Don’t Take Critiques at Face Value
After NaNoWriMo, there will be a lot of novel exchanges. So I just wanted to point out a few things I’ve learned about critiques over the years of receiving and giving them. I’ve also observed some really upset writers, and I’ve attended writer groups who only allow positive feedback … which to me, is useless.
Besides these famous quotes,
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ― William Faulkner
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ― Neil Gaiman
I’m sure you’ve heard that you have to develop a thick skin. So what does it mean to have thick skin? For me, I have to remind myself not take the critique at face value nor take them personally. Bad critiques are not the ones that come back with lots of notes; the bad ones are the empty ones that say everything was perfect … because it’s not. (See Hemingway & Faulkner quotes) There’s always something that can be improved.
You want your novel/chapter to come back completely marked up. And the first reaction to getting copy back that looks like someone rewrote your story, is probably going to be either, “I should have caught this; I’m a horrible writer.” or “They don’t know what the hell they are talking about.” Most likely, one of those thoughts, or something similar, will go through your head. Let it. It’s normal, but you have to get over it if you’re going to make your story the best it can be.
After you’ve read over the critique and are finished cursing, think about any notes as a whole. Mull them over. Do you agree with them? If yes, awesome. Do the necessary tweaks. If No, whatever you do, don’t automatically disregard them. If something takes the reader out of the story, makes them stop reading to write a note, something is wrong. (See Gaiman quote) Maybe the comments will give you ideas for a new direction or fill in a gap somewhere else.
On one occasion, I didn’t agree with what a writer friend said about my character’s career choice. After thinking it over, I decided that my friend’s opinion would work great as the character’s father’s opinion on the same subject. This set in motion a lot of other changes too.
Furthermore, If you don’t know why a critiquer/editor changed something, (even something as small as a comma) asked them why they changed it, or look it up. Learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them. And guess what? Sometimes even the grammar pros make mistakes. So it is really important that you take control of your story.
But you know what? This is your story, so you can choose not to change anything suggested, and you should look at critiques as such … suggestions. Suggestions you will take into consideration. And as you ponder, also consider that not everyone enjoys reading the same genre, and not everyone knows your style. (I’m guilty of choosing to use incomplete sentences, and I like starting my sentences with conjunctions – these things always get marks. *shrugs*)
Also, remember to thank your critiquer, no matter how crazy you think they are. You asked for the critique, and they used their time (the more marked up the copy the more time they took) to do you a favor. And if they are a writer, you can get always get them back when it’s your turn to critique. Mwah ha ha!
Love and Laughter,
If it Weren’t for Bad Luck
A Rumpelstiltskin Inspired Short Story by Dorlana Vann
from “Supernatural Fairy Tales” short story Collection
I walked through the front door a little after midnight. Jana sat on the couch in the darkness covered by the quilt from our bed, the images from the television flickered on her solemn face. “Oh, you’re up,” I said and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“I want to talk to you, Trevor.”
When I caught a glimpse of deep concern in her eyes, I immediately thought something had happened to the baby. “Is Ethan okay?”
“He’s a handful to deal with by myself… but he’s fine.”
“Good… good.” That’s all I needed to know; I could go on to bed because anything else could wait until morning. “Well, goodnight.” I turned and walked down the hallway. But I didn’t get very far.
She yelled after me: “I hired a P.I. today!”
As I stormed back into the room, fear flushed my face. “You did what?” I stood over her. “Why would you do that?” When I realized my hands had a death-grip on my hair, I tried to relax but still couldn’t control my fidget.
“Because every time I try to talk to you, you walk away. I want the truth. I deserve the truth. Where do you go every night?”
“You know I’m out drinking with the guys. I’ve told you a thousand times.”
I watched her jaw tighten, and through her teeth she said, “Why are you lying to me?”
My heart raced. Had she found something? “What makes you think I’m lying?”
Jana tossed the blanket off her lap and stood up. I tensed my body, prepared for a slap. She eased to her tiptoes, so we were face-to-face, breath-to-breath. “You don’t smell like a bar,” she whispered. “For a man who has been out drinking all night long, you certainly are sober. You don’t drink at home. Why the hell would someone pretend to be a drinker?”
I plopped down on the couch and rubbed my face hard with my hands. “Why are you doing this? Why can’t you just leave it alone?”
“Leave it alone? This is our marriage!”
I had nothing to say, nothing to offer.
