Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Construction Progress Report

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen,

I trust that this report finds you well. Construction on The Den is going ahead as planned: the supports are holding up, the library is coming along nicely, and the work crew has good morale, despite some of the press our project has received. But more on that later in the report.

This is most likely finding you a bit later than usual, but that must be attributed to the fact that the Olympics are currently underway. In fact, the overall pace of operations has slowed slightly, but I assure you that this speed bump is essential for morale to continue. There is nothing like the four S's (skating, snowboarding, skiing, and speeding full-force down a hill) to get the blood pumping, even if the staff is doing it vicariously through the television. This is, of course, preferable to the extra cost and risk of injury that traveling to, or competing in the games would bring. Rest assured that these minor setbacks will not be detrimental to the project's goals and deadlines. Normal schedules should resume within the next two weeks.

In less exciting news, we have received our first bit of bad press. Yesterday, a rather lengthy review was left on our most recent publication, Nothing Personal, and I'm sorry to say that none of it was good.

I don't want to spend more time in a character's head than necessary; pathos is something to be avoided anyhow, not embraced.

Might I also point out that simply re-writing a story to increase the potency of the effect it already has does not qualify as a revision.

And I don't want to know a character that's going to be murdered a page or two away. I mean, yeah, there's some clumsy writing and some of the detail selection is careless and awkward, but to taunt the reader with a character and then to kill them off is some nerve. I mean, a lot of the breadth here could be summed up in a few good, short, strong paragraphs instead of the engrossing play-by-play the reader is treated to. That way we're not bored and ready to quit by the time the male thief is murdered and don't feel irked with the writer for essentially misleading us and thus wasting our time by teasing us with the eccentricities of a thief we never get to fully explore.

Bottom (yet superfluous) line: Tricking the reader is a cardinal sin, and allowing the reader enough rope to hang themselves with is just plain carelessness--its not much better, but it is excusable, and I think that's the case here. If the story is about the female thief, which it appears to be, then for Heaven's sakes -don't- have the male thief be the object of third-person limited! Don't even use third-person limited at all! Such a beginning requires the use of the omniscient narrator, that way a switch between subjects/people occurs without a second thought, and the narrator is allowed to keep distance between characters the reader isn't supposed to bond with.

Yours Sincerely,
We at The Wolf's Den appealed to the critic with as polite a response as was possible. We tried to give as much appreciation for the time they so obviously put in to their critique, but at the same time give them a healthy amount of objection for a scathing review.

Firstly, I'd like to thank you for writing a review, albeit one that offers no constructive criticism. One might be able to gleam one or two suggestions from your comments, but on the whole, 'scrap it and start over' isn't something any writer can build on. Still, it's nice to get the first purely negative critique out of the way, so thanks.

Actually, revision is just that. So, no, you may not try to point that out.

Third-person limited was one of the requirements for the workshop that this was submitted for. Sorry (not really) you don't approve.

My bottom line: I'm not apologetic at all for the bait and switch. That's what this piece is, pure and simple. Do I think it would hold up for the beginning of a longer work? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. It all depends on the tone. I am sorry that you don't prefer this style of writing, as I (and I'm sure other readers) have found it quite enjoyable when utilized properly. Granted, this may not be utilized properly at all, and the other reviewers who enjoyed it might all be gits... But I prefer to err on the side of self-preservation (and the larger number of positive critiques).

If you'd like to take a bit more time, I'd appreciate a bit more
help and less pomposity.

I am quite pleased to report that this appeal yielded quite a pleasing response. Not only has the critic rescinded some of his claims, but has offered some sound advice that I believe will most certainly be taken into consideration if not acted upon.

I have been taught that the first duty of the writer is to be honest and responsible with the reader; the first duty of the reader is to trust, to be patient, and to be generous; that is, to go along for the ride, quietly correct mistakes, if found, and look over minor, irritating flaws, and to save discussion of more major ones for later.

My criticism of your piece has more to do with the structural, and even spiritual, workings of your piece as opposed to the surface workings. I am talking about bone structure (third-person limited vs. omniscient), as opposed to what color the eyes should be (this word over that word). You already have enough people suggesting better words, sentences, delivery, etc., but you don't seem to have a lot of people wondering about major structural things, like which point of view to select, or which character to make the focus of the story.

