By: J.T. Evans
Lots of phrases, buzzwords, slang, jargon, and perfectly cromulent words are thrown about critique groups on a regular basis. Newcomers to critique groups can mentally stumble when they hear something along the lines of, "The POV in your WIP head hops through white room syndrome, and all of the narrative is written in passive voice with lots of tense shifts."
POV? WIP? White rooms? Is there padding on the walls of these white rooms? I feel like I'm going insane! I know I'm tense, but how is that shifting around?
Well, have no fear. I'm here to help expand your vocabulary into the writerly world of the critique group.
This month, I'm going to cover R.U.E., aka: Resist the Urge to Explain.
Resist the Urge to Explain:
I'm horribly guilty of this. I've gotten better over the ten years (where has the time gone?!?) I've been part of critique groups, but I still open my mouth to explain some things when one of my critique partners doesn't get it. I usually catch myself and clack my jaw shut while scribbling my notes. Here's the premise of why you should R.U.E.: Your words have to stand on their own because you will be entirely unable to stand over the shoulder of every reader of every book you sell and explain to them, "No. No. You didn't get it right there. That's not what I meant. The way you should interpret my words is…."
It's just not possible to do this. If your critique partners are struggling to understand something, then you need to clarify things using words on the page, not words passing your lips.
The only exception to R.U.E. is when a critique partner asks you a direct question of clarification that will assist them in framing the rest of their critique or feedback. There are times when it's valid to answer these questions, but also take the question as an opportunity to clarify your work.
Since I primarily write in the fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction genres, there can sometimes be lots to explain to the reader or critique partner. If I lay down some thick mythology or world building that doesn't make sense, then I need to readdress my approach at the descriptions. If I toss in some far-future tech into a story, it needs to be clear on how the tech affects the daily lives of the characters. If it's hard science fiction, then the deep dives into the sciences backing the futuristic predictions need to be understandable by the "common person" out there.
I don't write much romance, but I've read a bit of it inside and outside of critique groups. The things that need to be made clear to the readers are the emotional beats and reactions the characters are going through. If a particular character smiles when another one enters the room, we need to know why. Different readers will interpret the smiles in different ways, and losing that clarity of the emotional response is a good way to confuse or lose the reader down the road.
If you've heard a phrase or word in a critique group and you think others should know about it (or you're not sure what to think of it), drop me a comment below, and I'll add it to my list of Buzz Words to talk about.
J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.