Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Criticism

Apparently part of being a good writer/designer/artist/architect/builder is understanding how things work. One way to understand how things work is to tear them apart. This is what my brother claimed about engines too. It’s why we had lawn mower and edger and car engine parts all over the garage. Because he was going to “fix them” once he figured them out.

For me, this whole “tearing apart” process has been painful. Not because people said hurtful things – but because I feel so lost. They describe things with all these terms I just didn’t get. Many times these terms are grammar/parts of speech terms that normal people who took more than two years of high school English might recognize. I, however, was out in Auto-shop. (GREAT CHOICE MIT!!!)

I hate it when they say “You should use a “past perfect participle” there. In my mind I am saying, “WTF people?!” I can't tell the difference between a Future Perfect (I'm assuming that's when a word dies and gets past St. Pete at the Pearly Gates) Participle.. and Past Perfect (which is obviously the participle’s life pre-religious conversion and BEFORE giving up sex).

In our class, there is a critique process. It “goes around the room” meaning one person starts, says what they have to say, then the next person speakes, and so on, until everyone has had their say.

There are three other rules. First, you have to start with the positive; secondly, the author isn’t allowed to talk; and finally, suggestions and improvement can only be mentioned at the end. They must always be couched in terms of, “As a reader I … got lost, didn’t understand this time-line” or whatever.

Tonight we critiqued the last six short story rewrites for our final. Many times, I was the last person – or near the last person – to comment. Which is sometimes embarrassing because I realize when it’s my turn that what I’ve written just exposes HOW MUCH I DON’T UNDERSTAND. Another way of saying that is I lack reading comprehension.

For example in one story everyone talked about how much they liked the ending … and were pulling out all these really great meanings and summations. Then it’s my turn to read what I wrote. *sigh*

Quickly scanning my notes I have to go with this (get ready to cringe), "I don't think this story has a resolution. Unless I'm just supposed to know that Sarah marries Jim, he's a fucktard, Dee is still pushy and hasn't gotten hers yet. In that case, GREAT JOB!"

Apparently NO RESOLUTION can be a resolution. Unless the gang thinks you haven’t ended your story – then it needs an ending. (Hello two edged sword of confusion.)

I am so bad at this critique process I turned mine into a list (below) and tried to answer these questions giving page numbers and quoting specific examples ...

  • What did the rewrite add to the story?

  • What was removed or added from the rewrite? Good or Bad?

  • What is the focus? What is the hot-stuff the magma? Has it changed from the first draft? (what haunts your memory after reading it?)

  • How is the story strengthened in this rewrite?

  • Were problems (if there were any) in the setting fixed? (Who, what, when, and where. Are they clear?)

  • Was there a conflict in the SLFD (shitty little first draft)? If not, or if it wasn't clear, is it now? Has a resolution been reached?

  • If there were problems with the characterization, how were they fixed?

  • Structure: If there were problems with the beginning and ending were they fixed? Were blank spots that needed to be filled in, filled in?

  • Language: any noted problems in the SLFD? Were they addressed? How?

  • Overall words of encouragement for the writer.

And they all said mine were well done critiques. But I don't get it. How can they be the best when I don't know what the hell a “Present Perfect Continuous” tense is? (Although I’m guessing it happens in a bar with no last call and penny, single-malt scotch nights on Tuesdays!)

1 comment:

mamie said...

I tried to leave a comment a while ago, but it didn't go through (yet) so here goes again. If the first one comes through, I hope this one is better!

From the first day of class I have thought you give thorough, constructive and thoughtful criticism. Which just goes to show that you don't have to know your "present perfectly" to be a great classmate.

I look forward to spending more time at the writing table with you next semester.