I get critique at any opportunity I can. It’s terrifying but I can’t learn or change without it so, needs must. If a writing competition offers critique, I will take it. This week I got an email about a short story that I’d entered into the last Henshaw’s Short Story Competition. This is the critique I got:
The Judges thought that though the story idea of breakdown in relationships ending in murder was not particularly new it had been given a clever twist here. But they thought that the twist at the end, whilst original, had given the events, characters and hence the story a lack of credibility.
The start was good, with a fast pace that gained the interest of the reader and made them want to read on. This fast pace was maintained by a good continuous storyline and retained attention throughout. The main character was well developed and provided a strong core for the story. Good use of dialogue also helped the reader relate to the main character and want to know what happened to her.
The writing was good, the conversations felt realistic and the main character was strong and convincing however the character of Juliet was undeveloped and would have benefitted(sp) from further development to make her later actions credible. The smooth creation of the scenario was effective and the atmosphere was well conveyed in the writing.
Overall the Judges thought that the story and in particular the character of Juliet was not credible and that also Juliet being a main player in the story needed a more developed character. The writing however was very good. There was a good balance of dialogue and description that carried the reader through at a good pace making them want to read the end of the story.
So, the first time I read this, I interpreted it as ‘They hated the story. It’s awful. I might as well just throw it away and give up writing altogether because I SUCK!’
Then my husband asked me to read it to him, and when I did that I realised how many positive there were. ‘A clever twist’, ‘Good dialogue’, ‘main character was well developed’, ‘The writing was good’, ‘creation of the scenario was effective’, ‘atmosphere was well conveyed.’ The judges just had one problem with the story, really. They didn’t know enough about the character of Juliet, so when her (rather extreme) actions are revealed at the end, it didn’t feel real for them.
This story is a rather odd one for me, because it literally came to me in a dream. It is written exactly as the dream played out (with a cast including Martin Freeman and Julia Davis) in my slumbering brain. I tend to get a bit blinded sometimes by the way a story comes to me when I first think or write about it. It doesn’t occur to me that I can change it. The individual words, yes, they can be edited but there’s something inherently sacred about the concepts, and the way they are revealed. I am learning, now, to be more analytical. To look at a story and to think ‘is there a better way that I can do this?’
That’s what I need to do here. I need to go back to the story and look at the way it ends. Does it need to be so extreme and gothic? Might a gentler ending be more realistic? It would only mean changing a few paragraphs, but I have to fight a natural resistance to do it. If I decide I want to keep that ending, how can I change the story to overcome the credibility issues the judges above mentioned?
It’s this sort of in depth analysis that is really changing my work. Not the way I write, but the way I edit. Now, when I go back to a piece for second or third draft, I’m much happier to throw away ideas that aren’t working and try something else. It feels a bit brutal at times, but the finished stories are much stronger as a result. At least, I hope so.