Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Alex J. Cavanaugh - Speculative Fiction Writer



Today I have the honour of hosting the mighty Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. He's going to talk about something all writers should have - critique partners.





Critique Partners

Critique partners – does that scare you?

I was nervous just letting my wife read my work. Letting someone else read and critique it was terrifying.

I finally allowed two friends read the manuscript for my first book and it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. Neither friend was a writer. They just read science fiction. But it let me know if my target audience would enjoy the story. (And to this day I still let them read my manuscripts. One is my go-to guy for dialogue, as I tend to suck in that area.)

After CassaStar’s release, I was prompted by both fans and my publisher to write another book. That’s when panic set in. Write another book? One that’s better than the first? Oh, the pressure! I knew I’d need more help than my two test readers and put out a call for critique partners on my blog.

Smartest move I ever made. (One of them, anyway.) Those three critique partners made such a difference in the quality of my work. They saw all the crap I missed and made suggestions for improvement. The result? CassaFire was a much better story and certainly better written.

If you’re worried critique partners will tear your work to shreds, don’t be. (Save those concerns for editors, publishers, and agents!) If you’ve chosen your critique partners wisely, the feedback will be all positive. All positive? Even when they point out your grammar mistakes, crappy dialogue, and plot holes? Yes, because that feedback will make your manuscript stronger. You don’t have to adopt every suggestion. It is YOUR story. But take each idea and weigh the merits. You might even come up with something better.

Another benefit is being able to bounce ideas off your critique partners. You can let them review the outline for your next project and let them suggest changes and new directions. I let two of my critique partners read the outline for CassaStorm, and it resulted in the addition of an awesome character who tied the story together and gave an extra punch to the ending.

Still worried? Let me share with you some of the comments I’ve received from my critique partners:

The sweet taste of sugar and fruit began to ooze across his tongue. - This made my mouth water. Thanks for that, now I’m craving jolly ranchers! Lol.

“…a common ancestry will never be accepted by the general population of either race.” - Dammit. I forgot you wrote that part. I’m not deleting all those words above. It took me a while to write them.

You never smell bad, he thought, entering the room. - Haha! Yeah right. I went on a weeklong camping trip, and we had showers, and I still came home smelling like a hot piece of poo.

Bassan nudged his friend. I have lots of good ideas. - That was amazingly well done too. Weaving info like that into a scene and making it so compelling is hard to do. You nailed it. That calls for another drink! Reward yourself!

He wants to be with his father. That’s all the reason that matters. - Listen to wifey. She’s smart.

“We’ll have to play when you’re not rusty then.”Hey! That’s my name! Woo hoo! I’m in your book.

Think you could survive critique comments like that? I bet you can!

Alex J. Cavanaugh



Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of the Amazon bestsellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.



Thank you for a fascinating insight into critique partners, Alex. Anyone feeling brave enough to share a critique comment they've received?

52 comments:

  1. One of my friends/ beta readers recently told me that she didn't connect to my main character. That was rough but needed. I'm so thankful for her honesty!

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  2. I love my crit partners and know that I wouldn't be half the writer I am without their counsel. Great piece, Alex and how very brave of you to share the comments.

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  3. Awesome job, Ellie! Hope all is well with you and the words are flowing this week. :)

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    1. They are. I had a rough weekend but managed to pull it back yesterday and today.

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  4. Great interview, Ellie and Alex you have some brilliant CP's thanks for sharing the comments with us.

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  5. Love the CP comments. And you're so right!! My writing was improved a thousand percent by my crit partners. I don't know what I'd do without them!!

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  6. A critique partner will never be as nasty as an anonymous Amazon reviewer!

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  7. I have three critique partners: one is a lawyer and two are teachers. Best thing I ever did was getting them to critique my writing. It is hard letting go and trusting someone with your soul, but it will absolutely be better for it.

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  8. Hello Cap'n Ninja!!! Nice to see you hear at fabulous Ellie's blog!! I say yay for fab CP's!! The good ones are truly a rarity and are to be treasured! Take care
    x

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  9. Summer, sometimes we need it.

    Melissa, there are more...

    Sean, so very true!!!

    Donna, Amen!

    Yes they are, Kitty.

    Thanks again, Ellie!

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    1. Your welcome, Alex. It's an honour to host you.

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  10. My CPs are awesome at pointing out all sorts of things. Truly, I couldn't be without them because I have no handle on the quality of my own work! And the sweet flipside is that you can also learn things from critiquing others' work. Like when you think, "Hmm... I'm telling them to do this... I should really do it in my own book!" Lol.

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  11. Looks like you and your CPs have way too much fun! After I finish editing my first draft, I will be looking for some CPs myself. (There's no way I can let anyone read my first draft!)

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  12. I definitely need to head this direction. I need to read up on what to look for in a good CP and how to be a good CP. Anyone have suggestions?

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  13. I recently made a CP request and have a few offers which I will follow up.
    Since it takes time to find CP's who you will connect with, a writer suggested that CP's swop first chapters and take it from there...
    How do you know when you've found the right CP? Does anybody have another method of finding the right CP match?

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    1. I think you have to go with your gut instinct. I remember when Alex first asked for crit partners he sent several of us who volunteered the first chapter. After receiving the critiques he made his decision based on who fitted with him the best.

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  14. Critique partners are like gold, they really are. My manuscript just came back from them and I owe them SO much. Each person brings their own ideas to the table and they are all so gratefully received. You're right, I may not agree with all of them but I definitely agree with most of them. With their generous help, I think my novel is a better read.

