Thursday, February 7, 2013

The World's Best and Least Tactful Critiquer: My Husband

“You do realize...” my husband says after finishing the chapter I've hounded him into reading.

GRRRRR. I feel like strangling him whenever he utters that most condescending of phrases: “you do realize.” Obviously, I haven't realized whatever he is referring to, or the problem would have been fixed.

My husband has never heard of the Sandwich Rule of criticism. You know, the one where you sandwich the harsh stuff with praise. Instead, he goes by the Cut to the Chase brand of criticism. The Straight for the Throat brand. After reading a piece, he might say any of the following:
  • “This makes no sense.”
  • “What exactly is the point of this scene?”
  • “This isn't very [insert one of: funny, romantic, exciting].”
  • “I thought you were writing about [X other topic that I'm clearly not writing about].”
  • “I thought you were writing about [X topic that is clearly the exact thing I am writing about].”

I'll be honest. Sometimes, I cry.

My husband pauses. “Maybe I shouldn't critique your work anymore.”

“Nooooooooooooooooooo! You have to.”

“I don't know...”

This can go on for a while.

But eventually, I suck it up, wipe off my tears, and start asking him as many questions as I can think of. Wasn't this line funny? Didn't I make this point with this sentence? Did the significance of this paragraph come across?

It's like digging for buried treasure. But eventually, I figure out which parts aren't working. And then my husband helps me brainstorm how to fix them. This is where the magic happens.

There might be some arguing and raised voices. Some artistic indignation on my part: “No, no, no. You don't understand my character at all!” And possibly a few more tears.

But we will inevitably reach a point where I say, “You're a genius, dear husband!”

My husband gets stories. Really. He:
  • achieved a small degree of fame with over 1000 oh-so-clever Yelp reviews. He had serious fans!
  • has been watching every movie of note in chronological order, starting with silent films. He's made it up to the 1960's now. When his company gave him a week of furlough, he spent his precious alone time watching the movies I had previously vetoed (including far too many hours of silent Russian cinema).
  • practically snatched Story by Robert McKee out of my hands because he was so excited by all the diagrams

There was a point when I thought I was finished with SKY MAHAL. Absolutely giddy with my own genius, I handed the last few chapters to my husband. I waited patiently for him to tell me how awesome I was.

Yeah, that didn't happen.

He came back with so many problems, I wanted to lie down in defeat. But one comment in particular really stuck with me. He pointed out that my main character's big moment was reactive, not proactive.

Suddenly, I knew exactly how to bring everything together in one elegant swoop. I rewrote my previously choppy, rushed ending in a matter of days. And it was approximately a gazillion times better than it had originally been.

Thus, I refute all tenderly given peer advice to not mix family and writing. Nobody else would be this honest with me. It's personal. It's painful. It's absolutely essential.

Note 1: I have another Awesome and Far More Tactful Critique Partner: Priya Ardis. My sister!

Note 2: I did in fact have my husband read over this blog post. He had surprisingly few complaints, except that I should spend more time establishing the handsomeness of his character.