How Constructive Criticism Has Helped My Writing

Amazing how things work out. I’m pretty happy with the way things have progressed in the writing world the last couple of days.

First, I got a new 4 star review of book one in my trilogy, “The Crimson League.” Here it is, copied…. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the constructive, negative comments in the last paragraph are really where you’ll want to focus.

This is an entertaining story set in the kingdom of Herezoth with a broad collection of characters that is well detailed with personality. Of course, I am a particular sucker for liking innocent female characters like Kora Porteg under terrible personal pressures, forced to deal with hardship with her growing into a true heroine. The author sets Kora up to be a key player in a rebel group to overthrow a cruel magical dictator; she is set up as a flawed, simple girl that makes mistakes, has little broad life experience and thrown on the path of survival among the hunted Crimson League.

The plot is refreshing to me for a number of reasons but chief among them is how magic is handled. It does not hurt I like to see major characters killed off and favor authors who depict war and conflict as messy, regrettable with unexpected loss, suffering and cruelty. Finally, I like endings with interesting twists. So in short this book is not a typical “cookie cutter” story. Buy and enjoy it.

A few things did not hit me favorable; one is regarding the ruby that marks Kora’s as special. I did not like the explanation nor the randomness of the event within the story. Read and see if you feel the same way. Anyway, its among the chief reasons this is only 4 stars.

I was so glad this reader/reviewer took the time to say those final comments, because the ruby marking Kora as the Marked One in my novel, and the way she obtains it, is something that’s bugged me as well. It’s definitely a “Deus ex machina” start to things. My beta readers didn’t mention the ruby subplot to me the way this reviewer does, but a friend of mine who read the book after publication made similar comments. (“What about the ruby???” There’s still questions surrounding it, for sure, at the novel’s end.I know this reviewer isn’t alone in her opinion.)

The cool thing is, this is more than criticism I can take into account for future writing. It is that–“avoid Deus Ex Machina situations, even in fantasy when world-realistic gods are involved”–but it’s also an issue I can fix in my trilogy as it stands. And I can fix the problem without releasing a new edition of “The Crimson League,” because it’s the first novel in a series and I’m still editing the final installment.

While I already had some passages in the third book that explained the ruby to a greater degree, after reading that review, I got an idea to add a major scene that will  iron out those “ruby issues” (I hope) as the saga comes to a close. I wrote that scene today, and I was able to bring back one of my favorite characters, and I’m just thrilled with the result. It’ll show my readers, if nothing else, that I made a conscious decision structuring the start of Kora’s story the way I did and wasn’t just writing sloppily. And I think it adds an entire new level of spiritual depth to the work. (I just have to make sure it doesn’t come off as preachy, because that isn’t at all what I’m aiming for. That’s what beta readers are for!) I’m sure I’ll still tinker with the scene a bit, but the basic concept is there. And it’s solved something that’s irked me about my trilogy for a LONG time.

The long and the short of it, then: Not that this is difficult to figure out, but listen to constructive criticism, especially when it’s delivered as honestly, respectfully, and clearly as my reviewer gave it. Don’t shut yourself off to improvement because it can be uncomfortable. I feel as though, because I admitted the legitimacy of those final comments rather than dismiss them out of defensiveness, I’ve made the over-arching story of my trilogy something I feel better about and that, personally, I like more than I did before. And that is an amazing thing.

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8 responses to “How Constructive Criticism Has Helped My Writing

  1. It’s always cool when a reviewer gives helpful criticism that you can apply to make your fiction better. I’m glad the reviewer gave you this criticism, because I’ll be reading the other two books in the trilogy and I’m certainly interested in learning more about that ruby. In reading the first book, knowing it was part of a trilogy, I’d chosen to trust that you’d say more about the ruby before the trilogy ended. It’s cool to hear that you’ve added a scene to specifically address it.

  2. I’m actually reading The Crimson League at this very moment, and I was wondering about that mysterious ruby. It’s good to know that it will be explained at some point, even if it’s not in the first book. I’m cool with that. Also, I’m quite enjoying the book so far. My only complaint is that all the character names sound the same to me and I can’t tell them apart. Hopefully I will get to know them better as the story progresses. I guess that sort of thing is inevitable if you introduce the entire rebel force in the span of a chapter or two.

    • Thanks for reading, Michelle! And thanks for the comments here. Glad you’re enjoying the book to this point, and I’m sorry the names are confusing!!! Some of them are definitely similar, you’re right about that…. Other people have mentioned that in reviews, and some said it irons out a little further in, so hopefully that will be the case with you too.

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