Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes

(I love Ray Bradbury. He's my literary great-grandfather.)

I'm something wicked. Here's why:

As you know, I'm taking this fiction writing workshop at the university. So far, I've really enjoyed it and have been impressed by the group's caliber. Thus far, we have workshopped 7 stories/chapter, with today's class bringing the eighth.

Sometimes it can be tough to think of something encouraging and helpful to write in essay format, when all I really want to do is hand them my marked-up copy of their draft and skip off into the sunset, waiting for the cannon fire to make me sh*t my pants*. Six times now, I've managed to write semi-coherent, semi-helpful (I hope) comment sheets.

But today's eludes me.

This is where I'm going to admit that sometimes being in a live-bodied critique format can be tricky. No one wants to step on each others' toes, but as time goes on, we get more comfortable with one another and the footstompers come out.

There's a particular guy in my class who has, unique...way of contributing to the critique. I know he means well, but lately it's started to grate on my nerves. While what he's saying isn't necessarily unhelpful, it's also almost the limit of his input.

Good critique, like good writing, needs to be varied. And adjustable, once you start hearing from other people.

Anyway, this guy's been spouting off for 5 weeks now, and today is his turn on the chopping block.

Let me tell you, I am feeling mightily tempted to use his own critique format against him. I didn't particularly enjoy his contribution, and after he shredded a short story that I really liked (not mine) during last class, I'm feeling a bit vindictive.

Bad Summer! Right? Right.

Also, I'm trying to put together a thoughtful dual posting on what makes strong female leads and male leads in fiction. So that's why I've been kinda quiet.

*The university I'm attending is a heavily military school. Their cadet corps is, like, 89% of the student body (not really, but it seems like it). So, every day at 5pm, they lower the flag, play the bugle, and...FIRE A FREAKIN' CANNON.

And the first day I was innocently walking by the green when this happened? Unaware, unassuming, unprepared?



Demitria said...

You are a better person than me...I'd be too tempted to give him a taste of his own medicine.

A cannon huh? Interesting. At least you always know when it's 5pm :)

Unknown said...

Critiquing vis-á-vis is so hard. The guy in your class, hopefully, is learning a better way to deliver negative feedback through the good examples you and the other students provide. Good luck with it!

Sage Ravenwood said...

Honest criticisms, tends to walk the fence between critiquing and helpful. I'm betting this guy finds fault without reason with the other students writing.

He sounds like someone who honestly believes everyone is beneath his writing. Be the better person, in the end he'll discover the truth when it comes to getting published. In that setting, with his attitude he'll get eaten alive. (Hugs)Indigo

Lola Sharp said...

I'd be brutally honest with him. BRUTALLY honest.

DL Hammons said...

You've illustrated one of the human flaws of critique groups. You rip me (or something I like), I'll rip you. You blow daisys in my face, I'll return the favor. I know you know its about the work, not the person, but sometimes we can't help but intermingle the two.

Let the other people in your group see what real critiquing is like. Focus on +/- in his work. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

yeah, i'd be tempted too. But then i'd get lazy and wouldn't bother. Sloth has saved me from many a confrontation.
Also, i'd like to hear more about this workshop. I hope you do an uber post about it once it's all done.
And i understand about the cannon. They fire one every day at Renfest. And even though i know it's coming, if i'm not prepared, i'm startled

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Ahhh...the never ending battle between wanting to be the purveyor of Karma and knowing you're supposed to pretend to be grown up. The angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other. The real person in the middle who might just find a subtly snarky way to have it both ways...I believe in you!

Len Lambert said...

I have just been reading the latest issue of Writing Magazine and one writer sent a letter with a question: 'Why do some writers want to put down fellow writers? Aren't we all in this together?' Maybe there are abrasive personalities like that lad in your class. I know at times you would want to do the same thing - give the person a dose of his own medicine. It's so tempting!

Misha Gerrick said...


If I were you, I'd keep it fair.

But I would be stricter than the others. The guy can't rip other's works to shreds and think that his work will be treated with kid-gloves.

On the other hand, a lot can be said of not lowering yourself to that level.

After all, do you really want to pick on someone's work just for the hell of it?

