Yes, it’s another new initiative which I believe will benefit readers and writers alike, but importantly writers of all levels.
This is an idea I shelved at the end of last year so we could establish the restructured website on time.
We have a lot of threads initiated by our members on Facebook – all asking for ‘opinions’ on a piece of work. Occasionally it’s a paragraph, but I’ve noticed it’s also been a few thousand words, or even a sizeable chunk of a short story. Whatever it is, it’s usually an excerpt.
Presently this practice is creating extensive threads where comments range from a ‘like’ to a full-blown critique or review.
Why is that an issue, surely it’s what we want to happen?
No, it isn’t. We’d prefer to see, honest, up front, sometimes harsh, but always constructive critique – not one author or several authors commenting on how great the excerpt already looks as it is.
My idea is to have a ‘Critique Corner’ here on our website.
Anne Author has an excerpt (no more than 1,000 words) and she’d like some ‘opinions’.
Presently what she’ll get is a bit of feedback, but mainly back-slapping and occasionally some constructive advice. Yes, we all like the friendliness of our group, but we must also temper that friendliness with more than a hint of professionalism.
Why? Let’s see … do you sell your books, or do you give them all away?
I believe from experience on short story websites, the best opinion is a hard-hitting, full-on critique. There is no point in making pleasant noises and letting small things escape. If we want a realistic response, and want to produce our best – we should put the excerpt out there and allow fellow writers to nudge, coax, or shred it if necessary.
Only in that way will we see the issues with a piece of writing – and thence improve our craft.
– Anne Author sends her ‘excerpt’ as an attachment to an Admin – using a method which will be explained in due course.
– Admin posts the ‘excerpt’ as a regular post but titled Critique Corner with a suitable sub-title like, Critique Corner – the castle. Critique Corner – the accident, etc.
(Basically, whatever sub-title would relate well to the excerpt).
– There would be no mention of the author’s name. I believe anonymity in this case for our group would be beneficial.
– We use the regular post method on the website, because it will allow interaction – any member would be able to comment. The author would be able to check in and see the results without anybody being any the wiser.
Points to note:
1. Authors should not consider actively taking part in this system unless they can accept what may sometimes be well-meaning, but harsh criticism – and that is hard to take. I know.
2. Authors of excerpts will be anonymous, but those writing a simple review / critique / advice, will be named. This will be necessary because of the way a blog operates. The key to this idea working is integrity, which means no showing of favouritism either way.
3. An excerpt once posted will be available for comments for one week. After the ‘active’ week, the excerpt will remain on site in the Archives. The idea is to use the whole exercise as a teaching aid for all members, so even if they haven’t been active in the process, they can see how a piece of writing could be improved.
4. Again, unless a member knows they can be objective, they should not comment on a piece. Treat other writers’ work as you would prefer them to treat yours.
5. Comments should be concise if possible, and highlight only perceived issues with the excerpt – no guesswork should be entertained on the whole eventual manuscript.
6. This idea is for ‘excerpts’ only, so for example a piece of writing 1,000 – 1,500 words.
7. It is not a free editing service, so the same author should not expect to be submitting a series of small sections of a story to have it tidied up by the other members.
8. All excerpts will be monitored by Admin. Any member abusing the system, either on the side of submission or comment will have their excerpt / comment removed.
9. We would not expect an author who isn’t happy with a comment to start a private war with the person who critiqued, because the submitting author didn’t like the points. If an author doesn’t like the points raised – then they simply don’t accept them.
10. It will be possible to have two, or even three posts running simultaneously. Instead of holding reviewers to comment on only one current excerpt, we’ll see how the idea shapes up when it’s running. I’ve no doubt we’ll have to adapt to overcome and fix early issues.
11. If there is any possibility that the context of the excerpt might not be understood we will be happy to accept a short (50-word blurb) from the author to explain the situation / context within the main story.
12. Completed Flash Fiction or Short Stories will not be accepted as excerpts. By their very nature, they are completed pieces of work.
13. Please bear in mind that we are international – which means the blog admin is written in UK English, but any comments, submissions and so on may be based on the ‘written English’ conventions of a different country.
14. Comments on an excerpt should only be made if they are of the review/critique nature – it is not intended to be a place to simply like, and heap praise – unless of course the praise is deserved.
15. There will be no pressure for members to take part in any aspect of this section of our website, so please don’t worry about either putting your work out there, or being compelled to comment.
From a personal standpoint, I learned a great deal on short story / review websites by biting the bullet and putting my hard work out there. Okay, so sometimes I said ‘bloody’ when I saw a comment, but I absorbed both good and bad and moved on.
16. Posts will be left to accumulate in the Archives / Categories, so a history of excerpts and associated comments will always be accessible for research / interest. Categories is located at top left of the website.
This system will alleviate the issue of three-mile-long threads on Facebook which can become tedious to read through.
Yes, the public may access the posts too, but far from being a negative thing – if it allows our public / followers to see how seriously we treat our craft, it can only be a reassurance to them of our determination to provide a quality piece of work.
A crucial aspect of this system will be that we do not see the two extremes:
1. An author having their work torn apart, simply because a reviewer wanted to play God. Any reviewer doing so will have their comments removed, and be asked not to take part.
2. If a reviewer believes they recognise the style or content, they may still write a comment – but, we do not expect to see four views which say there are issues, and one person believing it is a prize-winning excerpt.
Remember, we’re all creative writers – keep that in mind if you review – we’ll spot you.
I sent an explanation of this idea out to a secret panel – a cross-section of 15 of our members for their feedback. They liked the idea generally, and some made suggestions which I’ve now incorporated. The idea will be trialled within the next few days.
When we get the system underway, I will post ‘guidelines’ close to the ‘active’ widget, so even if a person is interested in seeing what it’s all about, they will have the option to read about it – but not be forced to take part.
The guidelines will be amended, just as we would do with the excerpts we’re reading.
Many thanks for your attention,