“I give up,” she said. “I’m just going to ask, since you can’t be a man and just admit it. Are you cheating on me? Is there someone else?”
An affair. It would be a simple enough explanation. “Would that be something you could forgive me for?”
“Wait a minute. That’s not it, is it? Shit… I can see it in your eyes. Trevor?”
“Just do yourself a favor. Do our family a favor. Call the private detective, and call it off. Let me protect you. Don’t you see? If I tell you, I don’t know what will happen. I’m afraid you’ll never forgive yourself.”
“What? Forgive myself? What are you accusing me of?”
I looked at her, exhausted, tested, tears filling her eyes. It had gone too far. I knew she would probe until she found the answers. And I knew that it wouldn’t look good if a P.I. came back with pictures. Jana would just draw her own conclusions. Conclusions that would end our marriage, and I had lost too much to let that happen. I inhaled and then exhaled slowly. “You tried to sell Ethan.”
“I had to buy him back,” I said. “Now I can’t catch a break.”
“Just stop it. Stop it…”
“You wanted to hear this; so here it is.” I stood up and grabbed her hands. “Luck, like anything else, can be bought and traded. Before we met, you made a deal with Luck. Because you had such horrible luck, you agreed to trade your first-born for what you thought was really good luck.”
“Really?” She pulled away from me. “I don’t know what you’re doing—”
“After we were married,” I said firmly, “After we were pregnant, you told me what you did. You told me how you found out too late that good luck was just an illusion; that there were only three types of luck: extreme, medium, and weak. With extreme luck, really good things happen but so do really bad things.”
“Maybe you haven’t been drinking,” Jana said, “but something is wrong with you.”
“You told me you tried to take it back, but it was too late. You had already given up all rights to our unborn child, before we met, to some couple with medium luck.”
“This is crazy, Trevor. Do you know how crazy this sounds?”
“I thought so too… at the time. But still, I asked you where I could find this luck guy. Even though I didn’t believe you, never believed a word of it, I went there. And after I found the guy, I still didn’t believe he was who you thought he was. But for your peace of mind, I made my own deal…” I had to think hard. As time had passed the details had faded. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would completely forget… just like Jana had.
“What kind of deal?” she asked with impatient sarcasm.
“I remember asking if you could just give back the money you had won in the lottery. But that had already happened. He said something like he couldn’t erase time. I had to make a new arrangement so that I could keep my son. He called it weak luck, but it’s worse than that, it’s no luck at all.” I shrugged my shoulders because I knew that even if I would have known the outcome I still would have done whatever I had to do to protect Ethan.
When I looked at Jana’s face—her puckered lips and firm jaw—I knew she hadn’t believed a word I had said. But I had to finish. “I gave myself a little test all the way home that night; I flipped a quarter. Even after it never landed on what I said it would, I didn’t believe it. As each day passed, I pushed the limits a little more. You know, I had to see if it was real. I kept testing my luck, until it became an obsession. Until…” At this point, I couldn’t look her in the eyes. I cleared my throat of my sudden panic and then whispered, “I’d lost everything.”
“What do you mean?” Her words trembled.
“I’ve lost everything that was left from your lottery winnings. All of our savings.”
“No, no, no… this isn’t happening.”
“I’m sorry. I just keep thinking that I have to have some portion of at least medium luck. That’s where I go! To try and win it back.” Suddenly, it became so clear. This could be good. Together we made medium luck! “You can win it all again. All you have to do is buy another lottery ticket, or we could go to the horse races.”
“No! Stop it!” She reminded me of a cat in defense mode: hunched back, hair on end, eyes wild, claws loaded. “I can’t believe you would make up such a ridiculous story so that you could blame me for you losing our son’s future? You don’t have bad, weak or whatever luck, Trevor, you have a gambling problem.”
“What? No…” I wondered how it had happened. How had I become the bad guy? “I know it’s hard to believe. I didn’t believe you when you told me, either. But I gave you a chance.” My body had begun to shake. “Just think about it for a minute. I know the memory of meeting him fades for a reason or everyone would be at his door. But there has to be something there. Think Jana, think!”
“You need help, Trevor. Are you willing to get help?”
“What I need is for you to believe me. How many times have you said it yourself ‘Your luck sucks’? How many times has everyone said it? I traded it for you, for Ethan, and that’s why the car keeps breaking down, the lights turns red at intersections, the reason I have lost so many jobs.”
