Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

March 29, 2009

To Join or Not to Join

Filed under: Motivations — Susan Landis-Steward @ 7:20 pm

I’m chicken s**t. I admit it. I want to join some professional organizations like Willamette Writers and Sisters in Crime. But, as you probably won’t believe, I’m shyer than hell. Are these groups worth it? Are the people friendly? Am I good enough?  Should I join?  Same questions I had for years before I joined Chrysalis.  I know some of you have taken these steps and joined things. How did it go? What did you join? I’d love to be in a writing group that was just mystery writers. Is there such a thing? Where?

My inner critic is loud and strong tonight. But, at the same time, I’m asking the big questions about doing hard things. Help! Tell me your stories.

And is there anyone else who wants to join Sisters in Crime?

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March 25, 2009

Keep Your Damn Hands off My Plot

Filed under: Critiques,Sisterhood,Writing — Barb @ 5:02 pm
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Thanks Ihasa Dog

Thanks Ihasa Dog

We have to thank the Wonderful Roxie for today’s headlines.  For those of you who weren’t there, let me tell you that it all came about because Alice ended Chapter 1 of her new novel Lost today. She left us off-balance, wondering what was going to happen next. (Which is exactly how she planned for the reader to feel.)

When you’re sitting around a table of creative writers, ideas start popping up. We listed our  guesses and it unraveled into  suggestion for how we wanted to see the story unfold.

Which gets us to the Roxie’s statement. She’s right. It’s not our story. It’s not our plot. And it is frustrating for the writer.

Now I feel embarrassed blogging about this because I’m a big plot sinner. Countless times I’ve written, “Feel free to kill this character” in the margin of someone’s manuscript because I really disliked a character. They had done a great job creating that disgust for me.  Lest you think I’m unkind, I’ve also suggested adding characters, preferably ones that are like the characters in my novel.

You see a trend here? We all have a style, a voice, a way of twisting the plot. We are attracted to writing that is similar to our own.  And often (unaware), we suggest what fits with our plot ideas, but not that of the author.

Pat L. summed it up very welll. When we read a book, we’re guessing ahead of where the story will go. But when we’re sitting with the writer, we have the chance to tell her where we want it to go.    Oooooh it’s such an overwhelming temptation. It’s so hard to pass up.

Hopefully the writer will smile, knowing that she has us hooked. She will continue to reel us in  (anyway she wants.) In the meantime, we need to keep our damn hands off of her plot.

March 19, 2009

Rough and Ready Critiques

Filed under: Critiques,Writing — Barb @ 12:34 am
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Thanks to I has a Dog

Thanks to I has a Dog

! Wow!

What an interesting discussion we had today at Chrysalis about giving a critique.  I’ll see if I can’t incite as much ranting with this week’s topic:

How to Receive information Without Throttling Someone.

Okay, this is Soooooo  simple. Books about critique groups: How to Survive a Critique Group; How to Start a Critique Group, etc. Give different advice about most topics, but the one thing that almost all “experts” agree on is:

After you finish reading and while others are commenting on your words, then it’s your turn to SHUT UP.

That’s it. It’s simple, yes? Just read and nod.  You can ask a question if you don’t understand what the critiquer is trying to say, but mostly you nod and thank folks for their perspectives.

Here’s why. It doesn’t really matter if someone thinks your beginning paragraph should be moved to the 3rd page.  Or your main character should wear a pork-pie hat instead of a Bowler. Or if the reader prefers that you use the word “faded” instead of “rolled out of sight”.  they are telling you what they would like to see, or perhaps giving you a clue into something that is taking they away from the action or confusing them.  It doesn’t mean that they are right and your’re wrong.  Ultimately, you, the writer, have the final say in how it will appear on paper.  So why argue?

Sounds simple.

So I ask myself:  Why do I want to defend what I’ve written if I disagree with critique?  Why say anything unless I’m trying to clarify what I hear someone saying about my writing.

It’s taken a while, but I’m finally learning that many of the suggestions that I’ve rejected, have at least a skosh of merit after I smooth my hackles and let some time pass.

One time I was gardening and thinking about someone’s storyline. I realized that my suggestions wouldn’t work. (They were actually STOOOPID). I wished I could edit my critique. I called the person to apologize. “Don’t worry,” she said. I ignored them.

Bravo!  It’s your story to write.

March 12, 2009

How To Give a Critique Without Using the Word “Stupid.”

Filed under: Critiques,Writing — Barb @ 1:34 am
Tags: ,

Well this may seem like a no-brainer. Surely anyone can meet, read other writers’ work and avoid saying things like:  “Nobody is this stupid. I don’t believe any character would do that.”

There are stupid actions, but not stupid writers

However there are a ga-billion  ways to communicate something is “Stupid” without using the word.  And it’s one of the reasons that writers never return to a group.

Subtle Ways We Say “That’s Stupid”

  • The covert (or not-so-covert) eye roll.
  • The mumbling criticism to the person sitting beside you instead of the writer.
  • And my personal favorite is the headshake accompanied by, “I’m not sure where to start.”

Eric Witchey, a Eugene Writer,  shared the story of a person in his critique group who passed judgement on his short story by saying: “I liked the title.” and that’s all he would he would say.

Step 1. Ask what type of information is wanted by the writer.

Does the writer plan on publishing? Are they looking for help on what would make the book salable? Or is it a personal essay that only family and friends will see and the writer simply wants help in finding misspellings and error?

I keep a quote on my desk that reminds me:

We write for 2 reasons: a)the approval of others; b)for the sake of writing itself. “

(I think it was Faulkner who said it, but I was too lazy to write that down).

For a long time I was smug in the thought that I wrote because I had earth-shaking truths to share, and to hell with approval.  It was a disappointing blow when I discovered that like a puppy dog, I enjoyed receiving pats on the head for my writing.  I’d lied to myself.  I also write for approval (in addition to my profound truths). I think most folks do. So when someone hands out a manuscript and says: “Rip this baby apart.” I don’t think they really mean it.

It actually is their “baby.” They gave birth to the words. And it might be okay to say,” That’s an ugly-lookin’ dog, ” but you can never say, “That’s an ugly-lookin’ baby.”

Respect their words.

Step 2: What Can You Say?

I’ve listed the comments that make me growl when I sit down to do edits. I admit I roll my eyes at these types of comments.  They make me nutty because they don’t help at all.

“Tighten this up.” If I knew how to write it any tighter, I would have.  It would be more helpful if as a critiquer, you marked the words that you think are excessive. (At least mark a paragraph if there’s too many of them.) And keep in mind a writer’s style and voice may be different than yours.

“Cut the adjectives or description” What???? Are you saying that the dialogue should take place in a blank room? No? Then which descriptors did you think were too much?

“Too many adjectives and adverbs.” How many are too many, Mr. Hemingway? Could you give me an example by marking them?

“Seems slow” Okay that’s really helpful. I understand this is how you felt as you read it, now please take it one step further and tell me what slowed it down for you: info-dump; dialogue; too many taglines; irrelevant sidestory, lack of character conflict????

And my least favorite critique comment is: “I know you can do better than this.”  What the &%$($#???? If I could have written any better, I would have done it.

I’m sure you can add more, but I find the most helpful comments are the most specific ones.

And let me add that I’ve committed everyone of these egregious sins that I’ve complained about.  Hopefully, I remembered to sign the critique so you when you sat down to do edits, you knew who to call “Stupid.”

Next week we’ll look at how to receive a critique without using the word, “Stupid.”

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