I’ve submitted the screenplay and now can forget about it until whenever the results start coming back. This is a relief, a lifted weight. I was thinking tonight, okay, now I can start on a new project, and move forward.
At Cryptopolis tonight we critiqued a chunk of one member’s new novel. Listening to the critiques was rather like hearing an elephant being described by a group of blind men — everyone had a different idea of what the novel needed. Sure, we joked about agreeing and disagreeing with each other, but the upshot was, we advocated cutting vast swaths of the work (that was me), or fleshing it out further, or compressing chunks, or recasting events so they carried more emotional weight. Etc. Etc. As E said, “I think I’ve been told to cut every scene of this novel so far.”
What is a writer supposed to do with all that?
While the idea is not to try to rewrite someone else’s novel, it’s also true that we are all writers, and we all approach the problem differently. So if you know going in that readers are going to want to “fix” your novel the way they would fix it, then it’s easier to sort out the responses and get at the useful meat of them.
What are readers saying that doesn’t work? I’ve discovered that when my readers dislike a section, they often disagree on what is wrong but they all zero in on one scene. Okay, that scene or section, or plot movement doesn’t work. How to fix it is up to me — not according to a group’s critique. I do know people in critique groups who get that wrong.
They often think — and they are often beginners — that they must follow what the readers advise. This can be tricky if they get lots of conflicting opinions. Writers will either only hone in on one critique and not listen to the others, or become paralyzed by the range of opinions and be unable to make revisions.
The best way to avoid critique group confusion or paralysis is to remember that you the author are not looking for ways to fix your novel, although I have often gotten excellent ideas that I’ve followed from my readers. The point is to say, hey, this section isn’t working. What is the best way I can get my point across? How do I take this information — X doesn’t convey Y — and make it work?
Listen to your first readers, but trust yourself. You know what your novel needs and where it needs to go.