The first thing you do is fall to your knees and beseech your thanks to the gods, naturally. I mean, seriously, you got a critique of your fiction that has too many good things to say!? That’s fantastic, in both literal and figurative senses. Whatever else you bring to the table in this discussion, the plain fact is that you shared your writing with someone and you made them ecstatic. It’s like an early access video game winning Game of the Year. That’s pretty cool, bro or broette. Or bro of indiscriminate gender.
We wouldn’t be writers, however, if we didn’t wring the misery out of any mundane, happy, or actually tragic event in our lives. Yes, you found someone who likes your work, but you wanted it burned down so you could build something better from the ashes. The wrecking crew you hired for your former house just stood around telling you how pretty it looks. You need more from your critique-giver. I remember a proofreading friend emailing me, “Wow, your play is perfect. Needs no changes,” back when I was 18. People not named Mary Shelley do not write perfect works around that age.
I’ve received enough positive critiques (the latest was for “I Am The Mountain [y estoy hundiendome],” which now has a fourth draft completed!) to know how to work with complimentary criticism.
- Read between the lines
What didn’t your reviewer mention? And what did your reviewer see as opposed to what you meant? The most positive response to “I Am A Mountain” applauded how real the setting felt, while others were more critical in that area. And said appraiser didn’t answer my question about which scenes should be cut. No one’s right or wrong here, but a little analytical thinking can reveal why this reader, out of all of them, connected. You’ll understand where you need to improve, but sometimes reading between the lines will show how your writing works invisibly.
- See where the person is coming from
I’m suggesting something dangerous. On a site like Critique Circle, you’re only interacting with text instead of a face. There’s a lot you don’t know. But if you understand the character of your appraiser, then you both know what audience you’ve already attracted, and what audience you’ll end up alienating. Years ago, a classmate of mine loved the draft for New Caveton, a screenplay that mostly embarrasses me now. He’s also a fan on the band CAKE, whose song features in an introductory montage. He said that song was a perfect fit, and he was right… but it fit in a scene that was confusing and juvenile even with the right musical accompaniment.
- In your next draft, emphasize what your fan loved about your story.
You shouldn’t give up on editing your work. But you should see that everything your fan loved gets elevated into a higher standing. Unless that hilarious bit character works best in small doses, give her more of the spotlight so she can make silly shadow puppets with it. Often, people who have strong negative feelings about one of my stories will at least say, “This part here is great. Why can’t the story be about that?” Such segments were not what you meant to focus on, but it’s best for writers to step away from their Platonic vision of a story at some point.
- Be grateful
Again, I must emphasize piquantly that this is for realz. You wanted the story to be torn a new one, sure, but so did the person who critiqued it. They went into this with critical eyes, and found those critical eyes glued to the page. I don’t know what else to tell you, man of indiscriminate gender, you’ll have plenty of rejection in your writing future, so take what you can get now. After you send a profuse letter of thanks, of course.
I based my new draft of “I Am A Mountain” on suggestions from Critique Circle, a very nice website that is incredibly nice and savagely mean, whatever you want from your peer reviewers. You’ll see that draft soon (even sooner if you sign up your email on the list!)