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Critters online genre fiction workshop
August 1, 2010 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Are you an aspiring writer of genre fiction? Would you like to workshop your stuff before submitting it to magazines and publishers, but you don't happen to have a group of local friends that you can workshop with? Critters.org is an online, highly automated fiction workshop. You submit your manuscript, it waits in a queue until its time comes up, and then it gets sent out to all the active subscribers, some of whom will hopefully send you some helpful feedback! Make sure to critique at least one story every week, though, or you lose your privileges to post your own stories to the queue.

"Genre fiction" here means fantasy, science fiction, or horror. Personally I find this curious - why not non-genre fiction? Heck, why not mystery, alt history, or romance? Ah well! Better some than none.
posted by kavasa (19 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's useful for a good general reaction, I find, but a bit pants when it comes to in-depth analysis. Also, there's the occasional lunatic. But hey, it's free.
posted by Scattercat at 11:38 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I understand that not everyone has access to a trusted community of writers and insightful friends to help them, sites like this seem to subscribe to an unhelpful approach to criticism -- the idea that MORE crit is always good and will always make your story better.

In my experience, one or two really excellent "beta readers" are more likely to be helpful than a dozen strangers for whom I have very little context. If it takes a website like this one to FIND those trusted readers, then you know, we all do what we have to -- but the idea should be to move AWAY from a giant wall of feedback, not toward it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:42 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I cut my teeth -- in the pre-internet era -- on postal writers' workshops much like critters (only mediated via dead tree, and with a response time measured in weeks to months).

You need to develop a bullshit detector and train yourself to recognize whether your work is getting crits because there's something wrong with it or because you've accidentally pushed one of your co-critters' buttons. Iterated interactions with the same circle of writers helps, because you get to know their personal foibles -- but it only helps if you know what you're looking for.

NB: I disagree strongly with Narrative Priorities' take; because when one is aiming for publication, one is aiming directly at a giant wall of readers. Interacting with such an audience and getting feedback is invaluable, if only because if nothing else, it'll teach you that you can't satisfy everybody.
posted by cstross at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't think it actually pushes "the idea that MORE crit is always good". I think that creator provided one of the many possible solutions to a certain problem, and has built a system to help guard against some of the pitfalls inherent in that solution. That is: the word-count requirement is there, I think, to try to help kick free riders off of the train.
posted by kavasa at 12:16 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Personally I find this curious - why not non-genre fiction?

I think anyone who's ever brought genre fiction into a general writing workshop knows why. Not only are readers of literary fiction and genre fiction often looking for different things, but there's a tendency for these schools to be mutually combative. It's unfortunate, because a person writing New Yorker-style fiction may benefit from being told that his/her beautifully crafted prose is in support of a story with no plot, and a person who's attempting to be the next science fiction great may gain from hearing that his/her characters are wafer-thin and don't talk like any person ever has or, in all probability, ever will, but you know.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:19 PM on August 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


I've benefited greatly in the past from getting feedback from a writer's group for playwriting. Now that I'm working on my first novel, I have been strongly considering joining critters.org, especially since I'm about to move to a non-English speaking country.

One or two skilled beta-readers is great. It's what I basically use for the first few drafts of anything I write. However, they only have the perspective of one or two people. There are going to be things they miss that others will catch.

That being said, the idea of the Wall Of Criticism terrifies me. I know, I need to be able to take critiques, I need to develop a thicker skin, I need to be able to separate the gems of insight from the mass of personal issues, but still ... unlike the groups I'm used to, there will be no moderation, no discussion, no tempering of words because the author is sitting right there. If I do this, it's going to be a mass of anonymous internet people. That's terrifying.

On the other hand, I believe that, for me, critiques plus rewriting is necessary to make a work good. And critters.org seems like a great resource for people who don't have access to an in-person group. So when I finish draft three or so, I will probably throw it to the wolves and see what happens.
posted by kyrademon at 12:51 PM on August 1, 2010


This will only work if writers read every single line of criticism and then do the opposite. Otherwise, the finished products will all be the same!
posted by doublehappy at 2:01 PM on August 1, 2010


I usually work from the "More Crit is Better Crit" school, but that requires you to be able to A) understand where the readers are coming from B) What you are trying to do C) What's a valid point or just a reader's button issue or how to take that into account and D)Have a sense of what's worth fighting for or not.

All of these things require time and practice.
posted by The Whelk at 2:04 PM on August 1, 2010


kittens for breakfast, yes having a diverse group of readers is wonderfully helpful, but you don't want to focus group it to death. Balancing act.
posted by The Whelk at 2:05 PM on August 1, 2010


If I was pressed I'd say the underlying rule is Know What You Are Trying To Do, if pressed.
posted by The Whelk at 2:06 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think anyone who's ever brought genre fiction into a general writing workshop knows why. Not only are readers of literary fiction and genre fiction often looking for different things, but there's a tendency for these schools to be mutually combative. It's unfortunate, because a person writing New Yorker-style fiction may benefit from being told that his/her beautifully crafted prose is in support of a story with no plot, and a person who's attempting to be the next science fiction great may gain from hearing that his/her characters are wafer-thin and don't talk like any person ever has or, in all probability, ever will, but you know.

