Friday, January 23, 2009

The Critics and the Critiques

critique groupSo what does a critique group actually say after you pull out your laptop, open your manuscript file and proceed to read something out loud? Perhaps before we follow that there should be an introduction to the critics.

Lisa: full time mom of three boys 6 to 16, prior life physician’s assistant. Great writer of dialogue, hears the significance of each word, signals when it’s the wrong word. Writing an inspirational novel. When she wrote the scene where her male protagonist took his shirt off and strained muscles and poured sweat to chop wood, Mel and I were left panting. Bereft. We’re still waiting for the love scene, but she's just stringing us along. Hey, Lisa--could you give us a love scene with the ex-boyfriend, maybe in a flashback?

Melanie: accounting assistant in plastics manufacturing plant, prior life, police assistant, ambulance driver, cop, endless relater of belly-laugh-stories all from real life--train station, meth dens, the highway, almost shot a man, excuse me, criminal, because she had to pee so bad, as in ‘gonna wet my pants if this doesn’t end soon.’ I’ll let her tell you who needed a change of clothes when it was over. Mel identifies scenes that would be improved by dialogue, sparking the story to life. Defender of the mantra ‘show don’t tell,’ always anxious to ‘see it,’ and can illustrate what that means! Writing historical fiction. Mel’s dagger-of-a-pen and keeps our class in stitches. Mel and I are slightly jealous of Lisa’s ability to ease right into a fully formed chapter as we struggle through re-writes and editing. Mel thinks Lisa may not confess to as many re-writes as she actually does. I don’t know, Lisa looks pretty honest to me…

Pam: retired schoolteacher, traveler, hostess of our group, kids all grown up. Our English prof, correcting the stray error, extremely, character-oriented, catches when our fictional people falter out of character alignment. Loves Lee (from A Single Pearl), hates Lee, loves Lee, hates, loves, hates…I wait with baited breath to receive her feedback at book’s end, will she embrace Lee and all his faults, or will she reject him? Pam is writing a coming of age novel based in the Columbia River Gorge. “I’ve been thinking…” usually signals adventure.

Peggy: stay at home mom, tall, shy blond--very Nordic…angelic children, too young to have a prior life as anything but kid herself. Peggy alerts on repeated words, seldom does that herself, but when it does we’re so surprised, and she has to review her manuscript to believe it herself. Writing young adult fantasy, and makes us wonder why her main female character's hands spark fires as easily as Peggy blushes.

Others: Ginger, Jade, Kelly, Sallee, classmates from Clark College’s Novel Writing Book Camp II, whose thoughts were captured as they shared during actual class moments. They’ll appear at the beginning of the editing process, but variously did not continue the weekly get-togethers, like us die-hards, although they popped up with a stray email here or there.

Worst Critic (me! because I’m not a critic, or at least a very good one): I write it and I think its sooo good, then I edit and I think, man it was bad before, but now it’s really good; then I edit and I say, wow it was bad before, but NOW its really, really good; then I edit some more, some more, some more... To date, I estimate I have thrown out 30,000 words, written, oh let’s say about 150,000+ words, have honed it down to -- well, forget it, I’m not saying, but striving, struggling, besieged and stressed to get it down to 95,000 very succinct, tightly written, finely tuned, conflict-'resoluting,' can’t-put-down words. I dance along, propping my little writer’s heart up, wondering if I had had any concept of what this would take to finish, would I have left the whole damn thing in my head, had a nice little fantasy with a handsome Asian man, I mean drop-dead gorgeous, you would turn your head if he passed you on the street, man? I’ll answer that later.

In the meantime, I sit computer side, addicted to the curse of writing, actually that’s not true, writing is the easy portion we serve, it’s the editing that is the curse!


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