Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Not My Genre"

Back in January, I started hanging out with a new crowd. But now I'm having second thoughts.

The writers' group meets monthly at a local library, and each month it critiques three member-submitted writings. This past week, one of them was mine.

My short story — which I also plan to use later as the first chapter of a novel — involves two costumed crime fighters trying to foil a bank robbery. No special powers, just gadgetry. All pretty easy to understand, I thought. But oh, did I underestimate the reading abilities of my writing group.

Fourteen fellow writers were there that night to critique my piece. Of those, seven admitted it wasn't the sort of story they would normally read. Fair enough. Yet, of those seven, only two proceeded to give me any sort of feedback beyond that. The other five went about it different ways, but basically what they said boiled down to: "It's not my genre, so I have nothing for you."

Since when does "not my genre" excuse people from doing their part? 1 Even if you don't understand the technology I describe, is it really that hard to take a critical look at the dialogue, or the pacing, or the interplay of characters? I don't read romance and rarely opt for women's or literary fiction, but I still give thoughtful feedback for each of those excerpts. But hey, if that's not the accepted practice in this writing group, I guess I can prepare some excuses for next time:
  • "Stories with this many adverbs and such unexpected shifts in perspective aren't really my style. My apologies."
  • "I'm sorry, I don't usually read books set in 1982. I don't have anything for you."
  • "I only read paranormal steampunk cyber-werewolf murder mysteries with female protagonists. But you went with male. Too bad."
Not all the writers are useless, of course. Five others truly enjoyed the story, and I did get some useful feedback from the group as a whole. Still, part of me wants to leave this motley crew for a true critique group, or at least break off into a splinter group with those who aren't concerned with genre.2

So, has this ever happened to you? What do you do when someone in your group isn't pulling his own weight?

1 This wasn't an isolated incident. Another writer submitted a sci-fi story a few months ago and got a similar response. His concepts were tougher for the average reader to grasp, however, so I was certainly surprised when my story became its equal. Apparently, the elder statesmen and stateswomen of the group (and I suspect all the offenders are over the age of 60) can't handle anything that isn't culled directly from real life.
2 We could call ourselves the Genre Assassins. Or Bob. Bob's a good name for anything.


  1. This is why I'm willing to critique any piece. Because what I need to look when I critique other people's works is basically the mechanics/technical stuff. Genre only matters to me for purposes of pleasure reading.

  2. Oh, and costumed crime fighters? So in the genre I love to write most of all, fyi.

  3. Not cool. Genre shouldn't matter when critiquing another's work. You're looking at the structure and story and characters and grammar. You really don't have to know anything about the genre to perform a critique.

    I'd be irked. Doesn't sound like the group is very open-minded and supportive.

    I think it's something that should be discussed with the group, especially if it's not an isolated incident. Give everyone a chance to talk about it and for the others to mend their ways. If they are resistant or you find nothing changes, then maybe it's time to find (or form) another group. You shouldn't waste your time if you aren't what you need from others, especially if you are putting time in to help them.

  4. They should be kicked out of the group.

    What they were actually critiqing was your choice in genre.

  5. Whether they give you feedback or not, I am wary of comments made by people that don't read your genre. They don't understand the expectations or established tropes with which readers approach the work. Too often I've been told I need to explain things that any self-respecting fantasy reader would already know. In genre fiction, it's a worse crime to repeat the well-established than it is to not give enough information.

    I am very picky with who I send work to for comments for just this reason.

  6. That's lame. That's an excuse for not wanting to stretch as a writer.
    And I'd go with "Bob."

  7. Good writers can critique anything. The purpose of a feedback group is to, well, offer FEEDBACK. Not sit there like a bump on a log until it is your turn to be serviced. You may,m in fact, need a new feedback group.

    I've been moderating groups for 12 years (with a long hiatus in the middle.) Come On, Get Happy! (And Get Feedback) are the guidelines we've worked out over time that seem to make things flow more smoothly for us.

    @Joseph - while it can be frustrating, and sometimes we need to learn to take some critique with a very large grain of salt, don't dismiss the idea altogether. *If* you can make it work, by adding a sentence here and a phrase there, to "lure in" those who might not normally read your genre, it might be worth trying. Similar to the challenge of those writing sequels - how to bring a new reader up to speed on what's happened before, without boring the other readers to death.

  8. Enjoyed the post and can relate to your experience. One of the things you may want to consider is finding a smaller group of committed writers. There have to be ground rules and all should be able to provide feedback regardless of the genre. I have also given members of a writing group two or three areas to focus on in my piece. This almost guarantees some meaningful feedback. But, ya may want to shop around.

  9. This is funny. I've been in a writing group and we named ourselves The Motley Crew because we first met in a small town called Motley. True story. Your fellow writers were probably overwhelmed by your storytelling and didn't know what to say. They dropped the ball, for sure. Sometimes a smaller group with similar skills is the best.

  10. That is SO annoying. It's never actually happened to me, because I have one-on-one CPs, instead of a group. But I know others that it has happened to, and I've HATED it for them. It's like, FINE. DON'T COMMENT ON THE GENRE ASPECTS. TELLL ME ABOUT MY FREAKING STORY. UGH.

    Maybe it's important to set the rules/expectations more clearly? IDK. I'd be irritated. In case you couldn't tell, lol.

  11. what asshats. I'm totally pissed off for you. The vindictive side of me says you should just do it back to them. But the responsible side of me just says that's probably a waste of time

  12. Jeffrey: Exactly. If it's not your genre, focus on things that aren't specific to genre. (And I may just have to let you read this story...)

    Liz: I completely agree. I plan to bring this up at the next meeting (which may be my last, whether they mend their ways or not).

    Budd: It's a public group, so expelling the infidels isn't necessarily an option. But I may well propel myself out of the group instead. And you're right; they were critiquing my choice of story, not the story itself. Lazy buggers.

    Joe: I don't have a problem letting people outside my genre critique my work, since they might notice an issue the rest won't. But I've learned my lesson: From now on, I will hand-pick these people.

    Alex: And of course, it's those writers who most need to stretch who took the cowardly way out. They'll rue the day they weren't chosen to join Bob...

    Beverly: Excellent guidelines. I may borrow from them to make my argument next month in a (perhaps) ill-advised attempt to improve their ways before I (likely) leave them in the dust.

    Joe: Indeed, I believe a smaller, more focused group is the way to go. I thought perhaps I'd get more diverse opinions with this crew, but what's the point of quantity if there are only small pockets of quality? And that's the last time I ask for open-ended feedback; I figured I didn't need to be specific since I was dealing with a roomful of writers. They sure showed me.

    Mary: Overwhelmed by my storytelling, that must be it. To think their non-responsiveness was actually a compliment!

    Sara: I, too, would be irritated. Which is to say I am. Especially since I just looked up the group's defined purpose, responsibilities, etc. Get this: The second item listed is "To give writers friendly and constructive feedback on the ideas, plots, characters, structures and other elements of stories that they submit for review." Suffice it to say, it appears the problem is not with the rules.

    Falen: I was seriously considering doing it back to them, but I don't really feel like burning any bridges (especially before I've crossed them). I think I'll take the high road instead... and then when I'm way up there and out of reach, I'll show 'em my vindictive side.

  13. I think this has happened to everyone at some point, no matter what they are involved in. It's a shame, too, because you're there for the experience. Just because it's not their genre, doesn't mean it can't be explored. After all, a good writer is a well-rounded one, even if they only write a certain "genre"


  14. Sara, you'll notice that I called the offenders "writers," but never used the descriptor of "good." Infer from that what you will.