies and read way too many books and they just love to brainstorm! They offer a million suggestions: You should make your main character an Inuit android! Or you should add more flying cars because there would be tons of flying cars there. And what about having the main character die halfway through and then come back to life as a zombie Inuit android?!?
a. THE DANGER: The Idea Genie can sometimes muddy the water. I’m pretty good at knowing my story, what has to happen, and where I’m headed. But the Idea Genie might derail me and then I get writer's block and suddenly I’m writing about zombie Inuit androids. Dammit!
b. THE POSITIVE: The more ideas the better! I love the Idea Genie because if I get stuck, or need help, he/she is right there to help me. And if the Idea Genie doesn’t have much to say? Beware! A good story should generate a million other stories.
2) THE CHOREOGRAPHER – They are the feng shui experts of fiction. They can see the room, where your characters are, what they are wearing, and how much nose hair is clogging up their nostrils. The Choreographers' imaginations are vibrant if you, as the writer, are doing your job at all well. If you aren’t, they generally will look at you as if you put a sofa in the bathroom next to the toilet.
a. THE DANGER: At times, they can get so stuck in the details, they can’t see the bigger picture. And, a poor choreographer can suggest you describe every little action in excruciating detail. For example: “Harvey placed his left foot into the car first, gripping the car door with his left hand, while his right hand held onto the lip of the roof, feeling the spongy rubber that would cling to the car door after he pulled it shut.” Versus: “Harvey got into the car.”
b. THE POSITIVE: I love me a good choreographer because I write scenes for the emotion and action and the character and the dialogue. I don’t care where they are in space, and so I need a choreographer to keep me grounded.
3) THE FASHIONISTA – This critiquer reads the trade journals, follows all the trendy publishing blogs, and spends hours reading about the market, about the deals, about what’s hot and what’s not. She knows the fiction fashion trends and the itchy little tastes of industry professionals. Prologue? No. Heavy narrator? No. Long titles? No. Close third-person POV? Yes. First person? Even better. Short titles? Yes. Series? Yes (if handled well). Novellas? Yes.
a. THE DANGER: The publishing fashionista can get so caught up in the shoulds, the musts, and the current fashion trends, that he/she forgets that writing has no rules. Good writing works even if it has a prologue, a heavy narrative voice, and a long title. Also, the Fashionistas can come across as such experts you will kill your book to please them when in the end, no one knows what is going to sell and when fashion trends begin and end.
b. THE POSITIVE: Let the Fashionista do the research for you. Listen to them, take what you like, and then walk politely away. Knowing the market can be helpful, but again, be careful. Books are murdered everyday by people who know exactly what New York is looking for. And when I say New York, I mean the publishing industry experts. While the readers? They don’t care about the trends. They read what they like. And so we come to my favorite critique.
4) PLAIN JANE READER EXTRAORDINAIRE – He/she is a reader first. They love books. They love stories. They get swept along in the action and will cry when it’s sad and laugh when it’s funny. They might not offer much concrete advice on how to fix stuff, but they will have a general idea of what doesn’t work and when. They are not editors. Actually, they are the evil anti-editors. Which for a critiquer might be what you need, especially if they are one voice among many offering suggestions.
a. THE DANGER: If you get too many Plain Janes, you won’t get much help when things don’t work. And the critiques might be really ambiguous, as in, “I didn’t like what happened there, but I don’t know how to fix it.” Or, “I didn’t like your zombie Inuit android character. He just didn’t seem real enough for me.”
b. THE POSITIVE: Are we writing for editors, or are we writing for readers? This is your audience. Their feedback is priceless. When I get a real reader to read my stuff, and they offer suggestions, I listen. I listen closely. Because unlike other critiquers, they don’t have an agenda. It’s not about their ego or my ego, it’s about the story and the impact it has on another human mind, willing to give up her minutes to read my work. And when my stuff works? The Plain Jane reader gets so excited. It is such a VICTORY!
5) THE PROFESSIONAL EDITOR GENIUS WUNDERKIND – Don’t confuse Harry Hater or the Fashionista with the Professional Editor Genius Wunderkind They might look and sound similar. However, the Genius Wunderkind is the person who has that unique genius to find exactly what doesn’t work in your book and then points to possible solutions. In essence, they are the ultimate critiquer. They could edit professionally. Generally, I’ve found them to be humble and unassuming, and good, so good, that when they give you their critique your hair will stand on edge, and you won’t dread the re-write. You will look forward to incorporating their edits because they have dynamited the fluff and you can get to the juicy stuff.
a. THE DANGER: The Genius Wunderkind can do a million things right, but they will have their faults. If you listen to everything they say, you may wind up with a book that doesn’t work. Why? Because their job is to offer suggestions, but they might offer bad advice. Why? Dang, but we’re all so human and imperfect. For example, the Genius might be a master at plot, but will fall short when it comes to character. So listen to them closely about plot, but with character, be more wary.
b. THE POSITIVE: Duh. Free professional editing. A better book. The excitement of a better draft. And did I mention free professional editing?
Stay tuned for Part III! Next time, I will reveal what kind of critiquer I am and how I've worked with the different classifications over the years.
About the Author: Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer and Long Live the Suicide King, both finalists in various contests. His latest novel, Elizabeth’s Midnight, will hit the streets May 7, 2015. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. His upcoming young adult sci-fi/western epic series will also be published through WordFire Press. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters.