Last week, a friend of mine asked me to do an unusual critique. I’m glad I took her up on it.
This friend, though not a fiction writer, is a professional in nonfiction and has worked as an editor. She’s done reading for me in the past, and provided me with a lot of valuable insights. So, even though I doubted I had anything useful to say about her project, I decided to give it a try.
Her project was a gift for someone else. At their request, she had written essentially a literary criticism essay using characters in action, blending the meanings of tarot cards with interpretations of the original novel’s text. It also included extrapolations of scenes that did not appear in the original text (fanfiction), only written not as story but as a sort of nonfictional hypertext. The piece was written partly as an essay, partly as (almost) fiction. You could call it a hybrid piece of writing, or an intersectional one. Or you could just say, “What?” because I have confused you…anyway, it made sense when I read it. Complicated sense.
Fictional events from the text were explored and extrapolated in a semi-fictional style, interspersed with relevant information on the tarot cards she’d chosen and images of those cards. The piece wasn’t fiction, but it had some of the aspects of fiction. That was one of the things she wanted me to critique.
It turned out I did have something to say. After admiring the way she’d linked appropriate references from the text to specific tarot cards, I went through it again and focused on voice. The writer’s nonfiction voice is very strong and flexible and unique. In most of the segments, I recognized her voice. I suspect I would have recognized it even if I weren’t already familiar with her writing. However, in one section, her voice was not as strong. She’d leaned more heavily towards fiction in that section; her own voice had been mostly subsumed into a tight third person fictional pov. As a fiction writer, that really stood out to me.
It turned out that section had given her a lot of trouble. She’d started out in first person that wasn’t working for what she wanted to accomplish and had spent a lot of time shifting the point of view. I think my comments helped her focus on how she wanted to edit that section. Besides that, her piece gave me a lot to think about for my own writing.
Once again, it’s been proven to me how stepping outside your comfort zone–in reading, in critiquing–can be a real benefit to thinking about your writing in different ways.