Tag Archives: Girls Night

Novel Girls: Consistency, Emotions, and Showing

3 Apr

Even though we’re missing Sonia more than we can take, the Novel Girls are venturing onward. We met last Thursday after almost a month apart and it was so good to see these girls again. We met at Nicole‘s new apartment for a change of scenery and to meet her cutie cat, even though he didn’t seem to like me very much.

The three things we decided to talk about are all running together in my mind, so I’ll try to separate them as best I can. We read the last section of my novel (yay!) and there was one thing that really bothered Katherine. My female protagonist is a pretty head strong character and an independent thinker but in the last two pages, someone says something about her that makes her seem very weak. I hadn’t noticed it until Katherine pointed it out and I’ll need to rework a few things to fix it. We talked about when there are one or two lines in a story that can completely change someone’s opinion of the character and how strong/weak they are. I made a similar comment about Nicole’s scene, in which her intelligent and sophisticated character was attacked and didn’t do much to defend herself. Nicole explained why this happened to us, but we needed to see it in the text because not everyone eats pizza with the author.

This is the joy of beta readers. They can see the lines (like in mine) that change their opinion of a character and they can find points (like in Nicole’s) where a character’s motivation needs to be clarified. Many times, motivations can be explained through the emotions a character is feeling. If a character is scared, he or she is more likely to act defensively instead of aggressively. When the author is able to show the emotion of a character, it’s less likely that their motivations will need to be explained and the reader will be able to sympathize more no matter what because they are inside the character’s head. I’ll tend to recommend this if there are long passages of dialogue that don’t have much as far as tags or time to delve emotionally into the character.

Our last point is almost opposite to this advice and it’s getting out of a character’s head a little bit. In a first person point of view, it’s tempting for the narrator to remain slightly anonymous and undefined. Unless the character is looking in a mirror, why would they describe themselves physically? This can be frustrating for the reader, who wants to be able to picture the person whose head he’s inside. Katherine’s narrator went through a strange change to her physical appearance and it was hard at times for us to picture what she looked like as the story progressed. Sometimes it is good to get out of the head of the narrator so the reader can get a whole picture.

This is a little shorter than some of my other Novel Girls posts, but I think we discussed some really important points. I’m curious how my next re-write will go now that I have all of the things we’ve talked about in my mind. I hope to come out with a better product because of it.

Until next time, write on.

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Novel Girls: Fragments, Pacing, and Running a Critique Group

3 Mar

We had a special Tuesday edition of the Novel Girls this week because our dear Sonia is moving this weekend and she will need Thursday to get ready. (I’m in denial about this move happening, if anyone asks.) We gathered at my apartment and started right in with critique. We’ve implemented a new system where we email our pieces out a day ahead of time so we can focus on critique. I’m a big fan of this change.

Something that came up during my piece was a stylistic concern. I have a part where my narrator is reflecting on all the things that are about to change in his life. It goes something like this;

His memory of Sarah was faded but there were still moments that he remembered in detail. The time he broke her favorite china plate and she laughed and cried while she cleaned it up. There was the first time they’d gone ice skating together and she fell down more often than not.

I recognize that the second sentence is a fragment but the third is a full sentence. What my partners recommended was setting up a parallel phrasing situation where the second and third sentences are fragments. I always cringe at fragments but they felt it would be strong stylistically. I’ve not done this anywhere else in my novel, but this scene is a big turning part in the character arc of my protagonist. How do you feel, Reader? Is breaking grammatical convention for style and emphasis a pardonable sin? Does it work here?

Another thing we talked about was pacing. After we discussed Sonia’s piece, she asked us about the pacing of a story. We all agreed it was well paced, needing maybe one or two minor tweaks. This got me thinking more about pacing in general. There are books I’ve read recently that I thought were well paced (Divergent) and books I thought were terribly paced (Outlander) but I never though what contributed to that pacing problem. My quick Google search did not return any tips I found useful so I’m going to write my own.

