Harsh Critiques!

I’ve had mixed experiences with giving and receiving critiques. I try to be honest and encouraging and have many great writing buddies do the same for me. But one thing that bothers me is when people I don’t know critique my work with zero encouragement or when others talk about wanting “harsh” crits or “tear my chapter apart”.

Firstly, let’s look at the word “harsh”.

Cambridge Dictionary says… unpleasant, unkind, cruel, or more severe than is necessary:

Merriam Webster defines it as… unpleasant and difficult to accept or experience

Then there’s “tear it apart” or “rip it to shreds”. I mean, who asks for something like that? 

What these people should be saying is “Be honest. Feel free to nit pick. Point out any and every issue you find that leaves my manuscript lacking.” This is what a “real” critique is all about.

Critters can’t control if a writer is going to be sensitive to negative comments or not, but you don’t have to sugarcoat it either to be constructive. You don’t have to lie or give false praise in order to be encouraging. Honesty and a little tact on any issues go an incredibly long way. There’s also a sever lack of encouragement for new writers. We’re all learning and growing and want to be part of a community that inspires us to be better rather than discouraging us. There should be balance in a good critique.

Critiques should be helpful, productive and exciting to see the potential in your work even if you have a long way to go. For me, that’s part of the fun, taking a draft and polishing it into something I can be proud of and grateful for my writing buddies for getting me there.

However, I get to the point with my writing buddies where we can be blunt without offending one another. I’ve had a couple who apologise for bluntness if they picked on something a lot in a particular chapter, and I was fine with it. That’s a little different because I know them and trust that they’re not saying it to be harsh. They’re saying it because they’re familiar enough with my work to know what I’m capable of.

So stop asking for harsh critiques and start asking for honest ones.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay 

Book Review. A House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas. 2.5 Stars.

Warning: Some reviews contain minor spoilers, but I keep the best parts vague. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more reviews and thoughts on reading.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Let me start off by saying that I am a huge SJM fan. Loved her ToG and ACoTaR series. But this sisn’t quite live up to those books for me. Let me explain why.

Let’s start off with what I did like… 

  • The characters’ relationships were fun to read. Their assumptions of what the other was doing were funny when they worked it out, and their gradually growing feelings felt realistic.
  • I like multiple POVs in this book. In books like this with massive world-building I think you need multiple POVs even if it’s just two.
  • The male MC, Hunt, was my favourite character since he was the only realistic POV character in my opinion. 
  • I enjoyed the romance. The enemies to lover trope can sometimes feel unnatural and forced. But this felt like each character had valid reasons to put up with one another.
  • The plot was constantly present and had my curious in every chapter. I did get a little lost a few times because it was quite complex. But when the time came for it to come together, it made sense with the right thoughts from the MC.
Bryce and Hunt | Crescent city, Sarah j maas, Crescent
Find image here.

What I didn’t like…

  • I think some of the inner thoughts were overdone at times, and the world history… OMG snooze. I love world building, but I don’t need all the history when it’s not even relevant, then again when it is, and again later when it’s not relevant again.
  • The love scene (sort of love scene) was way too technical for my liking. I love a good sex scene, but I don’t need a play-by-play of every movement like some “how to” guide. 
  • I didn’t like the random POV at the beginning and towards the end. They lost their meaning as POVs since they were too short and distracting in their respective moments. We got a single scene from Isaiah at the beginning when it could just as easily have been Hunt.
  • The protagonist, Bryce, was too “perfect” for my liking and too much of a brat to sympathise with. Her only real flaw was her negative opinion on men, which I suppose was mostly founded considering every male was portrayed as a jerk. Which leads me to…
  • I wasn’t a fan of every male character being a jerk. The possessive and aggressive comments got boring and repetitive along with every guy eyeing her up and down. Which leads to…
  • Her disdain over men eying her all the time.
  • Her sense of feminism was incredibly confusing. She didn’t like men ogling her just because she wore heels and a skimpy dress. Fine. That makes perfect sense. But she wears the outfits on purpose to impress clients, so again, I found myself unsympathetic to her. 
  • I found it annoying that the two dominant POV characters kept secrets from the reader. Another ToG book 2 revelation kind of deal. Tsk, tsk, Sarah.
  • All it lacked was the kitchen sink of magical creatures from vamps, shifters, witches, sprites, faes, angels, demons and even merpeople. I thought my brain was going to explode. I’m all for multiple beings and magical abilities, but the sheer number of magical folk was mind-boggling.

Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed considering this is a bestseller and has high ratings. But hey, I got through it, so it wasn’t all bad.

Read Terrible Books!

Yes, I recommend reading terrible books. Why, you ask? Because it helps you learn what not to do as a writer. And that’s even better than learning what to do. It’s highly subjective what to do a how to write. I doubt any two writers will agree on everything even if they agree in general. 

But there are many no-nos that just about every writer would agree with. If not, then I worry for them. And I worry for the author of the series that prompted this post. I don’t even want to say who it is because the writing and story are that bad. I’m not the only one, and some of the Goodreads reviews made my point. I’m currently on book 3, but I have it as an audiobook in my car so I don’t waste my precious reading time. Thank you, audiobooks.

And onto the no-nos based on this particular series. They shouldn’t be a surprise, but they’re a strong reminder how you can ruin an entire series.