“What? You’ve lost jobs? More than one? You don’t work for Laurence anymore?”
“It’s been six months.”
She stood with her mouth open as tears streamed down her face. I took a step to comfort her, but she held up her hand and said, “Tell me his name and where I can find him.”
I closed my eyes trying to think again, trying to recall.
“What is it Trevor? Give me something. Is it John? Peter? Frank? Larry?”
But his name had left my memory months before. “I can’t. I don’t know,” I said without opening my eyes. The soft breeze told me she had left the room.
I sat on the couch, waiting for her to go to sleep, thinking we could talk it through in the morning. Maybe as she slept some of the memories would return. But a few minutes later, she walked past. When I looked up, expecting another confrontation, she stood at the open front door, her back to me, Ethan asleep in her arms. And then she said, “Good luck.”
If It Weren’t for Bad Luck is one of the short stories included in my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales – which is FREE Amazon worldwide until Friday November 15, 2013
by Dorlana Vann
Since Jackson couldn’t channel his frustration onto the blank page, he used his fist to pound it into the desk. “Ahhh,” he cried, swooshing his fountain pen and several loose pieces of writing-paper to the floor.
His caged birds squawked with excitement from the sudden movement in the quiet room. Feathers flew. Jackson stood up, his breaths labored and lonely. “I’m sorry ladies. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
He draped a stack of dark sheets over his arm. “Are you ready for your beauty sleep, my Echo?” He covered her and moved on to Valley, giving her several sweet kisses. Continuing his ritual, he covered all twenty birds leaving Isis, his two-foot Scarlet Macaw, as his last goodnight. She blinked her yellow eyes at him.
“Sleep well, Love,” he said and then ran his fingers through his slick hair, noticing how dark and stale the room had become.
He opened the window, lit a lantern, and picked up the paper and his pen, setting them back on his desk. He thought about writing another letter but knew they were only stall tactics. “I’m a novel writer,” he reassured himself. “Now write something novel!”
He felt anxious. There was nothing left for him to do. He had moved to one of the most crime-ridden areas of London to conduct his research. When observations had stopped inspiring his writing, he had taken it to the next level. The first hand accounts had given him dozens of pages: a feel for the weapon in his hands; the reaction on the faces of the women when they knew they were going to die; and the color and temperature of the blood. After each attack, he had sped home and written feverishly, until the words stopped, died on the page—
He conducted more studies, pushing himself to the limits of his own capacities. “Why am I still blank?” he said in a sob. “Why?”
Isis began to squawk in her cage, beneath her cover.
“Shush,” he said off-handedly. “I’m having a difficult enough time as it is.”
“Let me out.”
Jackson turned his head slowly toward the covered cage. He listened. Sure she could talk, “Pretty lady.” “I love you.” But never… “Let me out.”
She said it again.
Jackson scooted his chair back and stood abruptly. “Was that you, Isis? Did you learn something new?”
“Open the cage, Jackson. Let me out.”
Jackson shook his head, trying to clear the confusion. Obviously, because he was exhausted and tense, he was now hearing things. That’s all. However, he eased toward the cage. One step—stop. One step—stop… Swiftly, without thinking, he uncovered Isis.
She sat on her perch, head down, asleep.
“Isis?” he whispered. “Was that you?” He looked around the room when he heard rustling coming from the other cages. All the sheets were moving. Jackson heart thumped.
But then he remembered he had opened the window. After taking the six steps to the window and ignoring the lack of breeze, he closed it. He turned around, backed against the window, hands stretched out—palms wide, like he was keeping the walls from closing in on him, because all the cages were uncovered.
It seemed like morning: birds bounced, stretched out their wings, walked, and whistled, however, much more so. The cages were actually open, and the birds began to explore. Isis, eyes open now and sitting on her perch in her home, stared at Jackson.
Jackson peeled himself away from the window and cautiously moved toward her. “Love?”
“Come closer, Jackson.”
He felt terrifyingly wonderful. Sweat gathered on his brow and above his lips. “Isis? Do you understand me?”
Jackson tried to steady his blinking; he shut his eyes hard and then reopened them. “Why now? Why not before? I have told you my most intimate secrets and feelings and you never spoke an intelligent word.”
“The time was not right. I am here when you need me most. Let me be your inspiration.”