  1. Use action to describe a scene instead of a description. There’s not a window on the wall; the sun coming through the window warmed the characters skin (‘warmed’ is stronger than ‘is’).
  2. Build a sense of excitement and anticipation. Your characters will feel this as they work toward achieving their goal. If their goal isn’t worth getting excited about, maybe they need a new one.
  3. Cut down on description as the plot progresses. We should know what the characters and common settings look like. If the reader is engrossed in the book, he will likely be able to go off less description as he becomes more and more absorbed. Focus more on action.
  4. Skip the boring parts. If a scene later in your story seems dull, cut it. Early/middle is okay for a lull scene, but the ending is not.
  5. What else would you add to this list?

Another quick stylistic thing we talked about was using ‘present’ adjectives and adverbs in a piece with a past tense narration. Let me give an example.

Mindy wrote about the dark places her mind went to and how this was the most difficult part of her life thus far.

Notice the word ‘this’ in this sentence. In my opinion, ‘this’ describes something that is very immediate and usually fits best with present tense. It seems to immediate to work with past tense. Am I the only one that feels this way? Reader, do you think words like ‘now’ and ‘this’ seem out-of-place in past tense prose?

The final thing we talked about was how our critique group works. As you may have guessed from the name, we’re all working on novels. Each time we meet we share the next ten pages or so of our work. Our problem is that when we review a section, our advice will often be to change something fundamental about the section or to add something to clarify a question we had as readers. For example, lets say my first chapter starts with a major conflict between a couple and my girlfriends said that the reason for the fight seemed weak and unjustified. As a writer I fix the problem, adding in a more believable dialogue section, changing the motivation for the fight, and creating some back story for my characters. The next time the Novel Girls meet, I bring chapter 2 but my readers don’t know what’s changed in chapter 1. They’ll have the same questions, or even new ones arising from what I’ve added. We don’t want to review the same chapter over and over to perfect it because something might happen in chapter 5 that would recommend a change in chapter 1 and we have to get to chapter 5 to even seen that plot development. Wow, is this getting confusing!

Our question is; What is a good way of communicating the changes made in a piece so that the downstream prose will still make sense and the reader has a very real sense of what minutia and characterization has changed? We haven’t found a good way to do this yet and would welcome to any suggestions, advice, or precedents you might have.

We’re sad that Sonia won’t be able to join us in person for a while, but we still plan to do e-mail critiques and the other two and I still plan to meet. No worries, Novel Girls posts will continue for the foreseeable future.

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Parallels and Contractions

29 Jan

I love when we have a Novel Girls night and all four of us can make it. It’s kind of the best thing ever. If you haven’t yet, please go check out Nicole and Sonia‘s blogs. They are both amazing. When Katherine gets a blog, I’ll link there right away.

We read Katherine’s piece first and she had dropped subtle hints to a popular piece of popular literature. I love how Katherine generally ties in fairy tales and magic to her stories and this was no exception as the piece she’d alluded to contains both. The question this sparks in me is if parallelism and references to a popular piece of literature helps or hurts the story. (Note- I’m not sure Katherine is doing this, it just made me think of it.) I remember a book I liked when I was young called Scribbler of Dreams. The plot summary compares the book to Romeo and Juliet. But that didn’t mean I enjoyed it any less or more. In some sense, I knew what was going to happen because of the parallel, but I was still surprised at every turn. Do you enjoy a piece less if it’s a spin-off, parallel, some other relation to a piece of well-known literature? Does knowing something is a spin-off of another work make you want to read it more? I’m personally a fan of spin-offs, such as Wicked.

This is more of a general question to you, Reader. We were wondering if someone had ever written something from a first person perspective, reflecting on them self and another as ‘they.’ Almost like an our-of-body experience watching yourself. Has anyone ever heard of this?

