A good friend recently critiqued a short story I'd given her. The short story is about a young lady who has been raised by a family of criminals and is now on her own, making her way in the world the only way she knows how, by committing crimes.
My friend is honest and she can say the hard things that others will hesitate to say. She's also good at spotting the weaknesses of a story. I value that about her. It's sometimes hard to hear your baby isn't properly dressed to meet the world. Better to hear it needs a coat and shoes than to send it out partly dressed.
I spent the day of the critique mentally girding my lions, ready to hear that the story was crap and I should hang up my fountain pen. I was surprised to hear that the story had some good bones. And then she pointed out the weak points. Some of them were things I'd feared myself. It was good to hear my estimation of the short comings confirmed.
Then she said something that surprised me at the time but, in retrospect, is both hilarious and true.
"I can tell you're not a criminal."
My friend is correct. What I know about committing crime comes from TV and reading, hardly the training ground for learning second story work or how to pull off a con. For a moment, though, I bristled mentally. It took an effort not to react to the statement. I had to make a concious effort to admit the truth. I was not a career criminal and I had not been Criminal McSlick in writing about the crime in the story.
Once I came down off the mental ledge, I could hear the rest of the critique in the spirit it was meant; making the story better. The story needs some work. I need to do some reasearch to make the character's behavior believable. The critique was invaluable and I am grateful to my friend for her effort. I think I can write a better story as a result.
It also taught me an important lesson about critiques. Critiques are meant to make the story better. It isn't a personal attack on my character or my intelligence. There's no hidden message that the inadequacies of the story translate to personal inadequacies. It's a relief to understand that. It'll make the critique of my next story easier to hear. It'll make the critiques that come from strangers easier to read.
There's a post at Warriorwrter's Blog that speaks to critiquing and the fear surrounding it. It's an invaluable post for aspiring writers.