Chapter-by-Chapter Critiques

Sat, Mar 11 2017 10:05am GMT 1
Jaxx
Jaxx
155 Posts
I have recently posted up my work on another famous site so that I could gather a broader range of reviews. I have put a lot of work into critiquing other people's submissions, which has been fun and helpful, but not always reciprocated.

The first chapter got some pretty scathing remarks, which stung but ultimately helped.

The second chapter has so far received only two reviews, both of which were almost exclusively telling me how the reader had no idea what was going on. They didn't include much spelling and punctuation help. They didn't really comment on word flow and world-building, hooks or dialogue.

My question is, how much should I include in each chapter so that any reader can know what's going on at any point, even if they haven't read the preceding chapters? Or is the chapter-by-chapter style of critique just not very useful to begin with?

If this has been discussed already, I would be happy to be pointed in its direction and to delete this post.
Sat, Mar 11 2017 11:30am GMT 2
Caducean Whisks
Caducean Whisks
2312 Posts
They're very useful if it's the same person doing it, but not so much if people come in part way through. There's no context, story arc, and the significance of things is lost.
You could, if you wish, include a summary of what's-gone-before where it's relevant to this chapter, but you can spend a lot of time explaining that X is dealt with elsewhere, and Y leads into Z.
Up to you. You might just have to take with a pinch of salt, comments about not knowing what's going on, and concentrate only on that which helps. People can only do their best with the material in front of them; few are psychic.
As with everything, take what's useful and ignore the rest.
Sat, Mar 11 2017 12:13pm GMT 3
Jaxx
Jaxx
155 Posts
Hello Whisks, and thanks for replying.

Yes, I suspect an introduction would have been useful. I can't edit the post now, though. :( *sob*

My main concern was whether I missed something when learning the craft. Some rule of chapter-writing that I hadn't picked up on, or even some skill I lacked at posting on forums!

I am anticipating being told that it's always better to get beta readers, but that involves making friends, and I am not adept at social interaction...
Sat, Mar 11 2017 12:23pm GMT 4
bazbaron
bazbaron
1376 Posts
Hi Jaxx, context for me needs to be up front if you request worthwhile feedback. It's also helpful for the reader to be asked what level/areas of feedback the writer is asking for. I like to comment where I can, because as you say, it's helpful to one's own writing. I'm not always disappointed that others don't reciprocate for the simple reason, they don't always feel confident in doing so.

Chapter by chapter can be of use, so long as the writer considers that critiquers have their own writing to do and are not taken advantage of, which happens a lot on this site because people don't bother to seek out the 'rules and etiquette' of the site.
Sat, Mar 11 2017 01:56pm GMT 5
Jaxx
Jaxx
155 Posts
Hi bazbaron, and thanks also for replying.

I try not to take advantage. I don't have much to offer here, as I'm not highly skilled, but I like to think I do what I can.

I am also human, and prone to bouts of annoyance. Fantasy is a difficult category. I haven't exactly set myself up for success.

If my writing is awful, which it probably is, then fine. As long as there is no mysterious bit of knowledge I am missing about chapter content. That was my main concern.
Sat, Mar 11 2017 03:14pm GMT 6
BellaM
BellaM
2129 Posts
Everyone has something to offer here, Jaxx. Even a comment as simple as "I enjoyed reading this" is appreciated, but if you are moved to say such a thing then, as a writer, it is good for you to think about why you enjoyed it, and explain this. It helps both parties then.

If you are looking for spelling/grammar pointers (or indeed any other pointers, such as "this is meant to be funny/scary/romantic - is it?") then it is always wise to say so at the top of the piece. I wouldn't bother including a synopsis thus far before posting a piece from the middle of a WIP but I would make it clear at the top that it is a piece from the middle and I wasn't expecting a reader to know what is going on.
Sat, Mar 11 2017 04:08pm GMT 7
RichardB
RichardB
1086 Posts
To (try to) answer the question I think you were really asking, no, you certainly don't need to explain chapter by chapter what is going on. Quite the opposite. If a reader comes cold to (say) chapter six, of course there's going to be stuff they don't know about. But if a reader who's read from the beginning of the story comes to that chapter and finds explanations of things they know about from the preceding chapters, they're going to start thinking 'Why the hell am I being told all this stuff I already know?' A chapter isn't a stand-alone: it's a part of the bigger story.

In fact there are some genres, such as crime or psychological thriller, where you may actively NOT want the reader to know what is going on.

And any creative writing teacher will tell you that one of the commonest mistakes learner writers make is explaining too much.
Sat, Mar 11 2017 05:36pm GMT 8
Jaxx
Jaxx
155 Posts
Thanks BellaM and RichardB. Your encouragement and helpful comments are gratefully received. I shall carefully refer back to what everyone has said to keep my sanity planted on the ground.