Katherine had a great way to relate when a paragraph break comes in when doing dialogue. We all know to switch paragraphs when we have two people talking (if you didn’t, you’re welcome) but knowing where the ‘he shrugged’ and ‘her eyes opened wide’ pieces of writing belong is something I’ve never had a clear rule about. Katherine’s mantra is ‘When the camera shifts.’ When the description applies to the first person to talk, keep it in the first paragraph. As soon as the description moves to the second person, switch paragraphs. I love this rule!

Our final point of discussion is something I’ve never known when to use. When should you use contractions in dialogue and when should you not? I’ve had it as a general rule that the non-dialogue parts of a story should be contraction free, but then what about when people are talking? I tend to say things out-loud to myself to see if they sound weird as contractions or to see how I would say a given sentence. Does anyone have a rule for when to use contractions in dialogue? Does it have to do with the education level of the speaker? Does age and time period play a factor? Please leave me with your thoughts!

I love hearing from you so please leave a comment! Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Getting Rid of Info Dumps and Ages

15 Jan

I had greatly missed my girls nights with my fellow Novel Girls. SG and Nicole were able to come over Thursday night while KK safely stayed home and did not brave these terrible Michigan roads. (I think the pot hole I hit a half hour ago knocked my axle back into alignment. They’re powerful.) So after a bit of girl talk and pizza, my husband left and we started reading.

Nicole and SG brought the first part of their NaNo stories and I had the next section of my novel (we’re getting toward the climax now). We started with Nicole, who was in a really difficult position. About three chapters into her NaNo, she decided to completely change the character’s relationships and jobs and pretty much everything else about her story. This was SG’s idea and makes for a pretty sweet ending, but the beginning is not at all related. She cleaned it up as much as she could for us and we read through the first chapter.

The one thing we both noticed was how much back story she had added to make the setting shift work. The way the characters knew each other in her original idea was very simple and went with their jobs but when the switch happened, everything was more complicated and necessitated a lot of explanation. This got us talking about ways to work in back story without explanatory paragraphs. My recommendation was to bring it through in dialogue. If two characters were friends in college, the narrator can tell us and we’ll know, or one of the characters can say, “Compared to the time we spent together at school, I feel like I never see you anymore!” Boom, info available. SG agreed but felt that the description of the company would be harder to work into dialogue. Her suggestion was to simplify the setting. Instead of being set at a private investigative company that contracts with the police, she suggested making the company a precinct. Because of all the cop shows on TV, most people have some vague idea of how a detective fits into a precinct and it wouldn’t have to be explained.

I personally have two other techniques for avoiding the info dumps I had at the beginning of my rough draft. The first was to see if I could move it at least three chapters into the book. At that point, I think, readers are more likely to read it without their eyes glazing over because they have a deeper interest in your characters and learning their back story is more interesting. The other is to cut it completely. If it’s not important enough that it can come up in conversation, I ask myself if the fact is so important that it needs to be said at all. A lot of the time, the answer is no.

How do you avoid info dumps in your story? Is a lot of back story something you notice as a reader?

SG’s story started off with two homeless guys and their daily struggle. I assumed based on the situation that they were somewhere between seventeen and thirty. She had one line that said “The boys giggled” that really threw me off. I thought it was referring to the characters as boys but Nicole pointed out that many times people do refer to grown men as boys to demonstrate a casualness. She suggested it was more a combination of “boys” and “giggled” that made us think they were young. SG agreed and said she would revise the sentence but it brought up a bigger question for me; how do you establish age without saying it?

I had the same problem with my novel, which opens with a fight on school property. I had multiple people who read it and thought the characters were in elementary school when they were 16/17. I had to add the phrase “high school” to give off a better impression.

I tried Googling advice on this and the internet came up pretty dry. So here we go with some solid Sam advice.

