Alexa Shaw – On Getting and Giving Good Crit

Photo of Alexa ShawQ. What did you hope to get out of your critique session?

As this is my first novel, I guess my initial reaction is to be reaffirmed in my own belief that I can write a half decent story.

Once that bit of self aggrandizement was past, what I wanted most was for people to be honest about how my story made them feel, where it should have made them feel, and where it could be improved.

Suggestions on how to improve it were also warmly welcomed.

Q: What were your plans prior to the critique – jump straight into the editing, or write something new and come back to the first book when you’ve allowed the feedback to distill?

I guess like all other aspiring professional writers I’d like my first novel to be picked up by a publisher or agent.

However, I’ve started an urban fantasy and want to keep running with that until I finish the first draft.

I guess that means I’ll let the feedback percolate a bit before jumping back into the tween novel.

Q. Asking for criticism can be tough, inspiring, soul-crushing and insightful, all at the same time. What did you take away from this experience that will be the most valuable to your novel?

Receiving the comments from the group really emphasised to me that the reading experience is a personal journey that is different for everyone – as evidenced by the wide range of, often opposing, comments.

But perhaps the most important insight I received from the experience was that characters are everything.

This is something I was already aware that I needed to work on, but its importance was made more evident by the feedback.

Q. When you begin working on the story again, how do you plan to tackle it and what changes would you make, if any?

While I was writing the story, I was aware, but not willing to acknowledge I guess, that the character I’d set up as the protagonist was somewhat  lacking. And that a secondary character was doing the doing of things. This was confirmed by the feedback.

The major change I will make will be to bring the secondary character in a lot earlier into the story and build her relationship with the current protagonist, then rearrange/rewrite the plot points to fit the new dynamics. (I also liked the ‘magic scabbard’ idea.)

Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer who was thinking of putting their own novel through a critique group?

Writing is an intensely personal activity.

Everything that ends up on the page (focussing on speculative fiction here) is a distillation of the ID of the writer – which in itself is a scary thing to contemplate.

It can be tough when people don’t automatically love what you write.

However, don’t take it personally. If the person or group critiquing your work is even semi-professional, any comments will be made with a view to helping the writer, not attacking them.

Growing up, Alexa Shaw cut her speculative fiction teeth on the likes of Asimov, Simak and Niven. She then discovered David Eddings and a new love affair was in the making – fantasy stories. More recent influences on her writing include fabulous authors such as Sherri Tepper, CJ Cherryh and Marion Zimmer Bradley, to name a few. An abiding love of science led her to undertake a PhD in that field, and she looks forwards to continuing to blend science and fantasy in her writing. Alexa lives with her family in Canberra, ACT.

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