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Category Archives: Writing Critique Groups

Get your writing critiqued

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

Every time I’d get a critique or some redirection, I’d always just take it very personally. Now I have no problem with it.

-Jessica Alba

Besides proofreading which I talked about in last week’s post, another tool for the writer is to get your writing critiqued by other writers. I have posted about this before but it is important enough to do an updated version.

Let me take you to yesterday evening when my East End Writers’ Group met at S. Walter Stewart Library in Toronto. We are basically a writing critique group and that is what writers come here for. Some new members joined us and we had some interesting writing excerpts from some very talented and intelligent writers.

Some of the issues that other writers picked up on and commented about:

For the beginning of a literary novel. Use more dialogue – the author knew this but needed some guidance on how to go about it.

For a non-fiction self-help book which was written in plain language. Some structural changes were suggested by other writers, such as use sub-headings, use more anecdotes and less instruction.
For a synopsis for an opera – yes we have a music composer who also writes short stories. We were all getting lost in all the characters. Suggestions were to make the synopsis shorter (as it would be going on the program) and list the characters and a bit about each separately.
So you can see how more pairs of eyes and ears can pick up what the writer misses. When we write we do so in solitude (we would hope no outside interruptions). We also have tunnel vision (subjective) with our work and sometimes “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Even when we know something isn’t working, we may try and try again, several times, and run out of options to fix it. Others can see what our mind may miss.

This is where a writing critique group comes in. I urge you to join one – online or in person – whichever you prefer. Just a few caveats. You shouldn’t have to pay for this – it is mutual writers helping writers. Maybe everybody can bring food or beverage for a snack. With East End Writers’ Group I ask everyone to bring a gluten-free snack or juice. I usually bring cheese, rice crackers, fruit and peppermint tea bags. Now if I just could get the kettle working at the library – despite being shown it just doesn’t work for me. It is not the straightforward plug in the electric kettle version.

Kettles no matter – what does matter is you pick a group that suits your needs. Find out if the group is open to all writing genres or just fiction or poetry, etc. Which do you prefer? Do you pre-submit your writing excerpt for critique or just bring it to the gathering? If online, how do you submit it – in a form online or as a Word attachment? What about copyright online? It should remain with you the author. If online, are you expected to critique other writers’ work? How many? Check the timeline for these and see if you can work within the group’s timeline. For groups meeting in person, look at when they meet and how often. Do you want to go every week (some do meet once a week and that can prove hectic and too much), once a month or? And do you prefer weekday daytime, weekday evenings or Saturday mornings or afternoons. Will you fit in with the group, i.e., are they giving constructive criticism? Are they negative? Are they nasty?

Give the group a test drive. Attend for a few sessions or sign up online for a few sessions and if you don’t like, bow out.
Where do you find these groups? For in-person, check your area library branches – their websites should have them all listed. Or check the library branch itself – often they have a flyer posted. Or ask a librarian. A librarian can often tell you what other branches are offering. Universities that offer writing courses often have writing groups as well. Check their bulletin boards. Also some writing organizations also offer writing critique groups, often online – these would be open to members. There is also Meet-up if you have that in your area, which has writing groups.

Or go to Mr. Google and just try “Writing Groups” (that one also gets you some links for info how groups operate and what to look for) or “Writing Groups (your location here)”. When I add “Toronto” to “Writing Groups” my East End Writers’ Group is listed as the top two and three. Guess that is good SEO.

You can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com.

More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Interview with Fiction Characters by Fiction Characters – Part 44

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with.

– Nancy Ann Dibble

All the main characters, except the missing Bast Overture, are assembled in the dining room of the Stuart house in Toronto, Ontario. Will Bast show up? And if so, how? In physical person? Or in spirit. And what about PC Joseph Oliver? What is he going to do?

Swan (waving the gun he just fired): Next time I’ll hit one of you.

Fielding: Put that gun down, Swan.

Hutchinson: You heard him. Put that gun down.

Dana, still shaking from the gun’s noise: Better listen to them, Swan.

Swan: Or you’ll do what. I’m the one with the gun here. I…oh…

Roger’s and Susan’s spirits are creating havoc around Swan but they can’t seem to get the gun out of his hand.

