The Best Writing Critique I Ever Got

It was either late 2010 or early 2011. I had been dutifully sending out queries for Sentinels of Mysera. My memory claims I’d sent out about 19 or so queries.

I got about 19 or so rejections.

I logged on to the chat room at Forward Motion for Writers and announced that I had received 19 rejections. In my efforts to force the positive, I said I was 19 NOs closer to a YES. One of the authors in the chat asked if I’d gotten any requests for partials or anything other than an outright no.

I had not.

So she asked to see the material I’d been sending. What she wrote back was both the best and worst writing critique I’ve ever gotten.

“I’m sorry to say this, but that sucks.”

Now, it was the best thing for me to hear, because I’d never gotten a negative response to my writing. Everyone always told me it was wonderful and they wanted more. But I knew, deep down inside, that something was wrong with my book.

It was the worst, because it told me that what I’d feared was true. For a while, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to fix anything to make my book better. I feared, more than anything, that this world that I loved so much would die.

I spent the better part of the day in tears, then got back on the chat.

She was still there and apologized for her harsh comment and wanted to clarify a little better what she saw.

“You have great characters. You have a good plot. Your world is flat. You have colorful characters running around on a white background.”

So, Sentinels of Mysera went back to the drawing board. I knew, that day, what had caused my flat world. I think I always knew, but I needed someone to smack me over the head with my 100,000 word manuscript before I admitted it to myself.

The world of the Sentinels was originally not in Mysera. It was a fan-created internet club based on the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. My friend and I had created it in 1998 and my heart and soul was invested in the club for many years. In 2003, I sat down to move the Sentinels from their birthplace in Brian Jacques’ world. The characters moved and changed. The important places changed and morphed. I made sure to take out all the things that were part of Redwall. I made the world my own.

But I never replaced enough. I took out all of Mr. Jacques’ color. I never put in enough of my own.

I’ve spent the last 4 years struggling with that. I tore Sentinels of Mysera apart. I rebuilt the world. I added a religion to the book, which has been the hardest change. As a Christian, I believe there is one God, and everything else out there is false. I had to figure out where I was comfortable drawing the line between what I am convicted is true, and what would simply be fantasy. I couldn’t figure out a way to put my personal convictions in the book without either corrupting my convictions, or completely changing the book beyond recognition.

It took time, but I finally worked out that my world would have a TRUTH. My world would have a god, who exists in that world. However, much like the God of the Bible that I believe in, people have corrupted the truth. The basis for the religion of Mysera is just that. It is what people believe to be true, and the world operates under the god’s rules, but things have been corrupted and lost. I’ve worked out what the truth is, and where it has been changed. This opened doors for a magic system which fixed several substantial plot holes.

Is Sentinels of Mysera colorful enough now? I’d like to think so. The world has changed. The things I love are still there, but maybe they’ve been shifted around. The differences between the original draft that was started in 2003 and the one I hold now are huge, yet the heart is still there. Hearing that my book sucked was hard, but in the end, I know it made a better book and made me a better writer.

Have you ever gotten a really hard-to-swallow critique? What did you do about it?

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2 thoughts on “The Best Writing Critique I Ever Got

  1. I definitely related to this post because I got a similar critique from a friend after a hundred or so pages of my first unfinished draft. My world was also flat and it took a lot of research and support to rip everything apart and start from the ground-up, My sympathies but also my congratulations! Are you sending our your manuscript again yet? -Cheri

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