Right problem, wrong fix

2010
05.21

So there you are, sitting in on your critique group as they ravage your piece. You thought it was flawless, yet they will point out this and that, have logic problems here, flow problems there, and show you how your characters are out of character. They make suggestions, and not wanting to disappoint, you rush home and start making those changes as soon as the group is over.

If you’re a writer who has a critique group (or lets ANYONE read your work for that matter), chances are you have been in that situation at least once. I know I have.

A few weeks ago, I lived through that very situation, but instead of rushing home to make the changed, something hit me.

What if they’re wrong?

Okay, so my particular group of critters and friends are all SUPER smart and talented, so they can’t be totally wrong, but what if they are partially wrong?

I pondered the large issue and the accompanying fixes that was suggested. The problem was really small, but would require a major rewrite of one of my chapters. Now I am all for rewriting if needed (trust me, I’ve done my share, and probably more), but what if the suggestions were wrong?

See, I could almost agree with the problem (two of my characters were acting way to relaxed and chummy considering the circumstances), but they didn’t understand that my characters were faking. They were clinging on to “normal” social idiosyncrasies to avoid the death and destruction around them.

I knew why my characters were acting this way… why didn’t the readers?

The more I thought, the more I realized that the situation wasn’t the problem, it was the presentation. I hadn’t sold it properly.

Instead of rewriting the scene and making them act different, I change a few words here and there, then reorganized the sequence of events. It too me all of 15 minutes.

The next week, I submitted the same chapter. Low and behold, everyone loved it! Okay, maybe not love, but they liked the changes just fine.

How could they be so wrong? Well, they weren’t… not exactly. See, this turned out to be a case of what I like to call RPWF, or, “right problem wrong fix.”

See there WAS a problem, but the fix they were offering wasn’t what I wanted, so I toyed with it and came up with a way to fix the issue in a way that I still liked.

All this to say that when you get advice, try to figure out what the root of the real problem is. Consider the advice, and if you think you can address the REAL problem better, go for it! The worst thing that can happen is that your critters still won’t like it 😉

On a completely unrelated note, Ryan and I were trying to figure out the most accurate genre for my wip, and this is what we came up with:

Survivalistic Contemporary Hard Sci-Fi, Pre-Post-Apocolyptic, Yet Still Dystopic Romance Thriller With Short Ventures Into Chick Lit

SCHSFPPAYSDRTWSVICL for short. Yep. I’m gonna claim that as a real genre.

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12 Responses to “Right problem, wrong fix”

  1. LOVE this. A huge part of being a writer is figuring out the right fix for the problems identified by readers.

  2. LOVE the genre. I’ll have to write one of those, too.

    And yes, I’ve been through this exact scenario. Sometimes you just have to figure out why it’s a problem for others when it isn’t for you. Not always easy to get out of your own head.

  3. Myrna Foster says:

    Yep, we have to find our own fixes, but without readers, we wouldn’t even know we had a problem. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks, Chris!

  4. töff says:

    Good post!

  5. PDWright says:

    Yeah – when I review things I often try to offer fixes for the problem, but honestly, I’m certain at times my suggestions are just off base. But you do a GREAT job of making fixes, so I keep throwing them out. And each version looks better and better. Is it wrong for me to feel pride in YOUR work? 😉

  6. töff says:

    I had a talk with a pal in England about suggestions in critique. My stance is usually that I don’t want them; I just want to be shown the problems. My reason is twofold: first, that I love solving puzzles and problems; and second, though this will sound selfish, I want my work to be MINE. The more I take suggestions, the more my story becomes a collaboration. There’s nothing wrong with collaboration, if we’re all signing our names to the piece. But I want my own creations to come entirely from myself. I’ve been known to take suggestions, and sometimes they’re really really good. But, in theory, I don’t really want them.

  7. C. Michael Fontes says:

    @Toff
    To some extent, I feel the same way. I do, however, like to here suggestions as they tend to spawn off ideas in my head.

  8. C. Michael Fontes says:

    @Paula
    My suggestion are off base a ton a lot of the time (not saying that yours are). Thanks for the compliment, and I DO still want your suggestions 😉

    And no, it isn’t wrong for you to feel pride in my work, and I am honored. 🙂

  9. C. Michael Fontes says:

    @Lisa and Laura
    Yeah, and it is a skill that takes a while (and unfortunately, a lot of questionable feedback) to gain. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  10. töff says:

    > “SCHSFPPAYSDRTWSVICL”

    I so want to buy a vowel.

  11. […] new writer's blog « Right problem, wrong fix No […]

  12. lol, töff.

    I try to be helpful and make suggestions when critiquing – it might be a character flaw. My suggestions aren’t supposed to be used verbatim, but are with the intent of sparking something in the writer.

    As a writer in a group, I receive suggestions – and most have been right on. Even the ones that miss the mark are helpful. Today I received a suggestion in a different direction than what I wanted, but it marked the problem. By seeing the suggestion and where the reader was going, I understood the true error and where it originated.

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