“Oh, Isis! How I do so need someone to talk to. I have so many troubles. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me now.” He put his arm in her cage, enduring the sharp claws he usually protectively wrapped his arm against. He stroked her red feathers. “My beautiful, Isis, what words do you have for me? Do you know what I must do to finish my story?”
“You have watched, but you have never felt. In order to achieve realism and depth, you will need to experience the pain for yourself.”
“Yes, yes… I see. I see what you mean. But how? How can I achieve this insight?”
“I will be near whilst you sink the edge of your knife into your skin. Not too deep my dear, just enough to feel a twinge.”
“Marvel upon marvel, you are my muse!” He set Isis on the back of his chair and ran to his bedside table and pulled out his knife. Its long thick blade still stained from his latest research project. “Where? Where shall I feel it?” he asked, sitting on the edge of his bed.
“The same as you wrote. The same as you gave.”
The coldness of the blade against his neck caused his heart to quicken with excitement. He stared at Isis as she moved her head to and fro with tiny jerks. “Just this fills my head with ideas, with words…” He sucked in his breath and pressed a little harder, the sting bringing quiet tears to his eyes. “How absolutely stimulating.”
He heard them before he saw them, but only by a second. All of his beauties came towards him, Isis in the mix, their feathers, and beaks, and claws causing his hand to yank deeply inward and then slide to the side. Falling backward, Jackson still imagined how his ghastly and perfect pain would translate onto paper.
As the feathers settled and the squawks calmed to a low murmur, Jackson’s last breath was accompanied by his last vision: five faint ghostly figures dancing above him. He heard the words, “Jack the Ripper, our story ends in revenge,” as his eyes closed.
Muse is one of the short stories from my paranormal short story collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales. Muse was inspired by the fairy tale Prince Ariel from, “The Fairy Tales of Madame D’Aulnoy.”
These 9 Supernatural Fairy Tales are not retellings of the original fairy tales
but were inspired by them. They are paranormal themed stories about vampires,
ghosts, mermaids, witches, and more, in genres ranging from romance to thriller.
And fair warning: they don’t always have a happy ending.
eBook available for only .99 cents!
His Soul Inspiration
by Dorlana Vann
“Have you read this?” My husband, Philip, held the book of fairy tales I had bought from a used bookstore for my niece’s ninth birthday.
“Well, not that one, but I’ve read fairy tales before,” I said as I shut the door and stepped out of my heels.
He shook the hardback of nearly 500 pages. “Not like these.”
“Yeah, sure I have. ‘The Ugly duckling,’ ‘The Emperor’s New Suit,’ ‘The Little Mermaid’…”
“Right-right-right. These are them, but not like the ones I’m sure you’re thinking of. They’re not all fairy princesses and happy endings. They’re darker, full of hardship and pain and broken hearts.”
“All right,” I said. His excitement confused me because it didn’t match what I thought he was saying. “Do you think I should take it back and get Emily something else?”
“No. I mean, yes, you should get Emily something else. But no, don’t take this back.”
I scratched my head. “Are you okay?”
“I’m more than okay—I’m terrific!” He set the book down on the couch, wrapped his arms around me, and twirled us around. As he put me down, an amused smirk transformed into a wide smile and huge eyes. “The Little Mermaid!” he exclaimed.
Philip had been having a rough year, trying to find his inspiration to paint. This sudden strangeness made me queasy, and I was a little surprised that he had cracked before I had. Not that I didn’t respect his work, goals, and dreams, it’s just that I had some of my own. And working two jobs to support a starving artist had never been my plan.
He had picked up the book again and was flipping through it when I decided to go run a bubble bath.
“Syrena, here it is. I want to read this to you right fast.”
“I’m really tired. I just want to go soak in the tub.”
“Please…. This is it. This is what I need to get me out of this slump. Please, just listen and see.”
I sighed as softly as I could manage and took my place beside him on the couch. He began to read: “The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson… Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep…”
“Well, it’s definitely different than the Disney version,” I said after he had finished reading the tale. “I didn’t realize it was so sad.”
“Anything else?” He asked slowly.
I shook my head and shrugged.
“Her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea,” he quoted. “And she wrapped herself in her long, thick hair.”
“I’m sorry, Philip. I’m tired. I’m not getting what you’re getting at. Just tell me.”
“It’s you! You have to be my model.” His eyes sparkled, and he looked so happy, happier than I had seen him in a long time. I even felt a tinge of exhilaration myself. It had been awhile since he had asked me to model for him.
“Okay.” I smiled. “Mermaids are topless, right?”
He danced his eyebrows up and down. “You betcha.”
“It sounds like fun. Saturday morning, I’m all yours.”
“No, no, no. Now.” He stood up and held his hand out to me.
“Now?” I whined.
“I can’t take the chance of losing this, this feeling.”
After a few seconds of staring into his imploring but loving eyes, I agreed by taking his hand and letting him lead me to the studio/guest room/home office. A few of his paintings hung on the walls: abstracts from his college years, pencil drawings sketched when we were on vacation at the beach, and one of me when we first met. The evening really made me think of that time, when he was so vigorous and full of dreams. When his passion oozed from his fingertips, and he saw the world differently than anybody I had ever met before; he noticed colors before shapes and talked in hues and aura, like others talked current events.
It didn’t take him long to put me in position: on the floor leaning on my elbow, legs out beside me, and my hair down and draped over the front of me like a mermaid’s. I knew he was in his zone, no longer seeing me, but seeing through me and to my spirit.
“Beautiful.” He took his place behind the easel and white canvas.
Unable to see his face, only his arm as it gently followed the hand holding the paint brush, I knew not to talk, not to disturb him as he created the new, improved me. However, after what felt like hours, my mouth began to dry. I needed water. Surely he would understand that I needed a little break—I opened my mouth to tell him, but my tongue was completely limp, and I couldn’t even swallow. The silly words from the story came to mind: “Then she cut off the mermaid’s tongue, so that she became dumb, and would never again speak or sing.”
Trying to laugh at the thought, I felt a strange pinch in the middle of my stomach. An involuntary grunt finally came from my throat, and when I realized I could make this sound, I tried to get Philip’s attention, but he didn’t hear me—too focused in his work.
I squeezed my eyes open and shut, trying to clear the buzzing that had begun in my head. And then I saw it…. waves of color beamed from me to Philip’s swooping arm. At first I thought it was the result of the light bulbs and my blinking, but it didn’t go away. It was dark outside, so there was no sun playing with the window’s glass. These streams of gold and red and blue were coming from me.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain run up my arm, and it couldn’t hold me up any longer. I collapsed. “…and it seemed as if a two-edged sword went through her delicate body: she fell into a swoon, and lay like one dead…” I thought Philip would soon look at me and tell me to sit up—but minutes passed, and he never glanced away from the canvas. The pain moved down to my legs and so did the beams of colorful light. “…she felt as if treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives.”
As I grew weaker, my confusion faded. It became clear that if I didn’t get Philip’s attention, I would die, which promptly turned into: if I don’t stop Philip, I will die. “Haste, then; he or you must die before sunrise.”
I pushed my torso up with wobbly arms, every muscle burning. I couldn’t feel my legs at all. “She has given us a knife: here it is, see it is very sharp. Before the sun rises you must plunge it into the heart of the prince; when the warm blood falls upon your feet… return to us to live.” I remembered the scissors on my desk behind me. I loudly grunted as I reached and grabbed them, dropping immediately back down. I lay there, time passing until I was able to pull myself by plunging the scissors into the carpet and using them as a means to move across the floor.
With each breath, my lungs tightened as if the air itself was poison. I coughed and gagged, but still Philip did not stir. Finally, I lay beside him at his easel, taking a moment to gather some strength. The hand that held the scissors ached and so did my heart at the thought of what I had to do to survive. I used the rest of my might to pull myself up, leaning on my left hand, and brought the weapon behind my head with my right.
When I shifted my view, the painting came into focus. It was complete, save for the sun. Philip dipped his brush into the yellow and orange mixture, and I examined The Little Mermaid, letting the scissors fall behind me as I marveled at her beauty. She was alive. This painting was Philip’s dream, his life’s work… his masterpiece.
Easing the brush away from the bright sun, Philip whispered, “Finished,” as I fell into soft darkness…
“…and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether.”
There are 9 short stories, which were inspired by classic fairy tales – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Rumpelstilzchen, The Little Mermaid and more. These short stories are not retellings of the original tales but were inspired by them. They are paranormal themed stories about vampires, ghosts, mermaids, witches, etc., in genres ranging from romance to thriller. And fair warning: they don’t always have a happy ending.
Supernatural Fairy Tales – a collection of paranormal short stories by Dorlana Vann
eBook available for only .99 cents!