by Daddy X
When I first started writing, I realized early on how difficult it is to get anyone to read erotic work. Friends proved somewhat less than helpful. Either they told me what I wanted to hear or I never heard from them again. After losing several friends, I abandoned that approach. :>)
So I took a few workshops with Susie Bright. She mentioned The Erotica Readers and Writers Association as the place to have our efforts read and commented on by those who know something about the subject.
IMO, Storytime represents the heart and soul of ERWA. Our critiquing process has long been acknowledged in erotica circles as one of the most effective means of taking the initiative to improve our craft.
There’s no set-in-stone requirement for participation in ERWA Storytime, though we do suggest an honor/common courtesy-based guideline: ideally an author offers two crits of others’ work for every story the author has posted for feedback. No one’s going to reprimand you if we have a slow week and not enough stories come in to fulfill the guideline. But over time, if it looks like all take and no give, expect a gentle reminder from our oversight staff.
Over the years, I’ve picked up some helpful tips about offering, and receiving, critiques:
The best way to start
It’s important to formulate your own critique before you read critiques on the same piece by others. You want to go into the read cold, without any prior expectations. Otherwise you’re likely to be distracted by the same problems others have seen. You don’t want to go into a read expecting something, and likely finding it. That will compromise your ability to see and communicate different problems or strengths. An honest reaction is your best guide and ultimately most helpful to the author.
What to look for
Has the author accomplished what they set out to achieve? In erotica, that goal is often of a sexual nature. I seldom critique erotica negatively for its sexual heat, or lack thereof. My thinking is that whatever produces sexual arousal in one reader will be another’s— “So what?” The amount I’m turned on, or not, is simply an indication of my personal response, not necessarily of the author’s writing skill.
Of course, if a story strikes me sexually, providing a-stirrin in me loins (boner) I’ll be sure to mention it (with enthusiasm). But a negative take on sexual titillation doesn’t afford much help, unless it’s a matter of style or ineffective chops used to produce the ultimately lackluster effect.
What pulls you from the story, for good or for ill? There’s that lovely passage that’ll make you stop and take a deep breath while you contemplate its structure, lyricism and impact. And then there’s the misspelling, tense jump or POV shift that yanks you abruptly from the flow.
When something confuses you, comment on it. Did the writer use enough dialog tags to make the characters’ conversations clear? Did we lose track of who was speaking? Did the author use too many tags? What was it that interrupted the flow of the story?
The author needs to hear what works and what doesn’t. In time, their level of expertise will improve, and your own critiques can become more precise.
How to present an effective critique
In most works, there are well-done elements, even in the most amateurish story. Mention those elements in your assessment. In fact, lead with them. There is no better way to create a receptive response than with a compliment. It tells the author that you respect their efforts and see value in their work.
Frame your comments so they can be readily absorbed by an author. Try to make every single thing you write clear, correct and effective. Make it second nature to consciously write to produce a predictable effect. It’s a good idea to get in that habit.
Simply voicing your opinion in a civil fashion can itself improve your own writing. If your tendency is to lash out, then make the extra effort to leaven your critique with courtesy. E-correspondence, often banged out in haste—unedited—has the tendency to come off as abrupt. A ‘critique’ does not imply a strictly negative response or focus only on the problems a reader encounters. Encouraging the author will help to soften the blow of whatever negatives you impart and provide more useful guidance.
Importance of staying objective
As you read more and more authors’ works, make a conscious effort to develop a sense of separating out your own pet peeves. Develop an awareness to discern elements outside your own squicks and preferences—mastery of which may take time, but is crucial to providing a valuable critique.
By integrating purposeful objectivity with innate subjectivity, your critiques can delve much deeper. When a seasoned subscriber has clear insights on story construction, tense, POV or declensions, that feedback can function as a professional editor’s would.
How to receive a critique of your own work
Everyone has an opinion. ERWA subscribers’ talents are spread over a vast range of literary achievement, from novices to professional editors. Because of that, ERWA opinions, taken as a holistic entity, tend to mimic the greater reading public.
While we understand that our writings are our children, nobody wants to hear that their baby isn’t perfect. Nobody at ERWA wants to make you feel bad. At least not intentionally. Of course, there are nearly as many styles of critique as there are subscribers.
We’ve already suggested those critiquing try for the positive approach. By the same token, authors having their stories critiqued should take comments with some degree of resiliency. We’re never done with the process of learning how to write. Being open to feedback, especially criticism, is crucial to that process.
Your responsibility to the critquer
Acknowledge all crits. In addition to voluntarily reading your work, the person critiquing has possibly spent hours on your piece—unpaid. If you don’t answer those crits, the person at the other end may assume the effort wasn’t appreciated and may not comment on your work again. It would be difficult for any one person to critique it all. We pick and choose works to crit in direct proportion to how much the effort seems valued.
What you get out of doing a critique
Maintaining objectivity concerning our own work is difficult. But as we observe others’ work, we develop a sense of how to recognize similar failings, or successes, in our own efforts.
Writing more nuanced critiques can inform our writing, producing more nuanced effects. (How to shape a narrative without subjectivity for example—a virtual necessity for a believable narrator.)
Remember—your reaction is always valid. The author’s words, phrases, and punctuation are the elements that have informed your opinion as well as your own future efforts.
Bottom line? Reading and critiquing other authors is one of the most rewarding and effective ways to improve your own writing.