  • The way a character speaks can give an impression of age. For example, does the character refer to his mother as mom, mommy, or by her first name? All of these can give us an age impression.
  • Talk about how long he has been doing something. If Joe has been in retail for 20 years, we get an idea of how old he is.
  • When the character’s appearance is described, use words like young, bright, old, aged, weathered, etc. to describe an appearance.
  • Age of other characters can be alluded to in the same way. If someone’s best friend has a lined face, the character is probably around the 45-60 range, not 32. If someone’s mom is young and lively, his is most likely not in his 50s.

There you are, Reader. I know you were hoping for some solid Sam advice. Is this advice helpful? How do you imply age without stating a number? Please leave a comment and let me know, Reader! I love hearing from you.

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Anticipation, Dialogue, and Short Stories

12 Dec

We had a novel girls meeting last Thursday and I’m just now getting around to talking about it. That should tell you how many book’s I’ve been reading and how busy the holidays have been. I forgot to take notes at the time, but there are a few things that stuck in my head and I remember well.

KK brought the next section of her WIP fantasy novel. I’m in love with her concept and was very excited to read it. Her story flashes between present day and an event that was set in motion exactly 100 years before that affects the present (yes, this is vague but I don’t want to give anything away before it becomes a best-seller). To me, there is a lot of tension to see what happens in the events 100 years before and how quickly (or slowly) they are developing because there is a deadline for something dramatic to happen. The reader starts knowing the date in modern times when the event occurs and counting the days down in the flashback would build anticipation for the dramatic turn of events. KK loved this idea and when she is done writing will be able to go back in and add dates.

This had me thinking about building tension in general. In many stories, there is a looming event; something the characters are preparing for or dreading. Sometimes the characters don’t see it coming but the reader does. In The Hunger Games (first book), it’s the games itself. In the over-arching series it’s the rebellion. For Harry Potter, we have a looming event of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and we also have the series-wide event of the final battle with Voldemort. All of these events must be built toward, either within the book or within the series.

How do you build tension/anticipation in your works? What have you read that kept you waiting on the edge of your seat for a particular event?

We read another excerpt from my YA Historical Fiction novel. KK gave me some feedback that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside; she loved my dialogue. I see so many writers who struggle to write dialogue and it makes me feel great that someone found my writing not only believable, but good. I’ve included a sample of this below. This is a conversation between my protagonist, June, and her best friend, Marty.

“There’s a rumor that after the dance hall, you and Tony went out for drinks and you stumbled home with your arm slung over his shoulder.”

“After the dance hall, my feet hurt and I limped home with him supporting me.” She giggled.

“All right, another story is that you spend your time at the library plotting how you’ll get your revenge on Sarah Hamilton.”

“I spend our time at the library doing homework assignments and plotting with Tony how we can be a convincing couple.”

“Have you ever thought of getting back at Sarah?”

“Not particularly.”

“But don’t you hate her? Don’t you want to get even?”

June considered this for a second. “No. I’ve realized I wasn’t happy with Donny. I don’t think I was ever important to him.”

When I write dialogue, I say it all in my head and try to create it like it’s a film. I picture the characters and the space they’re in and then I have the conversation with myself. So, for the third line, it seemed natural to me that the filler ‘all right’ would be used. Marty would need a second to think about the next rumor he wanted to talk about. When Marty asks June if she hates Sarah, he starts the question with the word ‘but.’ I’m very well aware this is not proper grammar, but I’m going to argue very few of us speak with proper grammar. It’s what I would say. It’s what I picture my best guy-friend saying. It’s natural. Similarly, if I were June, I would take a second to respond to his question so I have June take a second to respond. For characters I don’t want to sound at all like me, I’ll think about what my co-worker or husband or friend might say. I’ve considered having someone read the dialogue aloud with me to see if it sounds the way I want it to.

