The group met last Sunday and I was one of five authors on the critique hot-seat. If I learned one thing, it’s that getting honest criticism of your work is awkward. And sifting out good criticism from bad is difficult.
Wait, that’s two things I learned.
Actually, I learned a lot.
A Kick in the Balls… or not?
Opinions differed about many aspects of my story, but none as interesting as the division of opinions about our hero Nix kicking some jerk in the balls. There seemed to be no middle ground on this one. Half the group felt it was cliche and trite. The other half thought it was completely understandable and in-character.
My reasoning behind writing the kick-in-the-balls scene:
- I needed to disable the jerk character, and make sure he didn’t leave the scene, or put up resistance.
- It helps define the hero’s attitude.
- The hero needed a vehicle to make a hasty getaway. After kicking said jerk in the balls, the hero takes his keys.
Kicking him in the balls accomplishes these goals swimmingly, and has the following added bonus features:
- Most people know the effects of kicking someone in the balls (even those who haven’t experienced it firsthand) making it a very efficient narrative. One sentence conveys it all.
- It adds a touch of comic relief.
- It insinuates some sexual domination of the hero over the jerk.
The major drawback is that enough people (almost 50%) felt it was cliche enough to mention so in the critique. The majority of those who thought kicking a guy in the balls was cliche were women. Then again, the majority of the members of the MNSpec critique group were women. I’ll let you make your own inferences.
I’ve decided that I’ll see if I can write up an action that disables the jerk, defines the hero, and doesn’t take up much real estate in the story… without the cliche kick to the scrotum.
Inject the Venom… or not?
Another discussion that ensued was about our Hero ending an argument with her friend by injecting him with a drug that makes him pass out. Some found this action impossible to justify, and some had no problem with it.
The argument was very similar to the argument about the hero kicking someone in the balls. Those against the action said that it was unnecessary – the hero could simply leave of her own accord. She’s an adult and doesn’t need to knock out this other character and run away. It was labeled ‘aggressively passive-aggressive’ behavior. Although like I said, some people thought it worked just fine.
In this case, I’d have to agree with voting it off the island. It was quick and easy to write. Simpler and faster to dodge the issue than talk about it at length. I’ll change it, but I’m not exactly thrilled. Why? Because I’m writing an action/adventure story, not a fucking Throap like…
…Buffy The Vampire Slayer
It’s bound to happen. Write a story about a kick-ass heroine, and the comparisons spew out like beer at a Nascar rally:
- Tomb Raider
- Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
- V.I. Warshawski
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Alright, no one really compared my story to V.I. Warshawski. But I learned that I dislike my work being compared to hack TV shows that I’ve never seen. I guess if the genre is popular enough to be lumped into, then there must be a hell of a market.
I suspect that no matter what genre you write in (or what art you create for that matter) there will always be those who have to lump it in with all similar works. Guess I just need to get used to it.
There were some things that everyone agreed on. They liked the pacing. They liked the fight scenes, even people who admitted they didn’t ordinarily like fight scenes, which I took as high praise. They all liked the description of the abandoned medical facility. Everyone liked the main character, Nix.
There were unanimous #EpicFails. Not searching characters for weapons once they are captured is a faux pas. Having weapons easily accessible; ditto. Handily-placed-syringes-labeled-in-the-Queen’s-English is frowned upon.
I don’t agree with all the critiques. Someone said that in a short story I should only have one thing blowing up in a fiery ball of fire and probably not at the start of the story. Obviously, this person has never seen a Michael Bay film.
Someone mockingly pointed out my instances of “Purple Prose” meaning phrases that are, “sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context”. Point taken, and I appreciate the observation, if not the tone, which was a bit purple itself. I’m trying to take all criticism with a pound of salt, but my editor Sue might be right – she tells me that writers are cursed with terribly thin skin.
One suggestion was for me to ditch the fight scene at the beginning and start several pages into the existing story, with our main character in motion. I might do just that because it makes good sense for the work by itself. I have to remember that it’s detached from the full work. Once the short story becomes integrated into the full work (possibly in a later edition) I’ll likely add the fight scene back in. It means I have to rework the motivation for our hero to leave home.
The biggest praise came from the group organizer Hillary, who said I should try to sell the story before releasing it on the internet for free. I was surprised that anyone thought it worthy of publication. Another person said it had a “pulp sensibility” which I’ll take as a complement.
All in all, there’s plenty of resource in the massive stack of sequoia-killing redlined manuscripts I brought home from the group critique. I’ll rewrite “Yellow King” and pass it along to an editor, then release it for FREE either later this year or early in 2010. Those who are interested in reading it should sign up for the newsletter, or keep checking back here on the blog – you’ll be the first to know.