Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In Which I Share My Editor Critique

I'm back with my critique for Hole Ridden.

I had a good half a month between when I was notified of the editor's choice pick and when I received the crit so I had plenty of time to be impatient for it. I really wanted to send Hole Ridden out on submission asap so delays were a little prickly (good thing I had Foxfire revisions to keep me distracted). I also knew that once I got the crit I would most likely be upset for a day or two, which is typical for me. Be upset, wait 1-3 days, then address the issues.

BUT after I read this crit, I found I wasn't upset at all. I was excited and energized. I plan to finish up Hole Ridden this week, and then make a list of submission options. Then it will be all growed up and ready to branch out on its own.

Anyhoo, here's the crit. My thoughts will be pasted in red.

Here's another definition of the Editor's Choice Review, from OWW:

"If a submissions of yours is selected as an Editor's Choice, it's partly going to be used as a teaching tool for other members: the editors pick submissions that can be reviewed in such a way as to help both the writer and other workshoppers learn something about their craft. But rest assured: it's also a compliment"


While it stands as a solid piece of short-story telling as it, the problem with "Hole Ridden" is that -- even at just barely 2600 words -- it's still too long. (this was a surprise to me. I had a few crits from readers who expressed that they wished it was longer. Since I don't really make things longer, I had dismissed these thoughts. But this was the first time someone actually came out and said, "make it shorter") Sarah tends to find moments upon which to linger in order to provide her central character, Janice, time to consider/judge/dismiss things so that the concept of this ever-opening maw of Earth will be accepted by the reader. For the most part it works, but there are a couple of instances where Janice's hesitation in the face of a singularly terrifying truth see, either, a) put there in order to draw out the suspense a little more, or, b) make Janice seem naïve (and borderline stupid). (this is something that I've struggled with throughout the drafts so it doesn't surprise me that he caught a few instances where it's not quite there yet)

A secondary problem lies in Sarah's narrative voice. For easily 80-90% of this story that voice is in complete control, which is one of the main reasons that the tale zooms along, barely stopping to catch its breath. The pacing is excellent, but because the story remains about 300-600 words too long, it could be even better.

Okay, specifics: The story opens with this exchange between Janice and Arthur:

"Are you sure that thing will be able to move a rock that size?" Janice gestured with doubt (already established with the gesture, so repeating it here is redundant) ) to Arthur's tractor. (I can't believe I missed this redundant tag. Gestured with doubt is just another way of saying gestured doubtfully. Smooth Sarah)

Then, in the middle of sentence (he must mean paragraph here...) which was until now solely from Janice's POV, you wrote:

Arthur wrapped a chain around the boulder and paused to look at his machine. He glanced at Janice, nodded and returned to the chain.

Which means that the next line of dialogue below if from Arthur, yet his actions remains attached to those of the last speaker, Janice.

"Yep, it'll hold it all right." Arthur rubbed dusty hands against his overalls and straightened his back. "Now you sure you want me to move it? God doesn't put something like this here for no reason."

Action always remains with the speaker; always. Everything after "Arthur's tractor" in the opening exchange needs to be separate from Janice's opening line an initial gesture.

(I was a little irritated at first by this part of the crit. When you upload work to the OWW system, it doesn't convert easily from Word so you have to go in and add a hard return between each paragraph. This was just a spot where I missed adding the hard return. A typo, more or less. But then I remembered that the crit is also supposed to help everyone else too, and I'm sure there are writer's out there who need help with this area.)

Shortly after this, as Arthur readies to removes the rock, you have a lovely observation from Janice that goes like this:

Janice nodded and retreated a few feet. Poor man had probably never even had champagne, though he seemed confident in his ability to remove rocks.

It's a sweet moment for a couple of reasons; this is the first - and I believe only - time in the story Janice spares a sympathetic thought for anyone but herself, and she's so jaded she doesn't even realize how outrageously condescending it is.

(This comment I enjoyed because the above line is one that I got mixed feedback on. I was glad to see that he liked it and understood the reason I had put it in)

That leads me to the next problem. You skirt far too close to the line of caricature with Arthur and Janice; she being the hard-bitten, cynical, judgmental, impatient, take-no-prisoners type who would have been played by Jane Fonda; Arthur, the almost too-laid-back neighbor and jack of all traits with so much homey wisdom and advice he's just waiting to share. You don't cross this line, but it comes close. (This is something I know the story has issues with. I've been slowly trying to fix it, but it's been difficult since many of my solutions seem to be related to another cliche) But there's an easy fix - and you're not going to like it. (when I read this, I got really worried. What wasn't I going to like? And why? Would I have to lose a character? Rewrite the whole story (I soooo don't do rewrites))

Move Arthur's story about "stopping a hole with a hole" into this scene, along with the few other pertinent bits of information that are exchanged out by the pickett fence Arthur is repairing. This confrontation scene simply doesn't work; it seems forced, it reads forced, and seems to serve no other purpose than provide someplace for Arthur's "a bigger hole to stop a hole" theory. There is no sense of culture clash, no reason for Janice to so vehemently accuse Arthur (even she knows that she didn't hear the tractor start up), so there is no point to this nasty little confrontation they have here.

Cut it. Take what necessary information you need from the scene and scatter throughout the opening sequence.

(After I read this part I was like, "That's it? That's what I'm not going to like?" Clearly Gary doesn't know me at all. Because cutting a whole scene (in a story that only has 3 or so) and moving the important info elsewhere, is not an issue for me. Not at all. I'm actually looking forward to playing around with it. So, huge sigh of relief when his major suggestion was something that I actually enjoy doing with revisions. Also I think he's completely right. I always knew that scene was the weakest. It actually used to be much much worse...)

Last point; your final line:

"If it came down to that, she knew exactly where to put the final one."

