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Writing critique group comes through

Beyond the Tripping Point Cover 72dpiI have posted before about writing critique groups and how they can help us writers. But it never hurts to add more on the subject because we writers write in a vacuum of me, myself and I. So we often think in opposites – our short story, or essay, or novel is brilliant or our writing piece is awful. Sometimes we think with wisdom – we know something is just not working but we don’t know exactly what or if we do, we don’t know how to fix it. Enter a writing critique group.

As the organizer and facilitator of the East End Writers’ Group in Toronto, I don’t always bring a piece for critique to our almost monthly meetings There is only so much time for a limited number of authors to read and get their work critiqued, so  If I did bring something to each gathering, other members might think “oh, she runs the group, so she can do this.”  This isn’t true as I find we are all helping each other whether we bring in something or not. And we are polite as well as giving constructive criticism. Nobody should feel their work is really bad.Each of us has our own individual writing experience and knowledge which we can put into the critique – even if we don’t write in the genre of the writing work being critiqued.

So, last evening I brought in the first five pages of a humorous mystery short story for critique. And I learned a few things. One author who also writes short stories wanted to know the age of the two main characters. The ironic thing here (and I got it and mentioned it) is I am always suggesting he do the same in his stories. Somebody else misread the ages of these two characters and it was from what she read and also what wasn’t there for her to read. She asked me how old the two characters were and when I told her, she said they were much too young as women at that age nowadays would be more technical savvy. She said that one sounded like she was retired. After I explained that the “retired” one was currently unemployed and she was the one not technically smart, but the other one  was and that the latter was in the story, I realized that I needed to include some ages, fix the bugaboo I had in with the technological luddite, and mention she is currently unemployed. She should be early 50s and her friend 15 years younger. The latter would work, not only because she has an elderly mother who figures in the story, but my son is late 30s and is very tech savvy – in fact his work is with computers, software and architecture and the like. And he is my computer expert who helps me with my computers.

So you can see how a writer’s tunnel vision can work, or not work. I didn’t even consider including the characters’ ages. As one of the others said, and I paraphrase. You see in your mind how your story is going and presume everyone else knows as much as you do.

Wise words, and something for us writers to consider.

Do you belong to a writers’ critique group – in person or online? If so, how has the group helped you?

Cheers.

Sharon

And if you want a looksee at my collection of published short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, just click on its icon at the top.

 

 

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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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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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