Yeah, this. I started to jump genres from poetry to fiction during my MFA, but I wouldn't have been allowed to bring my stories--mostly YA, entirely SF/F--to workshop because the literary writers who headed them didn't allow genre writing. They'd say stuff like "I can't talk with authority about SF" or "SF doesn't exist for me" or other kinda silly-seeming things. I really want to learn basic fiction-writing stuff, not have my genre conceits workshopped (so, no SF authority required, really), but it was a flat, no-dice situation.

Anyway, I'm lucky--I found some fiction writers in my MFA program willing to trade work who didn't care that there were aliens and mermen and stuff in it, and have found a bunch of other people to share work with via blogging and twitter (the #amwriting hashtag, I've recently found, is a terrific way to find other writers, as are all of those twitter writing chats). It works out because, truth be told, I'd die happy if I never had to sit in another workshop ever again, virtually or not. I had a poetry prof tell me that all writers reach that point eventually, when they have a group of trusted editors and readers and no longer want to deal with all the defensiveness and drama of a workshop. I don't know if that's true, but it certainly felt true for me--and felt nice to have some validation of what I'd assumed was just a growing bad attitude on my part.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:42 PM on August 1, 2010


cstross: It's interesting that you seem to disagree so strongly with Narrative Priorities when you both seem to be saying different versions of the same idea, i.e.: "Feedback is important and helps you improve your writing, and such feedback is best when coming from a reader you trust, both to offer you useful criticism and to be representative of the audience you are trying to reach."

Disclaimer: I joined critters briefly, and had to drop out because the volume of stories was huge, and despite being notionally all SF/F, all the time, many of them were so far away from my personal reading tastes that it was very difficult for me to offer useful criticism.

I never wound up submitting any of my own work.
posted by pts at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2010


I joined Critters in spring because they have a system where you can find readers who will agree to read an entire novel, not just a chapter here and there. Three people did in fact volunteer for me, but I never heard back from any of them after sending them my manuscript four months ago. Perhaps that was an unusual experience, but I had much better success with the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, where it was much easier to form reciprocal relationships with other individual members whose input I found useful.
posted by unsub at 4:22 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Another vote for OWW. Not bashing Critters, I've never used them, and many have reported good experiences with them.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:05 PM on August 1, 2010


Not bashing Critters, but I think I started the first open-to-all-comers critiquing service online.

More than twenty years ago the Literary Forum on Compuserve started an online writers workshop. The name has changed (and changed, and changed) but we still exist, now as the Books & Writers Forum.

No charge, but you only get to post after you've posted critiques of the work of the other members.

Love to have any interested writers join us at Books & Writers!
posted by inkwench at 7:17 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh hey! Critters! I workshopped a couple of stories there back in 1998. I even did a series of interviews for them. Only three, though. I stopped after getting: a) no response from a couple of writers & b) a girlfriend. It was interesting. The first thing I sent in was a story that was long monologue. The main critique, if memory serves, was that it was a long monologue and I should have more action, more things happening, to which my response was to rewrite the monologue a little bit, add a short section in the middle with things happening, and then write another monologue. It was close to novella-length by the end. I got mostly very positive feedback on that version. I stopped writing fiction for a while and wrote mostly poetry for the next few years but a lot of what I learned from Critters served me well when I started writing fiction again. Anyway, I have nothing but the best to say about Critters.
posted by Kattullus at 8:44 PM on August 1, 2010


I did Critters for awhile but agree that you need to be able to read your critics well, as there's every kind of (idiosyncratic and often inconsistent) advice thrown at you. I thought the experience of critiquing was instructive, but I had to develop a rule whereby I only critiqued stories I truly liked and thought were mostly there already, as it was very difficult to remain positive and supportive when providing feedback on a story that's problematic on multiple levels.

I had much better success with the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, where it was much easier to form reciprocal relationships with other individual members whose input I found useful.

That sounds like it's worth a look -- thanks.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:52 PM on August 2, 2010


My experience with Critters has been good. After many revisions, my novella, about a werewolf and a vampire who simultaneously court a polyamorous female, Minotaur-like unicorn, has so far been translated into 17 languages.

YMMV, but good luck.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 3:54 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm here to say, yes, a thousand times what kittens for breakfast said. My fiction class in college was divided down the middle, literary and genre fiction, and the lit fic kids were brutally hostile to whatever us genre kids brought in. Genre is an insult to lit fic, though it was fun to watch them try to qualify the stories they did like as "magical realism."
posted by gc at 7:12 PM on August 2, 2010


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