  • Don’t bore your readers with backstory or history lessons, especially long conversations that don’t lead anywhere or just keep going round in circles. If the character is learning new things, that’s okay, but bear in mind that your readers might not want to know every single detail that goes beyond answering the essential questions in that moment. 
  • Don’t overdo descriptions to the point they become info-dumps rather than visual exposition unless it’s particularly important to the character on an emotional level. Find a nice balance between descriptions for your readers and the reactions of your characters.
  • Make sure your book stays relatively consistent when it comes to age category. Things like love scenes and swearing, for example, need to be toned down for YA but freer for adult. That’s not to say you should throw sex scenes in every other chapter (unless it’s a romance or erotica, which is a whole different tone) or have overly foul-mouthed characters all the time. And please have character be realistic when it comes to sex. It’s one thing to get a little embarrassed when over-sharing or if another character spills intimate secrets, but getting overly squirmy and making a big deal of someone’s limited experience is more YA than adult. Adults can be immature at times, but keep their immaturity realistic and limited.
  • Don’t overdo character traits to the point they’re in every scene or made a big deal of every time. Traits are important, and it’s okay to have another character point them out occasionally… within reason.
  • Don’t be vague on things that your characters (especially POV characters) should know inside and out unless it’s really not necessary in that scene.
  • On the other hand, don’t save things or hints of things until the final chapter or later book in a series that your characters should know. It’s okay to drop a brief mention of things that don’t mean much at the start, but you need something to set the foundation for when you do need them so it doesn’t feel like cheating or a deus ex machina.
  • Don’t avoid the learning curves. I mostly mean this in relation to magical abilities, but it applies to general skills too. Your characters need to learn to use said skills and even struggle at first, maybe even have a fail or two to make it more effective when their skills finally click. That clicking moment is a big deal for your characters.
  • Don’t forget the plot. I’m a huge fan of character-driven story, but the book needs some semblance of a plot that coincides with the character’s goals. Establish their personal journey from the start, and the main plot should slot in.

Oddly enough, this particular series has a tone of very specific elements that my series has. I was super miffed to read the place names, nicknames, even many character traits and arcs that are identical to mine. I’m not worried though. My story is way better since I don’t do all the stupid things I’ve mentioned above, and there’s an actual plot.

So reading terrible books actually helps you as a writer avoid those major let-downs for readers.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

Therapeutic Writing!

As it’s mental health month, I thought that now is as good a time as any to talk about how writing can be therapeutic. Living with a mental illness sucks, and I get overwhelmed with emotions easily. Sometimes I don’t know how I feel and why, so I get to writing.

I write short pieces as you’ll find in my Embracing Darkness collection and Duet for One based on the darker emotions or completely confusing situations. Then there are my novels, which include moments or reactions from my past that I’ve adapted for my novel. It’s like a creative diary.

One novel in particular started with a dream prompted by some horrible events during an extremely hard time. After realising I had more to write on that, I turned it into a full-length novel. It was very therapeutic for me and helped me deal with a horrific and confusing situation. 

You don’t have to write everything exactly how it happens. That’s the joy of creative writing. Turning it into something abstract or fantastical can be just as helpful if it gets your emotions out. I’m a fantasist, and the only way I know how to deal with my emotions is to make it something fantastical.

My writing helps me put my emotions into something that I can make sense of and process in a creative way. Next time you’re going through a rough time, try writing about it. You never know where it could lead to.

Image by 育银 戚 from Pixabay

Unravelling Writing Advice – 1st POV Isn’t Automatically Closer Than 3rd.

Another installment from Unravelling Writing Advice series.

This is something that bugs me when so-called “experienced” writers claim that 1st POV is more effective emotionally than 3rd. Well, yes… but no. Let me explain.

1st pronouns might make a POV feel more effective depending on the reader, but if you want to make that emotional connection to readers in general, you can’t rely on the pronoun. This may seem obvious so some, but you’d be surprised the number of times I see other writers default to 1st because they assume it’s a closer and tighter POV.

As I said in my What’s in a Pronoun? post a while back, it’s not the pronoun, but the description and how deeply a writer delves into a character. 

1st and 3rd POV are only a pronoun apart. Let’s break down some key things to consider when choosing between 1st and 3rd POV.

  • You can have multiple POVs in both and have the character’s name as the title if it’s 1st POV.
  • Or you could have a single POV in 3rd.
  • You choose how far into a character’s mind you want to go, even in 3rd.
  • Swap the name for 1st pronoun, and you could have the exact same narration.
  • 1st pronouns might feel automatically closer to some readers.
  • Sometimes the lack of character name can actually make 1st POV feel more distant to some readers.
  • You can flip POVs more easily in 3rd, like from scene-to-scene.
  • 1st POV is limited to chapter-by-chapter. At a push, you could title the scenes, but I’ve never seen that done.

The closeness of a POV is not defined by the pronoun, but by the writer’s ability to invoke emotion through their prose. It’s up to us to choose the best option for our story, and maybe ourselves. My novel in 1st POV just felt natural to me as a writer because it was more personal. The 3rd POV novels are all close, but not as close to me, so I automatically started writing in 3rd.

So maybe the POV is more about the writer and not the reader.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay