Getting critiqued is an interesting experience. It's not precisely new to me; I've had folks reading and critting my work for about four years now. This last week, however, was the first time I'd had a whole bunch of people I didn't know pick at just one short section: 25 pages to be precise.
Once upon a time I heard a joke (that might well be true) about parenting. They say, if you want to know how to raise a child, ask someone who has ONE. The more kids someone has, the less they usually claim to know about child-rearing, because each child is so different. It makes it hard to make authoritative statements.
So I get my first critique back and discover--SHOCK--that the pages aren't perfect yet. Okay, on closer look, I can see where they might have gotten some of those questions from. And there are a couple of other issues. Right. I can see a plan of sorts. Like the parent of one child, I know how to do this.
Second crit returns. I discover to my amazement that some of what the first critter loves, the second critter hates. Er...and vice versa. Add a third crit to the mix, then a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. (Still waiting on number eight, but I don't think he can confuse me more than I am already. Maybe.) Characters, setting, plot points, hook, dialogue, culture...all of these things are pulled in multiple directions. Love/ hate/ indifference. Some want a better sense of setting first. Some want the character's motivations to be clearer. Some want everything clearer. Some say, leave some mystery already.
One consistent thing has come out. I'm shy on sensory detail. That's about the only thing folks agree on. In theory, I can deal with that. The rest of it?
Pretty much everyone had one stellar point that was different than everyone else's. Even so, they conflict. And in the end, whose story is it?
I'm about on overload. I've rewritten so many versions of the first four or five pages I can no longer find the one I'd like to build on. (A solid night's sleep might help with that. I'm kinda shy on that aspect lately too.)
If this sounds like I'm whining about too many crits, that's not really the effect I'm after! I've never experienced this inundation of crits before, and I'm mostly amused at how different they all are. I can clearly see that it's not possible to please everyone, and that means the folks up the line as well: contest judges, agents, editors, random readers. Reading is such a personal thing.
My writer friends and I have been discussing lately that the writer only tells 50% of the story. The reader brings 50% to the table as well, and the writer has no control over what the reader brings. All we can do is present our own half of the story as clearly as possible and leave it there.
Now that I've seen what seven readers bring to my story, I've seen some of the places I can clarify, help them to see MY 50%. Onward and forward. Once I find the file with my favorite version of the first pages...