The piece Nicole brought was a short story with two characters we’d already met in another short story. It made KK and I curious how the stories could connect and if it would be possible to make a complete story out of the character arcs. Since our fellow Novel Girl SG worked on a collection of related short stories for NaNo and I’m currently reading a collection of short stories (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury), this got me thinking about the difference between a collection and a novel. SGs work and my current book have stories that focus on different characters in each story but have an overall theme or setting. Other sets of short stories, such as Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and the ones Nicole is working on.

I want your opinion, Reader, on what makes a group of stories a collection? What is the necessary joining factor and how does this differentiate from a novel?

Unfortunately SG was unable to join us, but we did go to her place for a holiday part this past weekend. I mention it because we played a wonderful writers’ game. It’s called Storymatic and I think it would make a wonderful gift for any writer in one’s life. SG’s non-writing friends were not as enthused at first but started to realize how fun it could be by our second game. If anyone’s looking for Christmas present ideas for a fellow writer, check it out.

That’s all I’ve got for today, folks. Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Starting to Write, Humor, and Too Many Characters

24 Oct

I wonder if Novel Girls is getting too social or if we’ve figured out the secrets of writing already.  There wasn’t as much to blog about that was discussed this week, but we had a great night!  We were in full force, with KK able to make it and SG’s conflict not conflicting.  Blog-able material aside, I think it was one of the best meetings we’ve had.

One of the things Nicole shared was some advice passed on to her from our friend MB.  MB has written (I think) six novels already and is going to pound out another with NaNo this year.  She was also an alpha reader on my first WIP.  Needless to say, she’s very respected in our small group of writers. Anyway, Nicole was itching to start on her novel (which is the one we’re reviewing in our weekly meetings) but had a few ideas and didn’t know which one to start.

MB’s advice was to write/type as much as possible about each story.  Nicole should include information about the characters, the plot, sub-plots, and any other details she could think of.  Whichever idea she could write the most about would be the best one to write in full because less planning is necessary.

We did talk about a technique Nicole used that we all enjoyed.  She had a scene in which a father is delivering difficult news to his daughter.  In the middle of the tense conversation, she threw in a line of humor to relieve the tension. I loved this because it’s so realistic.  I know I do it when I’m having serious conversations with my husband and I’m sure if you think about it, Reader, you do the same thing.  I thought it was a great technique to bring realism to the dialogue and to keep the novel from getting too serious.

The last point we talked about was a fear I had about my own novel. When do you have too many characters?  I got worried for a minute that I had too many minor characters in my book, but KK assured me that they’re different enough that the reader keeps them all straight and they’re all necessary.  I started thinking about them, and I do think they’re all necessary (maybe I can get rid of one, but I really like her!).  Reader, this is my question for you, what’s a good number of characters?  Assuming this changes for every manuscript, how do you decide this? When do you have too many characters?

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Emotion, Implication, and New Adults

15 Oct

The Novel Girls are at it again! This time around, Nicole came over and we each went through a new chapter. My husband is a little sick and he stayed on the couch, contributing his two cents whenever he could (annoying English majors).

The first thing I want to address is emotion-driven conversations. I have a very critical and emotional conversations between two of my characters in the scene Nicole reviewed today. I concentrated so much on what was said that the first part of the conversation is mainly dialogue. In the second part, I add in some action and reaction. Nicole’s suggestion was to add in some action because the emotion of the dialogue was lost without descriptive reaction. She thought the scene was rushed and needed to be slowed down with some action because it’s very crucial to the plot.

The second thing we talked about is when something is implied in the text.  Some authors will allude to a fact as a part of foreshadowing and some authors will allude to something so that they don’t have to say it outright. This is a very tricky area between being obvious enough and being too obvious. I think the best way to get through this is to have people read your manuscript.  If several people (in your target age range) pick up on what you’re implying, then you’re good to go.  If more than one are left hanging, then you may need to come on stronger.

