Thursday Reading FUNdamentals: You Assume Too Much
I posted the first chapter of “A Hero’s Journey” (the same one you can find on this blog) to Critique Circle last week. The first critique I got was pretty mean-spirited. What I noticed were several places where the reader made assumptions based on nothing really.
“Yes, sir. I’ve been coming here since I was a toddler.”which he would have known from the interview
“Yes.” Ian shook his head and then smiled. “But that’s for the lawyers and Anthropology to figure out. None of our concern.”A major institution but no archeology department?
Nowhere in the story do I completely lay out the structure of the Plaine Museum bureaucracy. So how is it that in less than five pages the reader can say there’s no archaeology department?
You know when this happens the most? When someone pisses you off. Then you really want to prove what an idiot he/she is. Sometimes then you don’t read closely enough or you make faulty assumptions to try and set up a Gotcha! I know this because in preparing this entry I’ve done it twice. Only by going back and reading over it again did I realize what the critiquer was really saying, which differed from what I thought at first–or what I wanted it to say so that I could say, “Aha! You’re wrong!”
In this case the critiquer demonstrated he had an ax to grind straight away:
[name withheld] said you were as good as ever. Perhaps you’d be better than ever if you didn’t rule out the possibility in your Author’s Notes. He also said “great” but very nice would be a better rating.
My Author’s Notes said:
At this point I really want to know if there are any obvious grammatical errors I might have missed. (Please don’t waste time rewriting sentences and paragraphs to fit your style of writing.) And let me know if you want to read more or if you just don’t care.
The reason I said that, which could be another whole blog entry, is that I’ve had people critique by rewriting paragraphs to show how they would do it. It’s a pain in the ass then to go through and see what they changed and how it compares to mine. Most of the time it’s not really worth the effort. Especially at this point, where I’m on the fifth draft and I’ve looked over it a few times. I’m not going to go back and rewrite a whole new draft in YOUR style. I can’t because I’m not you. Why the hell are you even asking me to? Who the hell do you think you are?
Anyway, so my assumption is this critiquer probably wanted to do that (for one thing it makes it easy to get to the 300 word minimum) and was annoyed because I said I didn’t want it. So he goes in all pissed off at me and assuming he’s better and smarter than me. The result is that he sounds like a dick and makes assumptions based on nothing.
When you’re critiquing, it’s a good idea not to assume you know more than the author about his/her own story. At least when it comes to plot points. (Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that I know more about grammar than the writer given the number of mistakes made.) If you’ve only read 5 pages of a 300-page story then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be wrong and sound like a real jackass.
On the next Super Sunday Smackdown: two little girls face off against a pack of feral dogs. Who wins? Find out on Sunday!