I have been getting frustrated with myself. I have been wading through advice on all kinds of forums (and also from proper paper books), trying to find something that works with my odd style of storytelling. When it doesn't work, it feels like a much bigger deal than it really is.

An IRL friend just pointed out that if I have to recap the story each time, getting a little bit longer every chapter, I should end up with a synopsis...

Also, I think I found the edit button. I shall go and add some meaning to my life story...
Mon, Mar 13 2017 11:18am GMT 9
Philippa
Philippa
1435 Posts
Hello Jaxx,

Sorry to hear about your difficult experiences of feedback...

You seem like a nice guy. Haven't you thought about posting some of your work on this forum (in the General Critiques section)? :)

We're a friendly and helpful bunch, and so long as you take time to comment on others' work (which helps your own writing too) I don't see why folk wouldn't want to help.

If you find you get some useful comments on a first chapter or two, you can even set up a group and invite fellow Cloudies to join you in going through chapter-by-chapter.
Tue, Mar 14 2017 08:22am GMT 10
Jaxx
Jaxx
155 Posts
Hellp Philippa, thank you for your kind words and for the time taken to reply to my rather whiny post.

I have indeed posted up on the forum, and I have received much generous and helpful feedback! My most recent iteration has not been posted here for fear of overdosing Cloudies on my WiP, but that may change after I have made some further adjustments. :)

I also have a group set up for Draft One, which went up several years ago and seems to have been read quite a lot more than I would ever have imagined! :O However, that version is hugely outdated now and I hope the new version will show all that I have learned in the intervening years.

I have found giving feedback very helpful. I am a member of other sites as well, where feedback is more formalised, which suits my needs due to time constraints.

However, I noticed that there is a strange tendency for people to go right in and say they are confused by non-opening chapters even though earlier chapters are still available, and that the new one is quite clearly not an opening scene. Reading other non-openers, I notice that the writers have dumped in all kinds of back-story snippets as to make reading opening scenes unnecessary. This caused me a moment of panic, in case I had missed something, but after the panic subsided I realised that this is probably their problem and not mine.

I must apologise to the Cloud for flaring up in my angst, and I appreciate very much the kind words and encouragement from all sides. I shall settle back down and have some tea. That usually does the trick... ;)
Tue, Mar 14 2017 10:00am GMT 11
Clwydian
Clwydian
38 Posts
I feel your pain, Jaxx. I even get frustrated reading feedback of other people's work when the person making the input does this. Or the author has asked for feedback on specific issues and the contributor ignores them and instead picks up on something else. I often wonder about the validity of comment from someone who has failed to read and understand the brief.

Of course, it's difficult for everyone. People try to be helpful and offer insight into genres they are possibly uninterested in and wouldn't normally read. There are obviously quite a few basics that carry through, but nuances can be missed.

To be honest, when it comes to feedback on your writing, I think less can sometimes be more. You need to build some writing confidence. Get a few more chapters under your belt. You will find your writing develops as you go. You will start to crystallise your own voice and style. And when you go back to read your early chapters again, you will find you are much better equipped to critically appraise them for yourself.

You will be amazed at how quickly your grasp of the mechanics improves the more words you get down on paper.
Tue, Mar 14 2017 10:43am GMT 12
stephenterry
stephenterry
3184 Posts
Basically, a chapter should move along the story from A to B, so by the end a change has occurred. It doesn't matter if the chapter is the first or last or anything in between, and your critique criteria is to clarity that.
Tue, Mar 14 2017 11:19am GMT 13
Kate
Kate
536 Posts
Hi Jaxx - didn't you post up that intriguing fantasy chapter some time ago about the guy with a tail? I'd have liked to have seen more of that, so you're certainly not overloading the forum.
As long as you put clearly at the top this is chapter whatever, so people know they're coming into the story midway, I don't see a problem. There should always be something to comment on even if exactly what's going on isn't clear because you haven't read preceeding chapters.
Look forward to reading some more.
Tue, Mar 14 2017 01:56pm GMT 14
Jaxx
Jaxx
155 Posts
Oh hello everyone! Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

"Southlander" (draft 2) is complete plot-wise and all chapters written; I am seeking feedback before beginning draft three so that I can be confident of direction going in. No use polishing the proverbial, after all.

(Kate, I believe this is the story to which you refer. I might post the updated opening again, to show how it has changed after the feedback. I am still struggling with 'active voice' (and psychic distance, if that's the term?), so I shall make a point of requesting this kind of help.)

After some thought, I agree that less can indeed be more. However, it has been enlightening to see the wide range of views that one piece of writing can attract. Everyone sees something different. Looking at it from the other direction, I can see myself being reluctant to comment on some stories, and I question why that might be. What turns me off? I shall make a point of at least mentioning this in future, in case it is of use to the writer.

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