I mean, who cares if some piece of writing is 'cliché' when it will most likely be gotten rid of in the revision process? You already know my suggestions for the piece: cut down goblet lover's role to a paragraph or two, and then bring in the female thief, because that's (one of) the directions I see the story going. You don't even have to change the point of view entirely, just the person whom the camera follows. Have the female thief be perched in the rafters or something, critiquing his style in her head, all the while putting up with a killer craving for a ham sandwich. People don't like it when they don't get something they want, it puts them in a bad mood. And I'm sure she knows who goblet lover is. I mean, what -other- thief in the “property re-appropriation business” would be jacking some tawdry bauble all the while professing his love to it as though the goblet were Snow White and he's Prince Charming? What a weirdo! He probably doesn't even bathe, (lol). She didn't even come for the goblet, anyhow, she came for some elaborate tapestry -next- to the goblet (which is why she's about to do what she's about to do), but because she's cranky because she didn't get her ham sandwich, and because she doesn't really like the guy in the first place, and because she -can- kill him, she decides to do it anyway. (When people know they can do something and get away with it, they often do.) And the reason Lady Thief so easily kills Goblet Lover is because she's the pro, and he's just some amateur with a thing for goblets (who's learned a few tricks from the pros or through internet research). He's like that guy at the party that no one likes, not because he's a jerk, but because he's just.... strange. Why do I say, suggest, and explore all of this (the ham sandwich thing is a bit of a stretch)? Because you can totally tell by the way Lady Thief is treated that she's the real hoff-hoffa here. She just glides gracefully and without fault, does what she wishes, how she wishes to, with no fear of failure, for she is the Goddess in this fictive world. -She- is your protagonist, not Kumkuat, the Goblet Hoarder.

Did I mention you have plot, characterization, and atmosphere? Oh yes, you do. We know what's going on, we know who's doing it, and we know where it's happening. Someone is stealing a goblet, it's Goblet Lover who is the one stealing said goblet, and it's happening on a clear night with the moon out in full force, giving everything that soft glow that only a full moon on a clear night can provide. The details could be a little more distinct, a little more exact, the movie playing in our minds a little more crisp and vivid, but we've been given enough detail to work with (anyone with a decent imagination has all they need to image-craft).

You succeed tremendously in attempting to breathe life to this little man who has a thing for goblets such that his love for goblets seems to border on the fetish to the outside observer; he's so involved in his own pathology that he probably doesn't even see the harm in stealing priceless artifacts from the viewing public. The problem is that you've done your job too well. You focus so much on goblet lover that the reader just assumes this must be the one he is to care about; this is the protagonist. So that when he -is- finally killed (because he's not the protagonist), the reader becomes upset, cries foul, and prosecutes in civil court for breach of contract. LoL, I mean, I enjoyed your character so much that I attacked you for killing him! How's that? “Here's the man I'm supposed to care about, and I do, and then you kill him? Wtf? I call shenanigans.”

You had adequate tension in the plot, too. Goblet lover wants the goblet, he's getting the goblet, he almost has the goblet, but then in comes the damn red-head again, suddenly in comes the red-haired Valkyrie to smite him. And for... what reason, exactly? I mean, talk about a sudden turn of events; it's bizarre. This red-haired woman just comes out of no where, omnipotent, and derails the entire story you had set in motion.

And so I have to ask you, which character is this story about? Goblet Lover, or Lady Thief? You make the goblet lover your protagonist due to the fact that Goblet Lover is the “center” of the story's perspective. Because this is third-person limited, and everything we see in this world, we see first in relation to the goblet lover—everything is valued through him, seen through him, measured through him, etc. But then along comes Lady Thief with her laundry list of privileges to wreck havoc on the story.

If the story is about Goblet Lover, then he cannot be killed so early in the story, and not without good cause. If the story is about Lady Thief, then you need to reduce Goblet Lover's role in the story to a few paragraphs and save the rest of the spotlight for her. I mean, you can't have characters, like Lady Thief, come barging in, running amok, and trampling all over the narrative you're weaving. Because Goblet Lover is killed so early, and because he is so easily dispatched (he is effectively a victim, a victim being someone who can only ever be acted upon; things happen to him, but he does not make things happen) it makes the reader think that the story is really about Lady Thief, because why would any protagonist get killed off in a page or two, and so easily at that? After reading your story, the reader is confused. And irritated because of it.

But maybe this has all been for nothing. Maybe this isn't really a story at all and is just some mere exercise turned into the Writer's Workshop because you were bored at the time, making this entire analysis beside the point.

In any case, I hopes this helps, I'm sorry for being a jerk face, and hopefully what you have now received from me is more in line with your expectations for good criticism, because believe or not, I've just given you two, maybe even three, hours of my life. At the very least, I hope you don't accuse me of being insincere.

The staff here at The Wolf's Den are now in process of constructing a most appreciative reply, and we hope to continue catching this critic's eye in the future. We've weathered our first bad critique with enthusiasm and poise, and come away with solid plans for the future.

And that brings us to the final order of business: future planning. This Friday we are mandating the staff attend a Writer's Workshop on good critiquing practices. Powell's Books is holding the event with writers Rosanne Parry, Fran Cannon Slayton, and Edith M. Hemingway, and it looks to be an exciting opportunity. A recap of the event will likely be included in next week's write-up.

As always, thank you for your continued patronage.

Best regards,