Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Power of Reviews

Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. Some are very good at developing characters, but terrible in grammar. Others can pinpoint every missing comma and repeated word, but aren't so good at describing a scene. What happens when you combine these strengths? What if you could take advantage of other writers' skills to make up for your own weaknesses? That's what a review forum, or critique group, can accomplish.

Every single review I've received has helped me in one way or another. I don't always agree with every comment, and I don't follow every single suggestion, but if more than one reviewer mentions the same thing, I know I need to give it some thought.

I hesitated a long time to join an online review forum, because I didn't feel confident enough in my writing skills. I love getting reviews, but how about reviewing other people's chapters? Am I savvy enough in writing to offer any help?

Now I realize that even if I review someone who knows a lot more than I do, I can still offer helpful feedback. Every little bit helps. I can concentrate on what I'm good at, and leave the rest to another reviewer. I don't need to be perfect in every aspect, or know everything there is to know in order to give good reviews.

When reviewing. I have to think about what works, what doesn't, and how the story could be improved. This helps me revise my own chapters as well. As an added bonus, by reading and reviewing many different styles of writing, I pick up new skills along the way.

Here's the beginning of my MG novel as it was when I joined a review forum last September:

“Hey, Emilio!” Hans cried across the school yard. Emilio tried to ignore him. He was searching for a rare nine spotted ladybug he thought he had seen, in the bush along the stone wall.

“Emilio!” Hans called again. “I don’t want you to cry, but… I think I just squished a bug!”

Emilio frowned behind his glasses and the girls laughed. He was used to Hans’ teasing. This had been going on since the beginning of fifth grade, and it was now end of May. Emilio shrugged. Soon, summer would be there. He was looking forward to expanding his butterfly picture collection, doing some bird watching, and getting Hans off his back for a good two months. As he turned back to his ladybug search, he heard the girls laugh again. Hans was probably imitating him – as usual.

And here's what I have now:

Kneeling on a patch of grass by the mulberry bush, Emilio searched for a rare nine-spotted ladybug he thought he had spied. His concentration blocked out the usual lunch recess sounds of children screeching and balls bouncing throughout the schoolyard. With a careful hand, he parted the branches, scanning tender green leaves for a crawling red dot. His nature journal crunched underneath him as he walked on his knees to the other side of the bush, a magnifier in hand.

A familiar voice echoed across the play area, interrupting his mission.

“Hey, Bug Boy!”

He wrinkled his nose, pretending not to hear.

“I don’t want you to cry, but… I think I just squished an ant.”

Emilio frowned behind his glasses as he heard the girls giggling. He turned in time to see Hans make a twisting motion with his foot, his untied shoelaces whirling around in the sand. Emilio shrugged and ignored Hans’ sneer.

Returning to his search, he couldn’t help daydreaming about his summer plans: expanding his butterfly picture collection, bird watching, and getting Hans off his back for a good two months. He smiled at the thought. No Hans for two months. Maybe he won’t even be in my class in sixth grade.

A roar of laughter brought him back to reality. He didn’t bother to look. Hans was probably imitating him, as usual. He took a deep breath and blinked, refusing to let the tears swell to his eyes.

Which version is better? You tell me!

This last version will change again, as I'm still pondering on some comments I recently received.  Should I use the phrase "brought him back to reality"? If not, what should I replace it with? Is this a good enough hook, or should I change the first sentence for something more catchy? It is what it is, a work in progress. Progress is good.

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend you join a review group. Not only will your skills improve, but you will also find the support you need to keep you going and get you through tough times we all face at one point or another in our writing life.


Unknown said...

Ooh, the second version is definitely better... I never had a chance to read your first version, but I think the one you've got now is adorable.

Annie McMahon said...

Thanks, Cheree! :)

Billy Coffey said...

Love that second version. Wow!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yes, definitely see a big difference bewteen the two. I like the second version as well.

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