Novel Girls: Two Writer-ly Questions

9 Sep

Today, Nicole and I met up at a Starbucks to do some writing reviewing.  I think we picked the world’s smallest Starbucks.  There was one free table when I got there and there were only five tables total!  Add in a co-ed bathroom and my vote is in for smallest.

Anyway, it’s good having someone to chat with who’s going through some of the same writer-ly problems.  I thought I’d enumerate a few here.  Leave a comment if you have some similar problems or any advice on overcoming them.

  1. Feedback from critique groups: This was a problem I proposed to Nicole.  I recently took the third chapter of my novel to a monthly critique group.  (Nicole has read my manuscript in whole and is usually the person I bounce changes off of before doing anything drastic.)  One of the critiques I was given at the group meeting was to change the ending of the chapter.  The father of one of my protagonists reveals a big plot element at the end, and the critique group said that he gave up the information too easily!  They were shocked that he would reveal this information to his high-school age children and a trusted family friend.  In the meeting, I told them that the children are going to help him solve the problem created by this plot element and their reaction was that these characters are children and they are too young to help.  I was appalled!  In the 1920s, most teens over 15 held a job and not many went to college.  Getting married at age 18 was common and many people were working in their career at the same age.  At 16 and 17, my characters are practically adults.  All the same, this group recommended I change it so that the father does not as quickly divulge said information.
    I had an issue with this.  If the father knew that his children were going to be helping, why would he hide the information from them?  Nicole knows what happens a few scenes later and agreed with me that I should keep it as is; it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.
    So this brings me to my problem, Do you ever get feedback from a critique that you completely disagree with?  Does it make you feel compelled to change something in your story?  When do you decide to ignore it or change your plot based on it?
  2. Planning a story:  This is something I’ve been toying with.  My completed novel, I wrote out a multi-page outline, complete with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what was going to happen in each part.  I’m working on a similar outline for the story I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo.  Just to be different, there’s a novel I’m working on casually right now that I’m not outlining and trying to ‘fly by the seat of my pants.’  Nicole is in the middle of one story with an outline, and she hasn’t yet started outlining her NaNo, and isn’t sure if she plans to.
    Question number two: Do you have better luck outlining a novel before beginning, or figuring the plot out as you go?  Do you ever write yourself into a corner without an outline?  Do you find you lose plot points?  With an outline, do you find writing point-to-point is too boring and lose interest?

I’ve love to hear any and all opinions on these questions!  Dealing with feedback and planning are probably the two hardest points for me as a writer.  Thanks for taking the time to read!


7 Responses to “Novel Girls: Two Writer-ly Questions”

  1. 2001pm September 9, 2013 at 9:15 PM #

    If your critics didn’t have the context that Nicole has, then listen (for now) to your senses (and Nicole). As far as writing on-the-fly, try it! You never know, and the challenge is fun.


    • Sam September 9, 2013 at 9:29 PM #

      I’m glad you found me, Jim! Thanks.


      • 2001pm September 10, 2013 at 6:52 AM #

        Me too! 🙂


  2. Alex Pendergrass September 9, 2013 at 9:27 PM #

    1. Feedback: Take everything with a grain of salt. You’ve got to sift through a critic’s own biases and experiences (do they only read colonial dramas and are now unsettled by the technological elements of your epic space opera?) I think you’re going about it the right away. Some people just can’t comprehend the differences in age levels/experience from now to earlier times. Ignore that comment. There’s no obligation on your part to listen and adhere to every little change they suggest.

    2. Do you have better luck outlining a novel before beginning, or figuring the plot out as you go? Well, sort of. Do you ever write yourself into a corner without an outline? Yep, sadly. Do you find you lose plot points? Nope, not at all. With an outline, do you find writing point-to-point is too boring and lose interest? Yep, sometimes.

    Basically, outlines are fiendish little bastards. One of my favorite authors gave some advice recently that I think is quite perfect. Outline once, then write. Get about half way, then take stock at where you’ve come, and how points later in your outline may be affected by choices you made as you were writing. Then outline the back half of the book again. Continue writing until you hit the climax. And outline once more.

    Of course, that approach might be more sensible for longer novels (say 75,000 words and up) but I think it still might be helpful for shorter ones, too. Definitely the strategy I plan on using the next time I tackle a new novel.


    • Sam September 9, 2013 at 9:33 PM #

      That is most excellent advice, Alex! I did take the time to review my outline as I wrote my 1920s novel and I think I’ll have to do it even more with my NaNo book. It should be applicable to shorter novels as well as the long epics (Dark Fantasy perhaps?).

      To your first point, I did agree that perspective had something to do with the comments. One woman in the group has made similar comments about my earlier chapters and can’t seem to get her head around the different times of the 20s. I find I struggle trying to tailor my novel to a mass audience and still being true to the characters I know so well.


  3. Jools September 10, 2013 at 6:55 AM #

    Re your question (1): Accepting reader critique is not compulsory! It’s *your* book, not theirs, and you know what you want to achieve, and how you want to achieve it. Critique should be helpful to you, in pointing you towards something you might want to review or reconsider. But it’s for you to accept or reject it, as you see fit. I have a long-standing reader/critique relationship with my writing buddy. When we started, we agreed to be totally honest and open about our views and recommendations, but with two understandings: (1) that what we said would not negatively impact our friendship and (2) that we each had absolute right to accept or reject any suggestions without offering any explanation or justification. I probably accept 70% of her suggestions – but that still leaves 30% that get contemplated before being discarded. Be bold and have the courage of your convictions.


    • Sam September 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM #

      I tend to give more credence to my writing partners who are actively reading the whole work. The group I was talking about in this post meets monthly and is ready only about ten pages at a time. In theory, its a good idea but lends itself more to short stories. I guess I don’t feel as much like I need to change the story but a sense of frustration that they don’t see the story the way that I do.


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