Friday, May 11, 2012

The way I critique

            I am a voracious reader.  I have books all over my house, in my car, at my son’s school, and pretty much anywhere I would be set down for a while with nothing to do.  I even carry my nook around when I can’t take five or 6 physical books.  I love movies; I enjoy the richness of them and the imagery that goes into making them amazing to the eye and engaging to the mind.
            When I was younger I had a really hard time reading.  Comprehension was miserable for me.  I couldn’t get any of it straight in my head.  I could read it and read it again and still not get it.  It took long hard work for me to finally unlock whatever it was in my mind I needed to be able to read and remember what was there.
            I write.  I am working very hard to write (and rewrite) my novels.  When I am doing this I take notes of everything going into the scenes – from the Navy Blue Ford F150 to the red geraniums on the porch to the canary yellow nail polish someone is wearing.  I am anal about the details.  I don’t want to write about the Navy Blue Ford F150 and then 60 pages later or in the next book have it be the Hunter Green Ford F150 (that is of course unless the character buys a new one or has it painted).
            So when I read books or watch movies, I am watching for those types of gaffs.  It is not a conscious thing I do, it simply happens. When I read someone’s critic of a movie, a book, a synopsis, or a critical analysis and their details are not accurate to what was written or shown I will point it out.  I am not doing so to be mean; I am doing so because I want that person to be the best they can be, to write the best books, to make the best movies. 
            I have read reviews, blogs, and comment threads where fans have complained about a writer who made an error (such as the changing color of the Ford above) and it has enraged them.  The author usually has to come out and explain yeah it was a mistake or ugh, the change occurred in a scene that was cut or edited out which is why there was no explanation.
            So if you change the color of the truck, the name of a character, the location of their hometown, or move something in a scene between different takes I will call you on it.  I want the very best, I want to give the best, and I want others to give their best as well. This is part of my critique technique. 
I have been called on the carpet for my own writing.  I had a series of short stories; there were seven or eight parts which came out separately.  In part three or four of the series I changed the name of one of the tertiary characters by mistake.  My ‘inbox’ lit up like the holiday tree in Rockefeller Center.  The comments ranged from polite “hey I think you made a mistake” to the downright nasty “you wrote this s*** and can’t keep your own f****** characters straight, what kind of dumbf***** are you”.  I had to go back; I had to revise the part where I had the names incorrect and reissue that part.  I also apologized to those that had read it because it was in fact my mistake.  I didn’t see it when I wrote it nor when I proofed it (editor didn’t see it either but it was my original mistake).
I read a book by a popular author last summer, in the book the main character leaves California and travels into Arizona on a major interstate.  Now for reference I have lived in Arizona for 8 of the last 15 years of my life on and off, further I am a former truck driver, so I have been over those roads many times.  When I saw the mistake in the book it was jarring.  It literally took me right out of the story because of my personal knowledge.  I emailed the author and explained the mistake.  I wrote the scene the way they had and then pointed out using turn by turn directions how the character would have had to travel and the ones in the writing were simply not correct.  The author thanked me profusely in email.  It could have gone the other way, the author could have been pissed or claimed ‘license’.
So what does all of this mean?  Well it’s simple really.  If you change the color of someone’s truck, the color of the flowers that have sat outside of their house for 20 years, the color of their nail polish that they are known for, or their profession I will call you on it.  I consider people in my classes (because I am almost at the end and taking pretty much only heavy writing classes, workshops, or LIT classes) to be my current and future colleagues.  I view those already published as my future colleagues.  I expect the same in return.  If I change a color, a length, a height, something that I didn’t explain to the readers or viewers then I want to know; I don’t want those types of mistakes to take my ‘fans’ out of the story.  If I have their attention I don’t want to lose it over something I can control.
If my way of doing this bothers some, well I apologize, but I will not change.  I will word my comments politely and unemotionally, but I will not stop them.

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