Backstepping a Story After Getting Lost in Critiques

Many years ago, when I asked for critiques, I treated each one as a call for action and rushed back to change the story.  I assumed they knew more then I did — they were making the comment, right? –so I didn’t think whether I should be making the changes.  One day it hit me after one such session that in all these changes, I was losing me in the story.  It was my story, and I was giving up what I intended — because of other people’s comments!

The effect can be much worse on a novel, because it’s so much bigger.  So to correct it, you’ll have to backstep.  Have you ever seen the show Seven Days?  The character (played by Jonathan LaPaglia) would “backstep” to the past to correct a future mistake.  We’re going to do something similar here to correct a book suffering from too many critiques.

1.  Find a draft before the story went off track and start with that.  Dig through the backups if necessary.  The goal is to get something get something as close to critique-free as possible, even if there are problems in it that were fixed later.  Those are easy to take care of.  Save  a copy of this version as a new draft.

2.  Then find all the drafts that followed and save each one.

3.  Print the new version and read it from beginning to end, to get familiar with it again.  No doubt there will be things things that somehow gotten written out that were pretty good and other things where the critters had a good idea and need to be fixed.

4.  Here’s all the versions:  If you’ve already corrected issues, find it in the later draft, and cut and paste it into your new draft.  That way, you don’t have to rewrite what you’ve already dealt with.  Cut and paste is such a great tool!

5.  Now for the critique parts.  This is going to be some real work, because you’re going to have to separate what was valuable from what you can’t use.

Comments that made you go, “Do-ah!  Why didn’t I think of that?”  These are the most valuable ones because they’re keepers.  If you rewrote your story to fix the problem, then use the copy and paste.  If your critter wrote the changes on your manuscript and you just used them verbatim, then don’t copy and paste.  Rewrite the sections yourself without looking at the later changes.  The story needs to be you, period.

Comments that made you go “Hmm, maybe.”  If you still have the same reaction, mark the later versions so you can find the written material, but don’t make any changes.  The nice thing about word processors is if you change your mind, you can easily make changes.  Of course, the same applies here — if you rewrote your story, cut and paste; if you made the critter’s changes, then rewrite it in your current draft.

Comments that are better off left on the comment pile.  Sometimes a comment is going to be really wrong for your story, like someone telling you to take magic out of your fantasy story. Revising to accommodate these can really wreck the story, so you want to make sure none of these get back into your new draft.

Once you get all your cutting and pasting done, review the manuscript again.  You’re probably going to have to make revisions to clean things up.  But the story will feel more like you again.