The last thing we discussed is something dear to our hearts: books. To be specific, books that we as 20-somethings can relate to. Nicole’s WIP is about college-age woman and my NaNo WIP is going to focus on a woman in her mid-twenties. With books like Fangirl getting so much attention, we wondered where books about 20-somethings were before? Part of this is the emerging New Adult genre. When I did my two-hit Google research, I saw a lot of mixed feelings on the genre. Before I read about it, I defined New Adult as books written for (mostly) women in their 20s and 30s who like the simplicity of YA writing but want content more geared toward themselves. This genre sits precariously between YA, contemporary literature, erotica, and romance novels. That’s a lot to balance!

One of my hits was an article from the Huffington Post that went out to defend the New Adult novel. I happen to agree that this is a wonderful genre and that it is very different from the aforementioned genres. I’ll take a second to explain my reasons:

  • YA: While the writing style might be similar, characters will be older in age, probably 19-29 or so, and will be experiencing things teenagers don’t.  The content can be more sexually explicit and contain a lot about coming of age alone in the real world (not finding yourself in high school with your parents around).
  • Contemporary Literature: The themes in a lot of main-stream literature is much more complex than the theme of a New Adult novel would be.  The simplified theme is what makes New Adult stand out and appealing to people who previously read YA.
  • Erotica: The purpose of erotica is purely for what its name implies; erotic.  New Adult does tend to have more sexually explicit scenes, but unlike erotica, they serve to move the plot forward and are not the end-all of the piece.
  • Romance Novels: This genre focuses on the romantic relationships between (normally) a man and woman.  While this is a common theme in New Adult, many New Adult novels are more ‘coming of age’ or ‘finding myself’ novels that may or may not have romantic relationships involved.

I hope this explains what I believe are the biggest differences in the New Adult genre.  It’s a genre I think is going to stay relatively small due to the low number of readers in that age group (many of them being college age or with young children).

Reader, what are your thoughts on the New Adult genre?  Do you like it? Write it? Read it? Was my writing advice helpful this week?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Novel Girls: Credentials, Conferences and Taking a Break

30 Sep

This version of Novel Girls is a little less technical and more theoretical.  I hope you’ll leave a comment with your opinions.

Nicole and I met Thursday night to do our usual editing and pizza.  Before we got to the red-pen marking up, we were just chatting over our shared garlic butter and three things worth discussing came up.

The first is credentials as a writer.  I touched on this briefly in my post about being published.  When submitting a query letter, it’s recommended to list your credentials as a writer.  As of right now, all I have is my two stories published in Summer Legends.  That’s not much to go on!

I don’t have an English degree and the only reason I understand grammar at all is because I had to learn Spanish grammar.  I haven’t taken a creative writing class since high school.  I did well writing essays in college, but they were only essays (mostly business essays at that, which are a different category altogether).  I read a lot, which I think makes for a better writer, but that’s hardly a qualification.

So, what would I put on a query letter?  I was high school Lit Mag editor?  I have a blog with 32 followers?  I have a really really great personality?

I’ve read to just leave any references to your qualifications off if they don’t pertain to writing.  So ignore the fact I have two bachelors degrees, graduated Suma Cum Laude and work for a Fortune 500 company.  NO ONE CARES!  Right? I’m doomed to be the unqualified writer for the rest of my life.

Reader, what’s your opinion?  Am I out of the game without an English degree (and please don’t say MFA, I’m thinking MBA is a bit more applicable to the job which brings in some money)?  Besides being published in a journal, what kind of credentials could I gain before querying my novel?

The second thing we discussed, which kind of follows from the former, is writers conferences.  I’ve seen some places that say a writer was a participant in XYZ writer’s conference or workshop.  The first thing I think when I read this is that they took six months off of work to go sit in the woods with some hippies and write what came out of their acid-fueled dreams.  (PS- I know this isn’t true)  So what does one get out of going to these conferences?

I did my two-hit Google search research.  A lot of conferences seem to be weekend meetings where an writer can talk to authors, agents, publishers, etc. to get their advice and guidance.  That sounds awesome!  I’m not going to lie, I’d love to go to a conference.  There’s one locally that sounds great but it’s the weekend of my brother-in-law’s wedding.  I hope to go next year.

