Monday, May 17, 2010

Blue Tooth Virgin

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!



Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Oh my gosh, what a story, sf, but I know EXACTLY what you're talking about - I've been there when critiquing a newbie's work. Sometimes they just don't get it. Sometimes they don't *want* to get it. They just want to be instantly wonderful. On the other hand, don't we all? :-)

But REAL writers don't want to be patronized, they want to work hard and truly have their work BE wonderful at the end of the day.

Le sigh.

Katie said...

Yeah, this was a really cool movie. The title still cracks me up.

Critiquing always makes me feel bad because I am usually very honest. But that's because I appreciate it so much when people are honest with my work. But it's true - you never know how someone is gonna take it. Writer's need to realize the harsher the critique, the more the reader probably likes it, and see great potential.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with Katie and Kimberley. I prefer critting stuff when the writer is expecting me to be honest. And I prefer critters who are brutally honest with me. :D

Little Ms J said...

I would comment, but I just got a critique which has made me slit my wrists and ponder my existence.

Ok, fine. I'm exaggerating a little.

I did have to have a baked good. Ok, fine. Two baked goods.

storyqueen said...

I choose carefully who I ask to read my work. I need to know them well enough as writers to know if I think they will get my writing makes no sense for me to ask someone to read my stuff who doesn't write/read in my field.

And, I am careful about what I ask for...before I ask for feedback on the nitty gritty, I want big-picture feedback, as in, does the story even work.

Giving feedback is trickier. What can I say/write that will help this writer become a better writer? I mean, I don't want to change someone's writing just so it sounds like mine.

Tough stuff.

What is it HG Wells said..."No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft."

Alexis said...

This post was so good! It is hard to hear the truth sometimes but I can handle it! I have a couple of good friends who are always honest and I go to them. Honesty is priceless and hard to find.

Christina Lee said...

This is sooo tough, and I've been on both sides. Hearing the bad is sooo tough. But wow it is SO important to really listen to it when your a newie. Otherwise how will you grow?

I am dying to know where that friend is now...

Joanne said...

That's a difficult situation to be in, uncomfortable to begin with. And then to have the writer be so unreceptive to change! There's not much more you could've done ...

Robin said...

This movie sounds fascinating! I'll check it out...
I do think critiquing and receiving critiques is SO difficult...both seem to play right into our frailties.

Jessica said...

I just watched the trailer for this movie. It does look like a movie only writers could enjoy.

As for me, I'm still working on my first draft of my first novel. I'm not ready to have anyone read or critique it.

Tahereh said...

what an excellent blog post. i think we've ALL been there. but no writers can be SERIOUS writers if they aren't ready for critique and rejection. we have to be open, we have to be willing, and we have to be expecting it. otherwise we'll never learn.

then again, that doesn't mean we should ever be brutal.

i definitely think you did the very best you could given your situation. my hat's off to you!

now to go check out that movie..

Gail said...

I agree, honesty in critiquing is the only way to go. How else will our writing/stories become their best? Sometimes that person with the different perspective can latch onto something that needs changing that you, as the author, would never see.

Corey Schwartz said...

Two characters named Mary? Maybe it's the wine, but I am ROTFL!

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