f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Critical Analysis: Or, How Do We Improve?

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Critical Analysis: Or, How Do We Improve?

I will make a single assumption about those stopping by this site: you have hopes of being a better writer tomorrow than you are today. We are all at different places in terms of our talent and skill and understanding. That’s wonderful. Regardless, each of us, from the award-winner to the bestseller to the rank amateur should seek to improve our craft.

Excellent. We’re agreed. So let’s go improve!

Here’s where the rubber tends not to hit the road as much. Because how does one actually go about improving? Do you just assume that your third book is better than your first? That seems plausible on some levels…but I think we know that’s not the case. Do we assume that revising a story three times instead of two will help it? Well, actually, that’s probably an assumption worth making. Do we assume that gathering informed critiques of our work will help us in its shaping? If they’re coming from trusted readers, yes, that’s probably true, too.

There’re two other methods by which authors can improve that are a little more time intensive. (And here I begin to borrow liberally from Mr. Bertrand yet again. Royalties are in the mail.)

In looking at responding to fiction, the various forms tend to group themselves into a few categories.

1. Reviews – Written post-publication, these are written with other readers in mind, essentially answering two questions: 1.) What’s the book about? and 2.) Is it worth your time?

2. Critique – Offered during the draft (pre-pub) stage, this is written with the author in mind. The intent is to improve the book on any number of levels before it comes out or is submitted for publication.

3. Analysis – Written post-publication, this is a more thorough examination of a novel often written with other writers (or scholars) in mind. The assumption is the novel is well-crafted enough to be worth looking at quite closely. (Most of my discussions of books to the right, hopefully, fall into this category.)

4. Critical Analysis – Written post-publication, this form is linked to analysis above but comes from a different direction. Here, the book examined is flawed at some level and so the intent in looking at it closely is to learn from, for lack of a better word, failure.

Analysis and critical analysis are the two forms that are the most time-consuming, but potentially the most instructive. They are the engines that should drive reviews…but reviews often don’t take the space to fully explain or explore all that worked or failed in a particular piece.

What waits ahead of us is a foray into the world of critical analysis.

The assumption underlying this exercise is that no book is so idiosyncratic that deconstructing will prove worthless or unhelpful to aspiring writers. Narrative, story, plot, character development—these things tend to be fairly universal at some level across all fiction. A book that stumbles in one of these respects may either remind us of problem areas in our own fiction or implicitly show us how it should be done.

My contention is that you can learn in this manner from any title. What we’ve skirted around in many of our conversations is that we’ve simply not engaged CBA fiction on this level very often. And if CBA fiction is a category linked by certain characteristics and characters and content choices, then it seems like it’d be helpful to tackle a book within our industry instead of always going to ABA.

The goal, after all, is Phoenix in nature. To destroy something in order that something new and better will replace it.

Otherwise, how do we really know we’re improving?