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Friday, August 12, 2011

Can Critique Workshops Kill Your Voice? (And A Call For Manuscripts)

Kristin Nelson (of Nelson Literary) had an interesting post yesterday regarding critique workshops and voice.

She had a conversation with a colleague who was of the opinion that newish writers can have the voice in their manuscripts stripped by critiques. She encourages writers to rediscover that voice. While I'm all for critique partners and workshops, I can see her point.

In some critique sessions, mechanical mistakes are highlighted, to the point that a writer rearranges sentences, deletes phrases, and stops being…them. Quirky writing that might appeal to people for its originality can be suppressed for the sake of writing correctly and by the rules.

I understand the other side as well. When you’re offering feedback, it’s often easy to point out grammar issues, sentence structure, or places that seem flat. Those are concrete things that can improve a manuscript. It feels like a productive way to offer advice. Giving the writer specific things to work on is great!

But it can lead to the writer concentrating so much on getting those mechanics down that they lose a bit of heart. Of soul. Of voice.

Do you ever feel like when you alter your manuscript to make it technically appealing, you lose some of that voice?

Like everything else in life, it’s a matter of practice and balance. Do NOT stop getting critiques! It’s the only way we can improve and learn and thrive. This may seem like a solitary business, but it’s really not. You’ve got help and support all around you.

Click the link to read Kristin’s post: Critique Workshopped The Voice Right Out Of There


On another note, Louise Fury of Lori Perkins Agency tweeted this a few days ago:

CALL FOR MANUSCRIPTS: Im looking for YA contemporary thrillers in the same vein as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

Have a great weekend!

28 comments:

  1. Jess, I read that post too.

    I've seen it happen in an old critique group that I used to attend a few years back.

    I saw the leader of the critique group (who had a few published romances in the 1980's) totally turn someone in another direction - technically. I heard the person's individual voice, but after the leader got a hold of her...it turned into something unrecognizable and cold...so sad. It was too late and the book was ruined by the time she realized that she lost her voice.

    We should all keep this in mind.

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  2. Oh I've definitely felt this. Critique workshops need to be watched carefully, especially if they consist of a bunch of highly-educated and snobbish individuals.

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  3. I so get this. I changed a lot of the voice in the beginning of WIP #1 as a result of critiques. It definitely changed the voice of the story's beginning. I guess it was because of technical things, but in the sense that they felt I was giving too much away right at the first. They felt I needed to be closer to the inciting event. But when I tried to move the story closer, it just didn't work. It wasn't until another critiquer helped this noob realize I really had two inciting events going on, and I needed to establish the first one before I got to the second one. So I did have it time right. I have the new opening in the following post and in one of my comments I posted the original beginning.

    http://weavingataleortwo.blogspot.com/2011/07/gearin-up-to-get-agent-week-4.html

    *sigh* I still liked that beginning.

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  4. Very true. Sometimes workshops or critiques try to make the manuscript into something it is not.And then the piece can lose its soul.

    Shelley

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  5. I was thinking about this just yesterday. I think it's a problem for new writers, like you said, because we want to make sure we're following all the rules we're learning. I also think, when you're first starting out, it's a hard balance to find when it's okay to break a "rule" and when you should stick to it.

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  6. I also read that post, and while that's not a problem I'm having right now, since I'm still in the process of finding my voice by writing "trunk" novels, I've definitely seen it with other writers.

    For most writers, first drafts are kind of full of voice, since you're not worrying about the technical stuff, you're just trying to get it down on paper. And that's why first drafts are fun to write. But then while you're revising, you have to make sure that you don't strip away all the voice in order to make it "correct".

    I'm revising my WiP, but instead of just fixing the first draft and typing in the changes, I'm going to focus on the bigger problems and write an entirely new second draft. So we'll see how that goes. :)

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  7. Jess, I swear, I think I've over edited one of my manuscripts. As a matter of fact, my critique partners made notes that I need to add more here and there. I tried so hard to make it perfect, and I think I stripped the voice right out. My goal is to read through it again and put that unique voice back in. Oy!

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  8. Great post. Yeah, it is risky not only in losing your voice but your story too. I think it's important for the writer to know what the story is truly about before sending it off. I learned that the hard way. =)

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  9. Very good post and a reminder to learn from the critiques, but don't doubt yourself so much you lose what makes your writing unique.

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  10. This is something all writers have to adjust to. At the stage I'm in now, I'm able to tell when a CP/beta is suggesting something that's not my voice and I disregard it. As a CP myelf, I prolly do it some too. It's only natural. But the more work we have critiqued the more we begin to see where and when to disregard feedback because it takes away from the voice. Trisha Leaver just had a post regarding the same thing--she hacked a ms to pieces based on CPs feedback, then her agent told her to change it back because it wasn't her voice. lol... How frustrating!

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  11. I can see how critique can stamp out voice and other unique qualities. I recall last year, during a critique session, I had two people tell me I left too many questions unanswered. If I put everything up front, there would be no story to write. Where's the mystery? I think critiquers often feel obligation to find something. They wouldn't do the same as readers.

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  12. I guess if your voice sucked it was a good thing. lol. hahahahaha. So it's not always bad to change your voice, is it? Seriously though, it's all part of the live and learn how to work together, how to balance who we work with. Sometimes we find writing partners we just click with!!

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  13. I can see how that could happen, especially if you're a beginning writer. I feel fortunate that I wrote for so long alone (yes, before the internet!)that by the time I got any feedback my 'voice' was pretty well entrenched. I'm more than willing to change and revise but not at the expense of my style.

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  14. Yes! And most new authors don't have a very established voice to begin with, so heavy critiquing and editing can remove all traces of that voice.

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  15. "...this may seem like a solitary business, but it's not"

    Great quote, Jess, and so true. One needs all hands on deck in order to succeed ;)

    EL

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  16. Jess, thanks as always for pointing out important posts and tweets from agents. I use autocrit.com for editing, and in fixing repetitive words and phrases, I do worry about editing out the voice. But now I know to watch out for that. Knowing about a problem is half the solution!

    -Vicki

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  17. Yep, I so get this. It takes courage to break the rules and write what comes from the heart. That's why when I critique, I try to look at the big picture to see the author's intent, rather than just mindlessly pointing out all the broken rules.

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  18. I think there's always that doubt. That's why putting it away for a while and re-reading is really important. Chances are, it reads better with the revision and you're just too close to see it. :D

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  19. I recently received a critique of my first chapter. It was painful to read. My CP read it (it took her two attempts to get through it). In the end she figured out what the problem was. The critter was trying to change my character's voice. Since a lot of people love my voice, I chose to be super select in what comments I listened to.

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  20. It's so discouraging when your "voicey" sentences get marked up. I'm with Stina's comment above - so glad you pointed out this often overlooked problem.

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  21. I think another issue that can happen in critiques is when a CP doesn't appreciate the author's voice, so they "correct" it to how they would say it.

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