Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Boot Camp Grid & the BC Method

The Boot Camp Method all but removes the actual author. Imagine for a moment 13 writers all write a story and all post via our secretary so the stories all appear at the same time (Sunday Night) without the author names. ie anonymously.

No, imagine that Author "A" the unknown person who wrote story A is never allowed to see the critiques of his own story.

We are not interested in Author A, NOR are we interested in his/her work in the sense of trying to improve it.

We do not CARE about the work being critiqued. It's crit-fodder. We could just as easily borrow stories from another group.

PLEASE GET THIS: We don't fix stories.

We don't critique stories to help the author.

We don't write-submit-get crits-----rewrite-submit-get crits

Stories in the first instance should be seen the way an A-Level student gets  "Brighton Rock" to read and digest.

We use stories merely as substrate to practice our critical skills.

So, everyone (ignoring author A) critiques to the same outline

Mary's Dog
Critique by Alex
Author Unknown

11 Opening (Short one-liner on opening)
12 Character (One line comment)
10 Dialogue-Voce (plus brief comment)
11 Plot (Then a short commentary)
11 Theme (comments)
10 Seduction (comments)
10 Language (brief comment)
12 Pace (comment)
11 Ending (comment
00 Bonus (a comment if there's a positive or negative bonus)
98 Total

Comment on Total about whether it "feels right" or feels too high or low


A brief review of the story's intent, genre etc and a generalised commentary on how t worked


Discusses the opener in a lot more detail


discussed in detail


and Finally there's room for a Further Comments entry where typos, spelling errors or whatever might be mentioned.

(Including, very occasionally, odd editorial matters.)

Now the point of all the above is the story and its author are IRRELEVANT

Now we get 12 critiques and every one has cored each element and got to a total.

Those totals matter because they have specific meanings
BUT THEY ARE ARRIVED AT via individual element scores.

That is we don't think, "This is a 110 story" and then back-fill the elements to make sure they add up to 110. Probably once every ten or so crits a critter will say s/he was surprised that the total of elements was 98 when they "expected" 110 (or vice-versa).

Now we Boot Campers "know" marks.

What is par for Opening (11) for Character (12) etc and we know that the range for basic competence is 85-105 with 106 being par and 110 being publishable in a paper magazine. Par is TOUGH to achieve.

We know if we say 125 we are saying, "this story could easily win a first prize in a medium competition", and we know if we say 155 we are saying, "This could grace a top-top magazine and could be in Best American Short Stories,

We may woffle and be vague in our language but we can't hide with the numbers.

They are absolute.

Now after 12 critiques we have a "grid" of marks and it's easy to see if anyone is particularly high or low on any given element OR the total

123 Dolly Daydream
116 Tom
115 Jerry
115 Pinky
114 Perky
113 Sam
112 Dave
110 Samson
107 Delilah
086 Miserable Michael

I would glance at that grid and be suspicious of the 123 (but only mildly) but I would expect the 86 to be totally wrong

And we can look at each element in isolation lowest to highest

09 10 11 11 11 11 12 12 12 13 Opening
06 10 12 12 12 12 13 13 14 15 Character
11 11 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 13 Dialogue-Voice
04 11 12 12 12 12 12 12 13 16 Plot
11 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 14 15 Theme
12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 14 Seduction
09 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 11 Language
13 13 13 13 13 13 13 13 13 13 Pace
10 10 12 12 12 12 12 12 13 13 Ending

85 99....................123)

Note here that one critter has totalled 86 meaning he's been the lowest element score on 8 elements and just a tad higher for one.

The critter say 123 has given top marks on every element (usually baaaaad)

The left hand column shows the worst mark on each element, an unrealistic, pessimistic view of the story. The right hand column shows the opposite, the rose-tinted-glasses POV.

However sometimes that 85, the element ands the total comes from ONE critter, or the 123 comes from one critter. We call those SLAPPITS and LOVEITS

A slappit occurs when a critiquer HATES something about the story and lose his objectivity and thrashes about wildly, not noticing OK or good parts.

A LUVVIT is the opposite, where a critters subjective "like" for the story makes the critter stop being objective and they overlook those small faults that shouldn't be overlooked.

The further point is, if John has said the opening is a 9 (2 points under par) he needs to argue strongly with that 13 and those 12s... and character, "You cannot be SERIOUS?!" 15 when I say 6? In yer dreams!

So we battle back and forth, arguing TEXT and we don't agree to differ. We try to convince others that we are right and it's through these discussions that we learn.

In the opener above maybe the "9" decides he was too harsh. Maybe he misread a word, and maybe the guy who said 13 has come out as a luvvit and realises it IS 11/12

I should make it clear we don't ever change these scores. That would be coercion, but we work to see who has the best case argument.

Now here is an important point. I am the most experienced writer and editor and critiquer. I try to crit late in the process. Members are supposed to avoid looking at other crits and I believe they stick to that, but they will be tempted if they said 95 and see I have said 135 to go back and add points.

So I crit late. And 95% of the time my mark is either exactly on the average score or within 2-3 points at worst. The exceptions are where people totally "miss" a literary story or too-harshly trash a very weak story.

So understand, remember author A? Author A is "not involved" here. But he has had twelve crits to do and 12 debates to join. He learns a LOT. He knows that though an author may gain from reading crits of his own work this is a SMALL percentage of what we are about. Critiquing and arguing over the other 12 stories is worth 2-3-4 times as much as receiving the crits for your own story. So say it's 4 times as useful, that 48 learning "ticks" versus 1 for my own story. So we argue (talking only of crits) that crits of our own stories are just 2% of the value of Boot Camp.

Add in all the craft discussion and that 2% drops to 1%

Now, bring back author A.

Remember author A has engaged in the in-depth critiquing of 12 OTHER stories. He knows how it goes. When he looks at his own crit (the crits of his work) he is totally subsumed in "the way we do things" so he takes nothing personally.

Now I said "Author A is pushed aside. "

In fact he's not.

He critiques his own story (as if it is by a stranger). He cannot act in a way that seems to defend it or explain it. He desperately wants to come out with a mark that is central (neither too kind or too harsh) and hopes to give the same number as Alex

In terms of diplomacy, tact or sugaring the pill, absolutely NOT!

We stress utter accuracy, utter truth, no-holds-barred.

There's a good reason for that. We don't want any "filters" distorting the critique.

But we don't allow cute remarks, slyness, sarcasm, or hyperbole and will not tolerate "showboating" while critiquing

But you will see LOADS of affirming, a keep-your-chin-up type comments.

You might read:  Sorry author. I know I gave 79 and I'm sure you're disappointed but I checked my figures and couldn't find any way to up the mark. Just remember that when I came her, my first 3 marks were under 65 and now I average 102 and have won three first prizes. We all start really low, but the good thing about that is you see your scores rise really quickly

No comments: