The Bitter Little Squirrel of Critique Partners…

Ms. Marshmallow of This little author should be writing books, not blogging linked to my blog on handling critiques and commented,

The final item on the list covers a lot of ground, including that modern dilemna of the “strong female protagonist.”  People really have a lot of ideas about how women and girls should act.  In real life and in fiction.  Male characters get away with a bit less judgment (in my opinion).  People who are idealists are some of the toughest critique partners, as they will turn all your characters into Mary Sue types if you let them.  Don’t.  You’ll please the Mary Sue people, but you’ll hate yourself in the morning, unless, of course, you have just written the next Hunger Games, then you will laugh your ass off to the bank.

I can be a bitter little squirrel, but I think over time I’m getting more useful as a critique partner, as I tone down those squirrely tendencies.  I’m going to revisit Deanna’s article frequently so that when I’m doing critique, I can be more like example #1.

I have been through bad critiques…I have given bad critiques, where I have an axe to grind (and am unwilling to admit it to myself until later).  I wonder, though, if I’ve ever tried to turn a female character into a Mary Sue, and what kind of character she would be.  I’ve had to pass out some critiques where I was like, “Look…the women in your story?  They don’t actually do anything meaningful.  I don’t think you’ll be able to appeal to a female audience with that story.”  But I don’t ever remember going, “Hey, you should make your female characters less self-confident, like me.”

The first one was in college, actually; I was in a one-act play as the female “lead,” and I finally had to tell the guy, “Look, I realize that this story is about a fracturing in the guy’s psyche; his wife is really dead, and the character is just his hallucination of her, his anima.”  (None of this was spelled out in the play.  At all.  I just knew him, and he agreed with my assessment up to that point.)  “Don’t you think that what happens to her in the end is just a little shitty?  I mean, in effect he’s killing off half of his own soul.”  “That’s not what I meant!  I meant [blah blah blah]!”  “Well, when you let her die off (again) with the main character just going, ‘Oh, well,’ that’s what it says.  Buh-bye soul.”  He did not agree; he thought he was “releasing” his character from guilt over, um, just letting his wife die after she went crazy during her pregnancy and lost the baby due to unrecognized preeclampsia (if I remember right, they were in a foreign country on top of all that); the main character had just assumed that she was having a mental breakdown and abandoned her.  “Abandoning your anima is supposed to ease the guilt of being an asshole?”  I was even less tactful then than I am now, and he was one of those people who were like, “I dare you to criticize me, for I am mighty,” so I thought he could take it.

Luckily or unluckily, we were too close to the performance for me to be replaced.  The (female) set designer complimented me on standing my ground later, but we were all kind of scared of him, and he wasn’t even the director.  And, of course, my character died multiple times, so I’m sure he felt better by the end of the run.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link!

    Sometimes female characters are fridge stuffing, the MacGuffin personified. (Yes, I read a lot of tvtropes.org) Fiction reflects reality and the truth is some people, be they men or women, are passive passengers in their lives. Those people are also B-O-boring to read about.

    When I’m hearing critique, I watch out for red flag words such as “annoyed.” If someone is annoyed by your character, they are probably applying their idealistic “people should be more like etcetera because then the world would be better” judgment. I love idealistic people, I really do; they make the world better. But I keep them away from my wacky little messed-up stories.

  2. De

    I had to look up fridge stuffing. Ugh.

    You should email me with one of your pennames so I can look up your stories. I promise I won’t tell 🙂

  3. James

    I’m looking for critiquing partners. Message me if you’re interested.

    Twitter: @JamesAquilone

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