Monday, December 15, 2014

Seeing from another's eyes

by Joan

Over the years the six of us have critiqued each other’s work in any number of combinations, depending on time commitments and type of critique sought, among other things. We’ve learned each other’s styles and strengths. As Kim said in an earlier post on our critique styles, “We are six very different people brought together by a mutual love of writing.” 

Over the past few months, Elizabeth and I have provided detailed feedback on our respective manuscripts. One night after a lengthy back and forth she emailed me this:

“I have to tell you, the irony of you telling me XXX needs fixed, and meanwhile I'm telling you XXX needs fixed is striking. Because we are saying the same thing pretty much about the other's MS--but in yours, it makes perfect sense to you, and in mine, it makes perfect sense to me. Had you noticed this too? :)”

Well, no, I hadn’t, until then. After drafts and revisions and rewrites and more revisions, it’s nearly impossible to be objective about your own work. Paragraphs flow in your head as if they were lyrics to a song and you hum and smile as you re-read for the sixtieth (at least) time, convinced no one could possibly find a clunky sentence. (Trust me, they will). It never occurred to me that my manuscript included the very things that trip me up in another’s work.

Along this same vein, we noticed how we differ in our reactions to plot points. I was completely convinced my character was in the wrong about a particular situation and wrote a scene with her apologizing profusely and trying to fix it, while Elizabeth couldn’t see anything wrong with my character's behavior and found the call for atonement odd. At the same time, I disagreed with one of her character’s actions while it seemed completely logical to her.

I perceive the world, and therefore fiction, from my own spyglass. My experiences, good and bad, have tinted the lens. Yours have done the same. Your view might not be the same as mine, but that doesn’t make it wrong. As a critique partner, I have a responsibility to recognize that my opinion is only that, my judgmental observation. That I need to widen that spyglass range to allow that other people don’t see the world or their lives as I do. 

Or, as the eloquent Elizabeth Berg wrote in The Pull of The Moon:

“I have wanted you to see out of my eyes so many times.” 

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