Half my life is an act of revision.
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.
Sharon A. Crawford