Science fiction and fantasy

Diabolical Taste

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories

4th September 2014

I haven't posted here in a while. I only posted once in August, and even then it was a quick review of a graphic novel. Although Castle Waiting is superb, you should really go and read it if you haven't already.

My reason for this slackitude is one of the best: I've been polishing my next book, Diabolical Taste, for release at the end of September. It's the second part of my Kenssie series, and as a short novel rather than a novella. This book has been complete in first draft since early spring, but it's the stages of editing that always take me a long time.

Getting critiques on my work in progress is always the most anxious part of the process, because before I show my story to anyone else I don't know how much of it I'm going to have to tear up and start again. And some opinions are just a matter of personal preference, so it's often useful to get a range of them before getting handy with the delete key. It could be that those five pages contemplating the shape of a teapot is just what the story needed to give it philosophical depth, right?

Critique Circle

In February I discovered Critique Circle, and I was like a kid in a candy shop. The website works in a reciprocal fashion, so you have to offer up critiques before you can post up your own work for comment, and the more active you are the more likely other members will be to pay you back in kind. Conversely, if you don't stick around and critique back, it's entirely possible to get no critiques returned in a week.

I could spend thousands of words describing how the credit system works and other aspects of the site. But I won't, because there's a FAQ for that. Although it's pretty long, I found it easy to grasp how things work after I experimented a little. No, what was difficult wasn't using Critique Circle, but keeping off it once I realised there was an audience of willing and like-minded writers eager to offer criticism.

Top secrecy

I met (virtually) some fantastic writers on Critique Circle. I've also come across some astonishing novels in progress, which I'm bursting to tell people about. Unfortunately, I can't. My lips are sealed. Because everything on CC is a work in progress, it would be grossly unfair of me to discuss any of it in public. All I can do is flail excitedly and hint that, yes, really good stories are on their way.

Of course, not every writer pours forth perfect first drafts, and the website has members with a range of abilities, from newly starting out to professional. But since every member is there with the aim of improving their craft, the standard is definitely higher than average.

The dreaded Hook queue

Once a month, there's a rather special critique event, in which anonymously-submitted story openings fight to the death compete to attract the attention of anonymous readers. The submissions are meant to "hook" you into the story, but I prefer to think of the name as inspired by Captain Hook, because it's a brutal and villainous system. They're not joking when they say you should only post to The Hook if you have very thick skin.

It's also a great way to get intensive feedback from a lot of people about what is and isn't working in a book's opening. And because it's anonymous nobody pulls any punches. That's why I love The Hook.

You'll have to wait and see. Stop making that face.

The main disadvantage to CC is the amount of time it takes. It's increasingly expensive in credits to post more than one story at once, so most members only post a chapter or two a week, and it's rare for anyone to post more than six thousand words at once. It can take months to get through a decent-sized novel.

So that's where I've been lately, and why I've cut back my blogging. I may not have been reviewing much, but it's often more satisfying to get in before a book is published and suggest improvements.

In September you'll be able to compare The Secret Eater, which I wrote before discovering CC, with Diabolical Taste, and judge the difference for yourselves.


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