How can I take part?
I’ll be announcing a drawing on Mastodon every month at least. The contest will be hosted via a landing page for simple access, and you can always find the link here on my site. That said, follow me on Mastodon or any other social web client for any special opportunities or just to be part of the writing community. You can follow me via @firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I win how long until I get my critique from you?
I can’t make any promises, but my goal is to get critiques back within two weeks.
What do your critiques look like?
At the most basic level I will convert your document to PDF and provide hand-written notes on things that I notice in the margins. This can include details like sections I think you should delete, paragraph commentary, and a variety of other things. In addition to the PDF, you’ll receive a detailed document with my notes via email. This will go over your piece at a high level, but will often have specific references.
That sounds kind of vague. Do you help with things like spelling and grammar?
No. I don’t do line edits. I will sometimes point out things like repetitive words, some spelling mistakes that I notice and things like that, but my critiques should not be used to check your grammar or spelling. If you are sending a screenplay, I will tend to note formatting errors because basic formatting is important when submitting screenplays.
So how do you critique?
At a high level, I am examining your authorial intent and how successful you are at achieving it. If I see things that are not aligned with your intent, I will point them out. This can encompass a lot of things, from plot structure, scene construction, character, pacing—everything. I’ll read the piece and do my best to receive it as a reader, but I will do it with the lens of deconstructing the piece to see how you are telling your story to that reader. Generally speaking, my critiques are a lot like a developmental edit you will find with novels.
For screenplays, in addition to dialogue and scene construction, I take a close look at how your script works within the very tight structure of a pilot or feature. Things like scene placement, pacing, and act structure will all get my attention.
Wait a second, how do you know what I’m intending to do?
I don’t, so keep that in mind, but in a vast majority of the cases, your intent is pretty obvious because you wrote a story for people to read, and what they take from that story is at least directionally intended by you. For example, it is pretty clear when I read a piece if it is a character study and not a mystery. Similarly, scenes are included by you because they serve a function. I have enough experience as a reader and writer that I usually can understand what you’re trying to do and outline if it works or not.
A lot of writers find this valuable, although some really hate how I critique.
Why would someone hate how you critique?
For a few reasons. A lot of writers just toss out a story in their mind and don’t put a lot of intentional thought into how they are writing it. In fact, some people would say that this kind of attention is non-creative. So when I read a story that seems to meander or not really have focus, I hypothesize about what the authorial intent is and where it went awry. Some writers don’t actually have an authorial intent—they just write by instinct. So when someone tells them that their instincts aren’t working, it is a very difficult challenge for them to transition into an intentional revision mode.
Other authors just don’t like when I discuss how things are working or not, as they feel that’s not the job of a critique partner.
Wait, telling them what’s working or not is the job of a critique partner. Why would anyone object to that?
Note that I said “how things are working or not” and not “whether things are working or not.” One of the polarizing aspects of my critiques is exactly that. I consider what the writer is trying to do and then provide various examples of how it could be approached differently. Many writers love this, because a push in a specific direction will often illustrate to them why they’re moving in a wrong direction, even if that push isn’t where they may want to go.
However, some writers hate this because they have been taught that if a critique partner tells you something is wrong, you listen, but if they tell you how to fix it you ignore that. I don’t really tell authors how to fix their work, I:
- Explain why what they’re doing isn’t working.
- Give them various ways that things could be fixed as a way to re-direct their thinking.
That may sound reasonable, but for many the idea of someone writing, “I get what you’re trying to achieve here, but the dialogue kills the tension. Maybe try something like, ‘No. I can’t do that.’ rather than a full explanation.” bothers some writers.
And of course some writers don’t like a critique partner re-writing their work, as they are the writer. I don’t really do that, but it can be perceived that way.
Can I submit a novel for critique?
No, but you can submit a chapter or even two. Consider word length as your guide. I’ll generally stop at 7,500 words if you submit something longer than that.
Can I submit a short story for critique?
Absolutely, but please keep it to short story length—7,500 words or shorter.
Can I submit a TV pilot?
Absolutely, but note that I have no experience with comedy, so my feedback on a 30 minute comedy pilot probably won’t be very strong.
Can I submit a feature film?
Absolutely, but features take a long time to critique, and I may stop after 60 pages or so. I’ll do my best to critique the full thing, however, but there are no promises.
Can I submit a poem?
I don’t critique poems. Sorry.
Can I submit an essay?
I don’t critique essays. Sorry.
Can I submit a radio play?
Sure, but I have limited experience with radio plays (although I have written one).
Can I submit a graphic novel?
I don’t critique graphic novels. Sorry.
You write science fiction and fantasy. Do you critique other genres?
Absolutely! I love all genres of fiction.
How much does this cost?
Nothing! I’m doing this to help my fellow writers.
How long do these critiques take you?
It depends on the piece, but generally speaking I spend two to three hours on each critique. I take critiquing fiction seriously.
What’s the catch?
The catch is that helping others makes me happy.
Why should I trust you with my work? You may steal my idea.
You don’t have to trust me, of course, but I’ve been working with published writers and screenwriters for a long time. My reputation is more important than a good idea. In fact, I’m actually rather sad that I probably won’t live long enough to write all the ideas in my head, let alone have time for somebody else’s ideas.
What is this about a thank you gift?
Terry Rossio has the absolute best resource on developing your screenwriting career on his website. I used his very generous license to produce a beautiful ebook of all his columns. Trust me, it is an extraordinary resource if you are an aspiring screenwriter. This is one of the things you’ll receive. The other is an ebook of my book on revision, which focuses on the complex challenge of finding and incorporating third party feedback into your revision process. You don’t have to read either one, but they’re my gift to you.
This is so awesome. Do you have a Patreon or Gofundme?
Nah, but I love coffee. So if you want to buy me one for when I’m sitting in a coffee shop sweating over my next novel, here you go…