Oliver (rushing forward to Swan and reaching up): I’ll take that.

Oliver knocks the gun from Swan’s hand, sending the gun flying. Hutchinson picks it up and points it at Swan.

Hutchinson: Cuff him, Oliver.

He does and Susan’s and Roger’s spirits return to the table where Robbie hasn’t budged. Robbie appears as if in a trance, as if he is talking to someone that no one else can see.

Dana, looking at Swan: We got you now. It might be in your best interest to tell me where my brother is. NOW.

Swan smirks: Of course. Look over there.

Dana follows his eyes. Sitting at the dining room table with Robbie, and the two spirits, is Bast. He appears to be talking to Robbie. The other two don’t seem to notice.

And Bast’s face looks very very pale.

Cheers.
Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.

Meantime, you can read more about the characters and their stories in from Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

 

 

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Connecting with publishers and agents

Cover of Sharon’s short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point

To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.”

~ Charles Caleb Colton

Last week I blogged about the traditional way to pitch your book manuscript to publishers and agents. Other ways exist and for some you have to have imagination and nerve. Then there is what Brian Henry said in his workshop last Saturday “Luck” or as I see it – “right place, right time.”

How I got my publisher for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point comes under the latter. The Editor at Blue Denim Press used to come regularly to my East End Writers’ (critique) Group when he still lived in Toronto. He is also a writer. Once we traded manuscripts for evaluation (although mine was a memoir, not the short story collection). When he and the other half of Blue Denim Press, his wife, the Publisher, did a presentation about Blue Denim Press and marketing books at a Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch meeting last fall, I approached them and mentioned a collection of short stories. They said send it in during January and February when they look at manuscripts. So I did – but only seven of my stories.

They were interested but needed more stories. So I was writing and rewriting stories right up to and beyond signing my contract with them (but that’s another story).  Something else I found out – the Publisher’s taste in fiction – she reads half a dozen mystery books a week – and my short stories are in that genre. Of course, it helps to write well and have something different about your manuscript. Mine isn’t called Beyond the Tripping Point for nothing. All 13 stories feature quirky characters and as I state in the PR to promote the book:

Murder, attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, missing persons, vengeance, revenge, suicide, gambling, explosions, vehicular mishaps, indignity to a dead body, even love occur. Like all life’s happenings, they affect the characters–women, men and children–in their journey through life–emotionally, sometimes damaging them, sometimes stalling them in limbo, but often forcing them to reach beyond the tripping point. And to get there, these quirky characters frequently do the absurd and the unthinkable, often with unexpected results. 

By the way, I thought of the title and the publisher loved it.

So, what can we learn from my experience besides the obvious that I did not follow convention?

  1. Network, network and network – a combination of social media and in-person works best.
  2. Network with specific targets and goals. I focused on the publishing industry – trade shows, conferences, writing organizations, and workshops. You will meet a variety of writers, publishers, agents, etc. You might just chat with them for a bit and exchange business cards. Follow up by email.You might also do more (see below).
  3. Join some of these writing organizations and attend their meetings and seminars.
  4. Talk to the people at the conferences, etc. (wallflower acting not allowed) – introduce yourself and what you write. Ask the publisher or literary agent who is the guest speaker/attending the conference, etc. if you could send a query letter/part of your manuscript. Most will say yes, but remember that doesn’t guarantee you they will publish you or represent you. It means they will read your submission (and often they will skip their guidelines and say “just email the manuscript”). Follow-up within a week or two and in your cover or query letter make sure you remind them where you met.
  5. Remember the above can be a two-way street when you network. Sometimes it includes what you can do for them. For example, with writing organizations they are always looking for volunteers. Volunteering with a writing organization can help you connect with more writers, publishers, etc. It is also a good way to learn the ins and outs of the writing business. And it looks good on your bio for future query letters, etc.
  6. Join a writing critique group – this will help you hone your writing.
  7. Social media includes: Facebook, a blog about your book, Twitter, Goodreads, Linked In.
  8. Don’t give up. My memoir is still trying to find a home. (Note: at this point Blue Denim Press publishes only fiction).

Good luck.