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  15. Great guest post Ellie!

    You've got awesome CPs Alex. I think one of the best ways to grow as a writer is to get feedback of others such as CPS, readers and editors. Though sometimes the hardest part is finally letting go of the ms to let someone else read it.

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  16. I've had comments from one of my critique partners that made me burst out laughing (that partner may be one we share Alex, and I am guessing may have written one of the comments above.) We send our work out because we know it's not perfect, but we want it to be. It's hard to let our babies go out there in the world, but we have to let them grow up!

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  17. Nick, I know that feeling!

    Julie, just make sure you feel comfortable with that person.

    Liza, my guess would be Cassie!

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  18. I have a writing group but I'm considering seeking out a critique partner for my next full length work. I have some in mind.

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  19. Great interview! It's always so important and necessary to have extra eyes read our writing, because we tend to get too close to it to see the little things (and sometimes the big things as well).

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  20. Critique partners are SO essential in getting your work to the right place. I'm in love with mine. I want to gather them up in a big squishy boob hug and chant songs.

    Oh... and I'm craving Jolly Ranchers again. Such an awesome line. ;)

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  21. So enjoyed this! Getting back your ms with critique comments like those must've been epic. I think it may be time to welcome in an additional CP soon. My current one simply loves all that I write lately, and I KNOW the writing isn't all that. I just believe we've grown into friends and this person doesn't want to tell me what sucks.

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  22. Critique partners are the best! I've learned so much from mine!

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  23. I just have one awesome critique partner, and it took me a while to be brave enough to go out and get one. I really appreciate all of her comments and her feedback had definitely made my writing stronger.
    A recent comment: A little more reaction here. What does the Drinaii prisoner look like (to Clara)? Is she frightened by him? Disgusted? Angry?

    Thanks to my CP I'm actually getting my character on the page.

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  24. I love the critique partners that I found. They are wonderful. Great column, Alex. Love the prose.

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  25. Always fun to spot a ninja. Even more fun to learn what people thought about the ninja's thoughts. A good critique partner is a priceless asset.

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  26. Oh yes, don't I know critique partners make all the difference. I'm going to have to search out one or two more once my manuscript is finished.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

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  27. love the playful crit comments! need them when they might have to tell you to delete a chapter later...ha!

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  28. Thanks for helping one get over the fear! Love the humor-it so makes the process seem doable :D
    Thanks Ellie n' Alex!

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  29. This was fun! It's great that you could laugh with your CP's which really takes the pressure off! Ellie, thanks for hosting Alex! Julie

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  30. Cassie, it was an awesome line!

    Candilynn, I laughed through the whole thing!

    Tyrean, good!

    Jeff, I guess I amused them.

    Julie, with mine I feel no pressure.

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  31. I'm apparently in a small minority of writers who has no critique partners or betas. There were a few times I was hopeful, but it didn't pan out, or I never heard back. One would-be beta only mentioned what she didn't like, and didn't say what she actually DID like. She even criticized my font of choice. I've been typing in Palatino for 19 years now. Using another font, except for fancy fonts when need be, would feel like cheating. Times New Roman makes my eyes bleed. Why would I use a font I think is ugly and I can barely stand to look at?

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  32. Thanks for hosting Ellie. Alex it looks like CP are essential!

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  33. CPs are the best! I'm glad you found some good ones. :)

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  34. Carrie-Anne, that's terrible about the font! She wasn't a good match.

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  35. I definitely value the feedback I get on my writing. So far, the only critique group I have is online, and I've only put up one chapter, so far, but a friend who read it gave me fantastic feedback (both positive and negative), and will always be my first reader.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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  36. I think taking that first step into being critiqued is one of the hardest steps a writer can take.. but like you said, it's not as bad as we can imagine, and our work is soooo much better for it.
    Thanks for a great post, and the chuckle.

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  37. Waving at Ellie.

    My critique group had a long discussion on using nudged versus pried on Monday night. and we're quite harsh on animals in our books.

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  38. I'd like to find a couple of CPs but haven't ever asked, mostly because I'm afraid of the reciprocating part. I would not make a good CP and don't want the job! Do some do it without expecting a return critique?

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  39. Lynda, it's never as bad as we imagine.

    Mary, harsh on animals? You need to blog about that...

    Laura, yes! Cassie volunteered without expecting me to critique hers. Actually, she rather insisted...

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  40. Visiting from the Jousting Tournament, I am Knight Aidensdein. It is nice to meet you! Good to see Alex's point of view on critique partners!

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  41. Nice post! You are lucky to have good critique partners Alex. I wouldn't know how to find the right ones :)

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  42. Hi Ellie - what a great guest post Alex has made .. as if we'd expect otherwise ... I love reading everyone's comments - and it's so essential in life that we're kind even if we're criticising or suggesting another route ..

    Cheers - happy publishing to you both - Hilary

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  43. I haven't sought crit partners but they do sound essential. I have a group of authors I vent to on Facebook, and I have a group of reader friends I send each chapter to, with some feedback. But I am getting ready to seek critique partners for my next project. Great post!

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  44. I've not gone down that way yet, although I will do as soon as my latest is ready to present to the world. Interesting post, thanks.

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  45. Hi, Alex and Ellie! Great post. I love it when two blog friends collaborate on something.

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  46. It took me a long, long time to join a critique group. Once I found a great one and also awesome beta readers, my writing took off and continues to improve.

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