Good luck with the cannons!

Talli Roland said...

Ooh, I'm not sure I'd be as controlled as you. I'd try but I'm sure something snarky would slip through!

Anonymous said...

I hope that was a figurative pants-dooking.

Also, I've done a lot of work at a military base where they routinely fire large shells into the mountain, just to see what'll happen. Don't let one of *those* experiments catch you by surprise, is all I'm sayin'.

Kindros said...

Some people never learn........ Maybe the students will take care of him and you can sit back and enjoy.

That's definitely too early for cannon fire.

Angie said...

The daily cannon would probably freak me out! Good luck with the critique. Tempting as it is to give him a taste of his own medicine, you're probably better off sticking to what you usually do. Maybe he'll get a clue.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Yup, I'm pretty passive aggressive so if I knew I could get away with turning the tables on him I'd do it. More power to you if you can reign in the malintent though :) The class sounds like a blast; I'm looking for writing classes near me but so far nothing's really come up.

Hannah said...

I say do it!! Do it!!! I have occasional bouts of extreme brutal honesty, it never lasts but boy is it fun.

Linda G. said...

Payback is SO tempting, isn't it? What I'd probably do is be totally honest about my opinion of his work, only maybe not quite as diplomatic as I would be with the other, less annoying, members of the group. Because I always assume writers dish it out the way they'd like to get it in return. (Kind of the Golden Rule for writing groups.) He prefers blunt? Give him blunt. ;)

M Pax said...

I love Ray, too.

As the recipient as a less than ideal critique the other night [one of my CP's pretty much ranted at me until the rest of my group ended it], it is tempting.

However, we need thick skins in this business and I think we should always behave as how we want to be treated. So when her turn on the chopping block comes up, I will not change the way I do her critique from the way I do anyone else's.

Old Kitty said...

Oh you poor thing with the cannon!! LOL!! Oh but I laughed, sorry!!! That's so frightening and simultaneously funny too. LOL!!

Ok, nuff chortling!! :-)

Oh Summer Frey!!! My little red devil is saying - "shred that horrid boy to shreds and hoist him with his own petard". My pink angel is saying "show him what being a good critic can do and be the fairest, nicest most helpful one you can ever be. Shine by example. Ahem".

Take care

The Words Crafter said...

I'd fantasize about revenge....but I'd have to just take the high road. It's not in my to be vindictive. Normally.

I'd love to have seen your reaction the first time the cannon went off. I probably would have jumped and screamed, lol!

Kristin Rae said...

I totally get the live critique group thing--you really do start to get comfy over time and feel like you can say more... i couldn't imagine that being in an actual class though! that would make me too nervous.

Hopefully this guy will understand what it's like on the other end, and maybe he'll back off.

Meredith said...

Cannons going off, along with balloons popping, are things I absolutely cannot stand. I hate them.

As for the critique, just be honest. If that honesty means you have to shred his story a little, well... :)

Christopher said...

You should write a story about this annoying guy in your workshop that is an ass, then let him critique it.

Also, I read Something Wicked This Way Comes last fall and loved it. Bradbury is so awesome!

Katie said...

BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Yeah, his was my least favorite thus far...I think. I don't know, the first two were hard for me to get through, but that might be because I'm not a huge high fantasy fan. I thought everyone was pretty respectful, though, including yourself. Good job. :)

Summer Frey said...

@KM: I ended up writing my usual kind of critique for him, just with a bit less sugar-coating. I was glad that everyone seemed to share my opinion, though. Made me feel like less of a bully. :)

John Doe said...

I would do your own style of critique; I know some people just suck but you do not have to stoop as low...honesty has no agenda!

Catherine Denton said...

Bwahahaha,let him have it! I mean, it's for his own good, right? Right. ;)

Regina said...

Oh Summer. I wouldn't say you were bad...I would say reap what you sow and he needs a good reaping. lol I'm sorry that you got that surprise while you were on your way across the lawn that would have jump started me for sure.

Guinevere said...

Critiquing is hard! And I'd be hard pressed to resist imitating that guy's critiquing style... there's definitely an interesting dynamic in each crit group or class.