Don’t Be Afraid to Say “It’s Boring”

Writer and my former workshop-mate Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevitch has a suggestion for critique groups–let someone know if their story is boring.

Okay, that might sound harsh. But “boring” is a major reason people outside of your workshop will set aside your story. I’m guilty of not pushing my characters and plot enough, too, and I always appreciate it when my critiquers tell me that things need to move faster or more needs to be at stake. Usually when I revise with that in mind, the story is more engaging and doesn’t put the reader to sleep.

Still, it can be hard to hear that your story isn’t compelling. To protect fellow writers’ feelings, Alexandria offers this idea for workshop notes:

“So how about this: a small circle in the margin of the page, to signal a change in the reader’s attention level at a given point. The circle could be filled in all the way for moments when the reader was rapt, put to half-mast for moments when the story was inching along well enough but the reader was fighting the impulse to check how many pages remained, and left empty for the moment the reader actually did put the story down, not to be picked up again until, say, the night before workshop.”

I really like this idea. A series of circles feels less than a jab than it does a way to track your story’s momentum. Plus, it’s so helpful to see how a reader actually interacts with the story. You may think that readers will be stunned by a particular line of dialogue or scene, but they might not get enough emotional resonance for the scene to have the effect you want.

Make sure to click through for Alexandria’s whole post.

Critique Groups and the Importance of Constructive Feedback

At Swagger Writers, Kathy has a great post about being part of a critique group. She mentions that she know someone who is afraid to join a critique group because of the potential for negative feedback. Kathy points out that feedback of all kinds–even negative–is crucial to the writing process:

“The key word there is constructive. There’s no point in offering a critique that isn’t helpful. I also believe a critique should begin with something positive. Telling a writer what’s working is at least as important as telling her what is not.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a member of two very constructive critique groups, and I think that the feedback is invaluable. I’m a big fan of Kathy’s point about beginning with the positive–it can overwhelm a writer to get bombarded with negatives–but also really appreciate knowing what doesn’t work in a given story. Whether it’s positive or negative, feedback should inform you about how to make your story better. If one part is working really well, that’s fantastic, and maybe you can bring the same kind of focus and features to the parts that aren’t as strong.

Also, I think knowing how to workshop is enormously helpful. Assuming your goal is to get published someday, you’ll probably have to deal with feedback from an agent and/or editor. If you’ve never heard anything bad about your work before, it might be disheartening to get an editorial letter full of suggestions for changes. If you’ve had experience with a critique group, you know that constructive criticism is an essential part of the revision process.

As Kathy says, this all depends on the particular group. But having that kind of sounding board and support system is awesome.

Make sure to check out the full post for the rest of Kathy’s thoughts on critique groups. Also, in case you’re curious about my YA/MG critique group, check out their sites: Tara Sullivan, Lisa PalinKatie Slivensky, Julia Maranan, and Lauren M. Barrett. Rock on, writers!

(image: Wikipedia)