My search for a critique partner brought back memories of high school English. Some fond, some not so much. I also remembered why I hate short stories.
If you follow my blog, you probably know I’m currently on the hunt for my perfect critique partner (CP).
“You haven’t settled on someone yet?”
Yes, I heard you say that. No, I haven’t.
And not because no one’s approached me or because I’m terrible at making decisions (though I am).
I want a relationship that will give maximum value on both sides and last at least a decade. You can’t rush into that sort of thing.
In the meantime I’m having conversations and exchanging chapters with several talented and committed writers, hopefully giving value and definitely receiving it.
In case you’re wondering I’m also still open to being approached by new people. If you’re on the fence, don’t be shy. The worst that could happen is that your house could be invaded by a herd (snap? swish? gobble?) of hungry alligators.
I feel bad at times that I might be stringing along these wonderful people, some of whom are already close (internet) friends. If I am, I hope they’ll forgive me (and keep being my friends).
Lessons from my critique partner search
As a result of my CP search, I’ve found myself analysing a good number of first chapters, and in a couple of cases I’ve gone well beyond first chapters, pulling apart a larger section of the book and asking “does this work?”
I won’t claim my answers to this question were helpful to the writers, but asking the question was helpful to me.
It’s always different when it’s not your book.
I analyse my own book before, as, and after I write it, but analysing someone else’s book is different. It’s less an act of creation and more a massive jigsaw puzzle. Is this the only way these pieces can fit together? Would they fit more snugly if we rearranged them like this? Are these even the right pieces? What’s missing?
Oddly, it brings to mind high school English.
Reminiscences of high school English
Before you jump on me, you should know I enjoyed high school English.
We leaned about simple, compound, and complex sentences (I sort of remember this), the difference between a phrase and a clause (one’s a complete sentence, I have no idea which), and how to diagram sentences (this ability has been replaced by more immediately useful knowledge such as the drinkable brands of instant coffee).
We read Shakespeare (fun!) and Wuthering Heights (mind-numbingly dull).
What I did not like was my high school English teacher.
I’m pretty sure she didn’t like me either.
With the benefit of (considerably more than) a decade of hindsight, I recognise I may not have made her life the easiest.
I hope she forgives me, wherever she is (and whichever students she’s currently putting through hell).
But she did make us both read and write short stories, and possibly gifted me with my undying hatred of them.
She taught me that short stories are dull, pointless snippets of real life, obsessed with theme and social commentary and utterly devoid of character, charm, or plot. (Possibly I didn’t fully appreciate the stories she set.)
Still, she was perfectly clear about what she considered a good short story, so when she set writing a short story as an assignment I knew what she wanted and, boy, was I going to give it to her.
Passionately angry and self-righteous as you can only be when you’re sixteen years old, I set out to write the dullest, most pointless short story that was about nothing and went nowhere.
Predictably, she loved it.
She loved it so much she shared it with the class and asked them to discuss what it was about.
A haircut? someone suggested. A pet bunny? In the end they agreed with the teacher, it wasn’t really about anything.
To her, that was brilliant.
In the intervening years I’ve come to realise a short story can (perhaps even should) have a plot, magic, dragons, and other things that make a story worth reading.
My only remaining issue with them is that they’re too short. If I enjoy a story I want to live in the story world for more than half an hour.
I still don’t write short stories, but I probably won’t declare an everlasting feud with you if you do.
What scars did high school English leave you with?
Become my friend. Find out when I write random stuff, possibly even short stories.