This is almost exactly the same thing you did in the story's opening line, only here, instead of voicing doubt while making a gesture of doubt, you have Janice look at her gun, make the connection ... and then tell us what that connection is, just in case someone doesn't get it.

Please cut the final line and use "...Maybe the only way to atop a hole was with another hole." As the final one. It'll be less obvious and much more chilling as a result.

(This one hurt a little. Not because he isn't right (because he so so is and I'm a little sad that I didn't realize how blatant it is) but because I always liked the final line. This will be a "kill the darlings" sort of revision for me, but I think the story will be much stronger if I follow his suggestion.)

In case I forgot to mention it, the entire central conceit of the story is exceptionally clever and compelling, and when the earth starts falling into itself as Janice makes good her escape, I was on the edge of my seat.


What you have here is an excellent story. I think it can be made even better with some judicious pruning and re-arranging of smaller moments within scenes.

--Gary A. Braunbeck

So there you have it! After reading the crit I was super relieved that he didn't tell me to rewrite, eliminate a character etc, all things I probably wouldn't have done, even to make the story better.
His suggestions were right on the mark and he hit all the spots I knew were the weakest.

I was also excited to see the the Editor's choice for Sci-Fi was a member who had exchanged crits with me, he on Hole Ridden and I on his sci-fi novel chapter one. It was kind of like knowing someone else who had been chosen. Like when you see a friend or family member on TV. (I KNOW them! you think...)

Anyone else get some exciting news lately?


Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm glad you received such a helpful critique and love your willingness to see and make the changes to better your story :)

Rebecca T. said...

Glad that the crit was so helpful for you :) It's always nice when other people pick up the same weaknesses that we KNOW are there, but help us see how to fix them. Good luck polishing it up!


Summer Frey said...

Awesome!! What a helpful review. You should be so proud of yourself. I'm proud of you. :-)

No exciting news from me lately, alas... But I'm always happy to read others'!

Christine Danek said...

What great news--yeah and congrats! That is a great crit. No news here. Just ho humming the revisions. Hopefully, I will have a productive writing session soon.
Nice Job!!!

Sarah Ahiers said...

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Ted Cross said...

Wow, I really like this guy's critting. I am envious. I wish he could crit some of my work!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yay it seems comments are starting to show up! I was so worried i had lost them without even getting to read them

Jaydee - yeah apparently i'm not so much one of those people who get really attached to their work. i suppose that's lucky for me

Sonshine - so true. I should just really learn to trust my own instincts. But sometimes you think something is weak, but not enough to change. It's all related to laziness

Summer - awww thanks!!! I'm proud of you reaching your goal!

Christine - ho humming the revisions is like the most perfect term. WIN!

Ted - Join OWW and perhaps he will!

Southpaw said...

Wow, thanks for posting all that. It's interesting to see what you wrote and what he said. It sounds like it was pretty good overall. Congrats.

Austin Gorton said...

Nothing exciting here. Boo.

Great critique, though. Very helpful, without requiring you to trash everything (which is always my critique fear too).

Though I have to point out that the published author said "and jack of all traits" when I believe the phrase is "jack of all trades". Even published authors aren't perfect! ;)

Eric W. Trant said...

Sounded like a great crit job on your rock-hole story. Having read it myself, it's nice to see what another critter says about the piece and how they approached the crit.

I recently got critiqued on one of my short stories. She wanted me to cut out all my curse words, and the name of the story was "Who the Hell is Percy Freebottom?"

So right there I had a problem. Taking the curses out hurt the impact of the story, but she's the boss. The only good news is that after about six back-and-forths we finally managed to get it fixed!

- Eric

Sarah Ahiers said...

Holly - yeah it was overall very helpful and not scary at all

Teebore - yeah i noticed that too and chuckled to myself

Eric - i don't think i'd make a change like cutting all curse words. Especially if they're in dialogue.

Talli Roland said...

Isn't nice to get such a good review that really helps with such concrete suggestions! You're right - it is energising!

Talli Roland said...

Isn't nice to get such a good review that really helps with such concrete suggestions! You're right - it is energising!

Hannah said...

my comments were doing the same thing this morning. Stoopid blogger.

since I already heard and read all of this, I'll just say, YAY!!

you're going to get submitted in no time!!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Talli - it is indeed. energizing is a good word for it

Palindrome - Yay indeed!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's quite a thorough critique!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Alex - it is, which is very helpful

Hart Johnson said...

What a great process--and congrats that so much of it already worked and that their observations for fixes are things that really seem to work for you! I can't write shorts to save my life, but I think the length is really conducive to learning well what goes and what doesn't.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Hart - i used to never write shorts, but then i had to in college and really loved it as a medium, especially for Horror. I don't write them as much as i used to, though

Anissa said...

Thanks for sharing this. :) Love a good critique!

Anonymous said...

That's cool that you got such great and in-depth feedback from Gary. His comments and suggestions are professional, which is great for your type of work!

Write on and good luck with rewriting!

Matthew MacNish said...

This is so awesome, you got some great advice. Looking forward to hearing how the submission process goes for you!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Anissa - i love a good critique too! It makes you feel so confident

Vatche - thanks! And yes they were

Mathew - oh i'm sure there will be plenty of posts regarding the submission process ;)

Anonymous said...

Sarah... you are such a rockstar. Seriously. I so admire your drive and organization and enthusiasm and commitment and, and, and.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Kristy - ha! i think the drive looks more impressive than it is. Though i had recently admitted to myself that perhaps i am more organized than i had originally thought

Lola Sharp said...

CONGRATS on your excellent critiques, and thanks for sharing it with us. :)

He did give you good critiques/advice, but, um, he had a lot of typos and a couple of word choice errors. Just saying. ;)


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