Friday, April 15, 2011

Staying True...

One thing I know ...

If five people critique your work, you will receive five different opinions. And some in complete contrast to the others. With this being said, how do you know when to take advice and when to pass it by?

When rejected, if you're lucky, an agent will respond with comments. Should you rewrite your novel and apply each comment? How do you know which advice to accept and which to ignore? If you adapt every suggestion that an agent or someone in your critique groups makes, do you lose your voice? Have you ever had someone recommend to change something that was actually exactly how you had it in an earlier revision but someone else told you fix?  

How do you know which advice to take and which to ignore?

Answer: Stay true to the goal of your novel. To the theme.

Listen to all suggestions, but don't react. Respond after analyzing your work. Analyzing their comments. Hear "what" they mean, not how they're saying it. Determine if what they say works. Take what feels right. You will know. Do not just change something just because someone said to... it might not be the right thing to do. If you don't feel it, understand it, and believe it... don't do it.

Recommendation: Ask yourself a couple questions and put the suggestion through the recommendation wringer before you do anything:
  • "What" do they really mean by their suggestion?
  • "Why" did they make that particular recommendation?
  • Does it resonate with the theme of my novel?
  • Envision the change as if it were a movie. Play the movie both ways. Which is more powerful?
  • Is the suggestion something technical that you'd never heard before? Research.
I listened to a variety of comments on strength, weakness, relationship and character development in my novel Flight For Control.  Everyone suggested something different. But when I really listened to "what" they meant, and figured out "why" they made those comments. I realized that they were saying all the same thing, but they didn't know what the problem was. They were guessing because it didn't work for them. I used the steps above and yes, there was one central problem that manifested throughout my novel. I had my "ah ha" moment and went back to work on my novel. Easy fix!

Then the agent I really wanted to work with, my perfect match, sent me a rejection with detailed comments of what she liked, but also the one thing that didn't work for her. That same thing that I was in the process of working on. I immediately responded by thanking her, and told her that I agreed with her and was in the process of fixing that exact thing. I was already two-thirds through the novel with the fix. Would she be willing to read it a second time? YES!

Trust your instincts. You are the author and the creator of your work. If someone gives you a suggestion, run it through the recommendation wringer.

With all this being said, remember the "F" word when it comes to working with "your" agent. Be Flexible! If they love your work enough to represent you, then trust the relationship that they will give you guidance on preparing you for publication.

Happy writing! And remmember, today is your day to shine.

~ Karlene 


  1. I have a great friend who critiqued a manuscript of mine. I agreed with almost everything she said and that makes the changes easy. I think I'm lucky that way.

  2. Karlene Congratulations! I am SO happy for you. What you posted is so true. With my first novel and changed it with every crit and comment. NOT any more. I am doing as you say and taking the time to mull over what they said and go from there.

    I just remembered you were to do a guest spot at my blog today. I guess we all got busy and I am doing the A-Z challenge which I really gave myself a challenge and decided to do flash fiction with a twist. Man... I did some terrific writing though, so it's practice.

    Let's see if you, Linda, and Heather can come up with another date to let me feature your blog. I adore all of you and I want the whole blogosphere to know you. I wish I had that kind of audience, but I'm trying.

    Have a great weekend.


  3. Karlene, this is wonderful! I love your recommendation wringer. And it is so exciting that your perfect match agent wants to read the revised manuscript. You know she thinks highly of you when that's the case. All fingers crossed!

    Michael, Heather will be here this afternoon and she, Karlene and I will be together for the first time in months. Yay!! Serious workshopping coming up. We will figure out the interview time for your blog with you. Thank you so much for your support!

  4. You put it all into perfect perspective Karlene! As you know I've had a lot of conflicting advice in the past and this rings very true for me. You're absolutely right, the advice we choose to apply must ring true for our vision.

  5. I've seen people who change everything people tell them to immediately without thought for the process (no, I don't mean Michael - he's recovering. :). I will occasionally rewrite a sentence if someone I'm critiquing needs help writing more actively, etc., but I really hope I don't try to change their voice. It's what writing's about (and something I struggle with sometimes myself).

  6. Phyllis you are so lucky! But sometimes it just feels right. But, you had to know it before you changed. Not just because she said so. Right? :)

  7. Hi Michael we will figure out some time for sure. We'll all be together on Monday... otherwise it may not be until August. But, we can interview individually too. Let us know. We're here for you. Thank you so much for being such a GREAT support!

  8. Thank you so much Linda! Energy drink in action. Celcius water. :)

  9. Thanks Heather. I know we all have conflicting advice. But that makes life fun. I hope you're having a fun spa night. ;)

  10. Thanks so much for your comment Erica. That does get to be a problem when we change to their voice. And it can happen easily. I think the best comment I got was, "This doesn't work. I don't know how to fix it, but you will." And I did.

  11. The WORST critique I ever received was "This is just awful!" (1st romance scene, 1st draft, years ago). It was also the BEST critique I ever received due to its honesty. It clipped my wings and help to push me to a higher level in writing.

    PS: I'm not advocating a steady diet of crushing critiques... I'd prefer a gentle hand, but once in while, it can challenge us to create better works.

  12. Christopher... you are so correct, sometimes brutal honesty is exactly what we need. Then we go to work. I also believe we know if someone is being petty or constructive. I'm the total honesty girl. Love to give it and get it.

  13. "Listen to every comment, but don't react." I love it. This is such an important statement. Especially for newbies like me. I've only had a couple of people read my work. And I recently noticed how different their takes on my pages can be. I think staying true to a character's voice is vital. Thanks for this post. You ladies are amazing! christy

  14. Love your recommendation ringer! Clever! At my last critique, one writer said my short story could be cut in half. Another writer said she'd like to see me make it longer and perhaps into an early chapter book. LOL! I've learned a long time ago to "sift & choose" my information. Though, I do find that about 90-percent of the time my colleagues are right.

    And I have seen writers lose a character's voice after a rewrite. I used to do the same thing till I learned how to listen to my characters. :-)