So my question is, what have you gotten out of a conference that made you a better/more successful writer?  Was the money/time invested worth it?  What are some things to look for to find a good conference?

And the last question.  It’s pretty timely as NaNo comes up.  Nicole told me her goal is to finish the novel she’s working on before NaNo so that she doesn’t have to stop in the middle of it.  I realized that I stopped for about six months in the middle of my first WIP.  Of course, I never stopped thinking about it but my job at the time was too demanding for me to do anything else.  When I switched to my current job, I had the time and I finished the manuscript.

Have you ever taken a prolonged break in the middle of a manuscript?  Was it to write another book, for a job, family, etc?  Did you feel you’d lost something when you came back to it?  Had you forgotten where you wanted to go?

I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on these three topics!  Please help give this fledgling writer some guidance.

Novel Girls: Voice, Description, and Motivation

7 Sep

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a group of other females around my age who are also aspiring writers.  Because we’re all working on long-form fiction, we decided to call ourselves the Novel Girls.  (It’s a novel idea, HAH!)

We try to meet weekly on Thursdays to have dinner and critique each other’s work.  There are four of us, NJ, KK, and SG.  SG’s been on an extended business trip for the last six weeks, so it was just NJ, KK and I last night.

There were three main writing points we went over last night that I wanted to note here, either for my later reference or to help another writer.

  1. Distinctive voice: KK shared a great piece with us last night that rotated between three settings and four characters.  The opening scene was a female character and she used some wonderful description, internal dialogue, and flashback to give the character a very distinctive internal voice.  The next time we saw this character, she was in a scene with three other people and her voice was a little lost in all the action.  The other characters were busy having a conversation and this female was standing by, listening.  It almost seemed to me like KK had rushed through writing that part because she didn’t give the character the distinctive voice she’d worked so hard to give her in the first scene.  This helped me remember that my characters have personalities and will react to everything around them.  It’s important to be sure this personality shines through in every scene and that they have an appropriate reaction to the things they hear and see. even if they’re not narrating that scene.
  2. There’s a limit to what one line of description can show: NJ shared a piece that started with two female co-workers at the end of the day, getting ready to leave for work.  NJ described one as having a large shoe collection that matched her outfits each day and the other as having a wrinkled business suit.  A few lines later, she wrote that unlike the first, the second character didn’t care about her appearance.  This one took me a second to process because to me, a business suit with wrinkles at the end of the day didn’t imply slovenliness.  With one or two lines more of description, the character could be more developed, come across as a careless dresser, and it might not even be necessary to say she didn’t care about her appearance.  This made me realize that my character’s clothes aren’t even described very much in my text and that how a character dresses can tell a lot about them.  (For reference, my book takes place in 1920s Chicago.)  I recently was invited by an acquaintance to visit her grandmother’s old house, where she still has some of the clothing worn in the late 20s and early 30s.  I hope that after seeing these clothes, I can find a way to show my character’s personalities through their simple clothing choices and be a little less ‘show-y’ and more ‘tell-y.’
  3. Character motivation needs to be strong, even if the character isn’t speaking: I have a scene where my male protagonist is trying to evade a female character he doesn’t like AND the scene is narrated by my female protagonist (confused a bit?).  KK’s comment was that she didn’t understand why the male protagonist was doing what he was doing; she couldn’t find his motivation!  Our ultimate decision was that I should switch the order of a few scenes, but it made me realize that in scenes where the non-narrating character needs some motivation, it takes a lot of attention to detail to make sure that motivation is clear.  It could be done with dialogue, description, etc., but it needs to be there.

 

I’m not sure if this helps anyone else, but it sure helps me to think through it!  What’s some advice you can share about writing?  Maybe it will help me with my next critique group!  Please leave a comment and share.