Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Goldilocks & the Three Critiques

One day Goldilocks entered a novel marathon.
She got three critiques from three different judges.
Each critique came on a form with three different categories:
Manuscript Strengths
Areas of Improvement
Final Comment
All three judges had vastly different takes on Goldilocks' manuscript.

One judge seemed to really, really like it. This was probably the mommy bear judge.
Manuscript Strengths: Terrific dialogue - you've got a really good ear! These folks sound very Maritime-y – is that intentional? This is very funny and I enjoyed reading it. You conjure up the small town cheating husband with real credibility & humour.
Areas of Improvement: The sex is a bit more graphic than some readers will like. You've got a knack for hilarious similes but be careful not to overuse it – there are four great examples on the first page alone and you may want to be judicious about them. I want to believe in Lou as a journalist but perhaps this case needs to be made a bit more strongly? Mostly we see her as a last-to-know, angry wife.
Final Comment: Don't stop! This has potential and I hope you press on with it. Will Lou find Lavalife love? Will Jimmy redeem himself somehow? I'd love to know.

One judge had balanced comments, like the porridge that was just right or the chair that fit Goldie's butt perfectly.
Manuscript Strengths: Intriguing opening. Good description, metaphors and similies. Humour and drama intermingle quite well.
Areas of Improvement: Some of the dialogue is inappropriate for the character - for instance, Lou's dialogue seems too rustic/rural for a career writer, and Spencer's is too sophisticated for a four-year-old. (ex. a young child wouldn't say 'woman' or describe eggplant as 'disgusting' or wish that he could be rid of the 'damn backpack' ... and 'flake out' on the couch.)
Final Comment: It's difficult to judge the plot's direction on a small portion of the intended novel: certainly there are good possibilities here, and you clearly have a talent for descriptive narrative that is engaging and entertaining. The characters are interesting and I hope you enjoy continuing to develop them.

The last judge (grumpy old bear) didn't like anything. 
Manuscript Strengths: (this area was left blank by the judge. apparently nothing was strong about the manuscript, not even the spelling)
Areas of Improvement: Where are the likeable characters? Jimmy's revolting. Lou doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities. Aside from extramarital sex, sexual problems (which are described in way too much detail) and needing to have sex, nothing happens.
Final Comment: If you're going to write a story about a dysfunctional family, I'd suggest inventing a town name and not set it in actual small town Ontario.

Um, in her own defence, Goldilocks wants to point out that she stumbled over a name for the town but decided to let the muse take her and keep writing, rather than wasting time thinking of a town name. She figured she'd change the town name in the editing process.

Oh sod it, Goldilocks is me, of course. I just wanted to share what the judges had to say about the marathon. And I'm a little perplexed by the third judge's comments.
Although, seriously, I shouldn't complain. Some of my fellow marathoners got just plain nasty critiques. I mean, terribly nasty. On balance, mine were pretty fair. And I did get a big giggle out of the last judge not writing ANYTHING in the strengths category.
I'm not sure how to take them, though. Do I believe the happy judges? Do I believe the judge that had nothing good to say? Do I find a happy medium?
I'm curious to hear how other people handle their critiques. How much do you "take in" what they have to say? How much do you change?
Must go now. I suddenly have a craving for porridge.


  1. Hmmm, it seems to me if a writer can come up with something and get it all out on paper in three days than the judge should cut them a little slack. I mean, come on! A manuscript in three days!

    As for the middle judge thinking the four year old was too sophisticated, he or she has obviously never met some of the 4 year olds I know. :)

    I am now very intrigued and want to read your manuscript myself.

  2. I think that a person that can find NO redeeming qualities of another's work has no business judging. The difference in the comments shows how subjective the understanding and enjoyment of ones writing by others can be...

  3. exactly why we all need to be very wary of feedback, particularly from the "unseen judge/evaluator" types - who are these people? what is their background/credibility. the subject of writers groups and evaluation from these was subject of much conversation in a recent course i took. the group concluded, rightfully so, that unless you are working directly with an editor preferably your editor for the work you are looking to have published, you are likely better off NOT getting feedback for the very reasons and issues/contradictions you point out. one thing you may wish to consider is soliciting very direct feedback on particular issues/problem areas ie: How can I make this more xxx or less yyy? If I were to pare the word count by x, what should I cut..etc. all this of course is mho..

  4. I would only want a critique from someone I knew and respected, someone who has strengths that I aspire to.

    In a situation like yours, I don't think it makes sense for a judge to eschew any positive encouragement at all.

    Unless you know that third judge you have no way of knowing why they didn't like your work. The reason could have nothing whatsoever to do with art.

  5. Ola. It's Tracy. I forgot to sign in, so this will show up as anonymous, lol.

    As you can tell, I'm Behind in my reading as well ;) Just got to this. And I thought I'd share what my critique experience was for my first-ever novel marathon.

    I did the two-day because I had to work. One judge gave me a perfect score (and I know nothing is perfect, so I took that with a grain of salt and a smile). Another judge told me he/she cried in parts and had to walk away from the story because it hit him/her so hard.

    And the third said this (among the gems she gave on her critique) - "We see four people and a fetus die in this short manuscript. Is it absolutely necessary to do away with them all? Would the plot be richer if just one were saved?"

    I laughed mainly because two people die in the 1800s and are only referred to in flashbacks in the year 2005. I laughed because the miscarriage is central to the entire story and to the main character's future motivations. And I laughed because the end product is so NOT a short manuscript, it's hundreds of pages now.

    Critiques are lovely for growing as a writer. But only you know if your character's sexual ailments are 'too graphic' for the story. Because only you know what the plot will look like four rewrites from now.


  6. you have an s-load of strengths! Any info is a guideline, if we look inside and are honest we know what fits and what doesn't, and also the more people who share similar comments, maybe it's worth storing in the research section. I think the comments from the people who follow your blog (plus the fact that so many do, and so faithfully) are likely more accurate, if you see a pattern there of comments, especially the ones noting their favourite parts of your story, then that is indeed a strength (eg on your next story, the burying the imagination part was clearly a very strong section!). I know plenty of young kids with BIG vocabs, kids are just smarter today. And the journalist sounds too rustic for his profession??? give me a break. This is nitpicky shit. I liked what you said about your spelling, you are hilarious! Cracked me up! Love Kel XO


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