Have you ever been asked to read a manuscript for a friend? And, while reading it, you realized it was bad. As in, really BAD??
Several years ago, I was asked to read a manuscript for a friend (and NO--this story is not about any of our blog readers, recent writing friends, etc.--in other words, not YOU). She handed me her baby and I read it. I wrote pages of notes and spent hours of my life reading her novel. And, it was bad.
When I met with her to discuss her work, she was flushed and nervous.
"Did you like it?" she asked.
"Yes, but I think it needs some work."
"Oh. You didn't like it," she said looking down at her hands.
"No, no, no. It is a great idea. I just think it could use some polishing."
"Like what? I mean, I did spell check and read over it, like, three times."
I took a deep breath. "Okay. For example, you have two characters named Mary. It was confusing. In chapter two, you have Mary sitting at her desk in Jackson, Mississippi, and then two hours later "Mary" is at a cafe in Paris. I had to flip back and reread a couple of times until I finally figured out that they were two different people."
"Yeah, but you did figure it out, right?"
"Well, yes. But why not just change her name?" I asked.
"That first Mary is a minor character. She doesn't even show up again. It really doesn't matter what her name is," she said.
"Right, so then change it to Susan or something. Just to avoid confusion."
"But, who cares. I like the name Mary. . . ."
This went on for a while. Finally, I realized that if she wasn't going to listen to me about something as simple as changing a confusing name, she certainly wasn't going to listen to my concerns about plot holes, poor characterization, inconsistent tense and voice . . . So, I quietly folded up my notes and put them in my purse and slid her manuscript across the table.
"It's wonderful," I said.
"Really? You think? There's nothing else? So, I'll just start submitting to agents. Whew!"
Katie stopped by my house the other day and dropped a movie off on my counter. "Watch this. You'll like it," she said. The movie was called Blue Tooth Virgin, and it's about two writers. One is a scriptwriter who had a successful show several years earlier, but had been struggling ever since to write another hit. The second writer is a successful magazine editor (complete with a cool apartment and decent car).
The screenwriter meets his editor friend for coffee and asks him to read his script--a script he can only describe as starring edgy, morphing characters. The magazine editor begins to read the script . . . and it is HORRIBLE.
The rest of the movie delves into that complex relationship that we as writers and critiquers have with each other--and our egos. The movie also made me question my own motivations when giving critiques. Was I especially harsh when critiquing my friend's novel because I wanted to write and was having trouble. Did I think I could do better than she had? Was my own ego entering into the critique process??
I absolutely loved this movie and was sad to see that it only rated two stars on Netflix, but then I realized that only writers would truly get this slow-paced, introspective movie that is about, well, writing and critiquing. Grab it if you have a chance. I saw glimpses of myself in BOTH of these characters. Yikes!