Tuesday, February 12, 2008


After my recent flogging, a discussion ensued in the Writer's Retreat Forum. While it was private, it got me thinking, and I've included some of it here for ponderance's sake.

The discussion was regarding what level of 'harshness' is helpful to a writer. Being the analytical type that I am, I first felt a need to define terms.

B-C-E : The process of beta-reading, critiquing, or editing creative fiction. So, are those all the same thing? Not in my mind. Ideally, I think it's great to have one of each, only in the reverse order. Here's what I mean (and I do know that my definitions might not be what you had in mind) . . .

An edit takes something in its raw form, helps tighten it, pick out holes, re-work sequencing, pacing, etc.. It also corrects typos, grammar errors, spelling, homophones, and the like. Basically, it takes the bare bones of a piece and straightens them out.

A critique takes things a step farther, and works on craft: story structure, voice, characterizations, world building - the real meat of a story. It would also be a time to provide more creative feedback and stimulate the writer to expand or clarify passages.

A beta-read is similar to a beta-test. It takes the work in its near final form for a dry run. Ideally, your beta-reader is someone that is in your target audience, and can give feedback on what works and what doesn't. It's less craft oriented, less structured, and based more on the overall 'feel' of the piece.

Various definitions of these abound, and to some people they might even be the same thing, but for clarity, that is how I segregate them. I'm not really sure where a publishing editor fits in on this scale, since I haven't worked with one before. But my guess is that a copy-editor 'edits' and an editor editor 'crits/betas'. I'll let you know when I find out, lol.

So, the statement that started the discussion was something along the lines of 'you have to be willing to take a certain degree of harshness in order to grow as a writer'. That was me. I'll be honest, I love criticism. To me, it's the gateway to improvement . . . the rite of passage to my ultimate goal, to be a successful author. Some people disagree - particularly with the 'harshness' part. So, let's take a look at that.

1. Everyone knows that you have to have a thick skin to make it in this business. That's not to say that being mean for the sake of 'toughening someone up' is helpful. To the contrary, budding writers are usually fragile and unsure, and need to be encouraged. I'm sure anyone who's made it can remember back to the people that were initially gentle with them, allowing them to gain confidence and grow at their own pace.

2. Just being nice isn't helpful.
Has this happened to you - you finally decide to ask someone to take a look at something, they do, and they hand it back to you with a 'that's very nice.' ? Gee, thanks. But now you're still where you were before. You know it can be better, but you don't know how or where. This sort of feedback, (yes, it's always nice to have an ego boost) doesn't help us improve.

3. Everyone is looking for something different in a critique/beta.
This is a no-brainer. We all have different strengths, and different not-so-strengths. What you're wanting out of a second, third or umpteenth pair of eyes depends on those strenghts, and on what stage of your specific writing process you're in. I think the most important thing when working with someone who is BCEing for you is to communicate clearly what type of feedback you are looking for. And being able to recognize and decide on this is also a useful skill. Keep in mind too that every BCEer brings something different to the table too. Hence my 'more is better' policy.

With that said, my flogging didn't hurt my feelings. I knew what I was getting into, and I got what I wanted out of it. I spent a year under a tough-love brutal beta, who told it like it was, and always spoke up if something didn't mesh.

So, one of my group members (who are all faced with the grueling task of critiquing some of my WIPs) asked "What are you looking for in a BCE?" I thought about it. I can some it up in ONE word. (I know - it's a miracle!!!)


I want to know what you think, honestly. Even if it's harsh - hit me with it. I want that sting, because I know it will become a part of my assimilated skill set, however painful the process.

No comments: