Monday, August 31, 2015

An interesting realization

I’ve been rereading Becky’s first novel for the purpose of critique (and enjoyment, of course). I’m a bit nervous about it, because I don’t pretend to be an authority on writing quality, literary virtues, or writing clichés one might want to avoid. Every time I find something I want to “pick on,” I second-guess my own intellectual authority on the subject. It’s not going to stop me from giving my complete critique, but it makes me want to poison the well in advance, before she’s even gotten to read it.

But I’ve been thinking about my “qualifications” as a reviewer, and I’m realizing that I may not be the most unqualified person on the face of the planet to give meaningful critique. That’s a nice feeling.

Until our writers’ group was formed, I’d never really had the opportunity to give critique to an unpublished work, and especially not one that was intended for eventual publication. Because my group are my friends, my first instinct is to be kind and pull any punches that I might feel like throwing. For you writers’ group members who may be reading this, I’m never ever dishonest; I just have a tendency to emphasize my positive feedback. Recently, I polled the group to find out what we are all hoping to get out of it, and discovered to my delight that some of us are actually looking for the most rigorous critiques we can get. So, for those who want them, the gloves are coming off.

But something to keep in mind while critiquing is what audience the author is aiming their work at. You don’t want to rip apart the lack of wooly sheep in a book that is hoping to appeal to fans of rhinoceroses, for example. I am, at this point, hoping to write a book that has “literary merit,” by which I mean, “has subtlety, symbolism, allegory, themes, and a moderate amount of currently-relevant politics.” That is not what everyone wants, and that is okay. I don’t want anyone to think that I think that kind of writing is better than any other kind. It’s just that, right now, I’m highly attuned to that kind of writing: looking for the themes, looking for the hidden messages, looking for the slight twisting that gives a story ambiguity. If I don’t see it, I throw up red flags, and I have to remind myself that not everyone writes that way. It’s a balancing act.

But something else I realized is: I actually feel qualified (well, as much as I ever do) to give critique on pretty much any genre of story. My sci-fi teeth aren’t as sharp as some other people’s, but I’m able to keep up, I think. I won’t spot tropes and traditions in that genre as quickly as many of my peers, but that’s not always a bad thing. I’ve definitely been made to rethink choices I’ve made in my own book because of observations made by people who aren’t well-versed in the hardboiled genre. </tangent> I read almost every genre of book, from popular literary classics to literary classics few of my generation would have been exposed to to Poe to Shakespeare to Silverstein to King and Koontz to Scalzi to Grafton to Patterson to Niffenegger to Vinge to… well, the list goes on and on and on… and on. I’ve read Interview With a Vampire, I’ve read Dracula, I’ve read 30 Days of Night. (Not the Twilight series, though.) I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think that about covers the spectrum of the vampire genre? And that’s just the example that is closest to the surface right now. I read almost anything with words on the page, and I’m… fairly discerning, at this point. I can enjoy bad books, but I know they’re bad.

So… maybe what makes someone an “authority” is extensive study of a topic, rather than someone pinning an “authority” badge on them. Maybe I do have the intellectual authority to give meaningful critique.

I’m still working on reading through it, Becky, but so far I’m enjoying it, and I hope that my (eventual) critique will be helpful to you. ❤

Word count: 3,278 (೎)


Becky Munyon said...

Whenever you mention me in your blog, I feel kinda like a famous person.
I always feel nervous about my ability to critique, like I'm certain I'm going to give horrible advice. But I've been reading my whole life, and I know what I like, so it's probably just me being silly.

Elly Conley said...

Well, making you famous is the objective ;)