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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday Workout from the Slush Pile

Dear Liana,
I'm really having trouble with my crit group. They are great people, and they give me wonderful advice, but I don't always understand them. Actually, I don't understand some of the inside phrases. I had my mentor explain most of them to me. But I still don't know what authors and beta-readers mean when they say they read the story "with prejudices". These are really nice people! I don't think they're mean to anyone who isn't fictional. So, what kind of prejudice are they talking about?
Looking for a Translation

Dear Looking,

It seems the longer we spend around the exotic world of publishing, the stranger our speech gets. I used to think an ARC was either a math term, or a weapon, now I know it means Advanced Reader Copy (and the correct answer is always: Yes! Please! I'd love an ARC!). So when someone says they are reading your book and might be side-tracked by prejudices it doesn't mean they will be forming a lynch mob to chase people wearing pointy hats, red shoes, or blue jeans. It means the person has preconceived notions about something and you have to talk them around to your way of thinking.

It's not a bad thing. It's just a human thing. We all have some silly notion stuck in our head that we can't quite shake.

For example, if I see a row of stuffed pink rabbits sitting in your rear window I automatically assume you are going to drive slow. I'll grind my teeth and hope you don't pull out in front of me, then drive 20 miles under the speed limit. Why? I'm prejudiced!

Actually, the psychological term is probably Conditioned. I have been taught that people who keep rows of pink bunnies in their rear windows also like to cut me off and drive slow for no apparent reason. I believe this because somewhere in one of the states I've lived there is a mad driver with pink bunnies in their rear window who regularly cut me off and drove slow.

Now, if you wanted to write about race car driver who kept a pink bunny in his rear view window I'd probably start twitching. My critique comment would look something like: I don't buy this. What kind of fast driver likes pink bunnies? What kind of racer has a stuffed rabbit in his car? I think this needs to go.

What you need to do as an author is convince me, the reader, that yes! Race car drivers always keep pink bunnies in the backs of their cars. Of course they do! It's the most natural thing in the world! You have to talk me out of my silly prejudice.

Time for some list making! And probably time to back away from the exclamation marks... ahem.

List #1: Make a list of three prejudices you hold when reading. This may take some soul-searching since prejudice is usually used in a very negative context. But I promise, some where in the pit of your soul, you really do think green M&M's taste a little like lime. Or that people with rainbow leis hanging from their rear view mirror are all 16 and love Taylor Swift. Go ahead, let it out, it's good for the soul.

List #2: Take your current WIP and the critiques your beta-readers have turned in. Look it over and see if you're running up against some common prejudices. There are certain unwritten rules for every genre, and that means people may be expecting you to meet certain requirements. If you want to play by the rules, fine. If you don't then you need to re-write reality.

Last Thing: Evaluate your writing, just between you and the computer screen, and decide if what you have is strong enough to change a persons mind. Is your race car driver with the pink bunny strong enough to erase my ears of eye twitching? If not, decide how you are going to fix that.

Good luck!

P.S. Are you in love with the pink bunny? He's for sale Here.


  1. Good answer, as always. I think another place where this comes into play in critique group is genre preference. Some people set themselves up not to like a work because it's in a genre they aren't really a reader of. This is a huge mistake, because within genres there are many, many different interpretations of the content. Sci-fi isn't spaceships and little green men. Horror is so much more than a writer doing the literary equivelent of splashing buckets of blood over each and every character. Every genre may be 'known' for something, but these days, that 'something' is really just a fraction of what's available.

  2. I hadn't heard the term before, but the concept makes perfect sense. Related to genres: sometimes a reader comes without the prejudices you're counting on so you can thwart them.

    By this I mean, you introduce a genre trope into your story, knowing most readers are conditioned to respond to it in a certain way. Then you give it a twist, which, done right, surprises and delights the reader. Readers who weren't aware of the trope you're twisting won't experience as much delight because they won't be surprised.

  3. Or the author expects everyone to understand a certain trope of their genre, and is baffled when their reader doesn't understand.

  4. Prejudices are a huge thing to consider when considering critiques. This is a great post with great things to think about.

    My own prejudices:

    If it has no depth at all, I don't like it.

    If there's too much technical jargon, I don't like it.

    If it's about unicorns and dragons, I don't like it.

    These, of course, are stupid prejudices, and I try to push them out of the way when I'm critiquing. :)