The book launch for Beyond the Tripping Point, presented by Blue Denim Press, will take place Sunday, November 4, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. eastern standard time at The Rivoli in Toronto. You are invited if you can make it (well, if you are in say, Australia, maybe not). Guests are coming from northern Ontario and possibly Michigan in the USA. I am honoured and grateful to those who do come to my book launch. More details at http://www.bluedenimpress.com and click on “Toronto.”

For those too far away to attend, Beyond the Tripping Point is available at http://www.amazon.com. Just click on the book cover at the top of this post.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Workshop your writing – join a writing critique group

Parts of Sharon’s short stories were originally critiqued by members of her East End Writers’ Group

Half my life is an act of revision.

                -John Irving

I run the East End Writers’ Group a writing critique group in east Toronto (http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/EastEndWriters.html). I’ve brought pieces of my stories from my collection Beyond the Tripping Point when they were in rough shape and received excellent suggestions on how and what to fix. In turn I have given some advice to other EEWG members on possible ways to make their manuscript sparkle. (My writing/editing/writing instruction business motto is “We make words sparkle.”)

The fact is we writers view our own writing very subjectively. A phrase or sentence or plot sequence may appear brilliant in our eyes but read out loud (with plenty of light) around the writing circle, the flaws start to show up. As we learned in last week’s post, reading out loud does this, but so much more when there are other ears besides your own hearing it.

I’m not trying to be negative here. One of the goals of writing critique groups needs to be pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in a positive, helpful and friendly manner. Giving suggestions for how you can improve your story is even better. Sometimes the group members agree on what needs fixing; sometimes they don’t. What you are receiving is a number of options to consider. I find that if many people agree on one point, a change is probably necessary. And with other eyes and ears on your manuscript, the feedback is objective. No tunnel vision.

For fiction, some of the areas we look at are:

In General – Is the beginning a reader hook? Is the lead at the beginning or later in the story? Does the story flow? Is there a point or theme to the story? What is the story’s biggest strength?

Plot – Besides grabbing the reader in paragraph one, does the plot contain suspense? Foreshadowing? Have a mixture of narration, dialogue, action and inner thoughts appropriate to the story? Is the story credible? Have some resolution at the end?

Characters – Are characters distinct? Three-dimensional? Believable? Interesting? Do they have character tags? (for example, jiggling keys in a pocket when nervous), Is there a protagonist? Antagonist? How do they interact? Dialogue appropriate to the characters? Further develop the plot and characters?

Point of View (more coming in a later post; I promise) – Too many points of view? Is POV used the best POV for the story? Whose story is it?

Writer’s Style – What is the style? Laid-back? Moody? Simple (as in simply told, not stupid)? Lyrical? Literary? Fast-paced? Light and humorous? ). Are word choices and phrases unique?

Mechanics – spelling, grammar, punctuation (including my two favourites – verb tense mix-up and incorrect dialogue setup).

Now that you have some idea what writing critique groups do (or should do), how do you find a suitable writing group? Consider if you want a group exclusive to fiction or whatever you write or to cover all writing areas. (EEWG is the latter). Consider if you want in-person or online. If the former, consider the geographic distance. Is it free or is there a charge? (EEWG is free but participants bring a gluten-free snack for our networking-snack break. We like to talk and eat.) What type of critique setup do you want? Some groups require pre-submission of manuscripts; some only critique one manuscript per session; some groups have page and time limits for reading. Some meet weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. (EEWG meets one evening monthly except July, August and December. We have a 10-minute reading limit, so length is up to six-pages double-spaced, copies for others and no pre-submissions.)  Check out local library branch websites – many library branches run writing groups or know who does. Check local writing organizations. When you find a group, try it out a few times and if it doesn’t work for you, move on to another group. Can’t find a suitable group? Start one yourself. I did 12 years ago.

If your schedule is tight already you might want to go the online critique route. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Authors Association (http://www.canauthors.org) has a Virtual branch for its members. Google “writing critique groups” and see what you get. The beauty here is you can pick one not in your geographic area. But remember, most online groups require give and take – for every critique you get you have to do one (sometimes more) critique of another person’s writing. That’s how we learn – from each other and each other’s writing.

Happy writing and happy critiquing.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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