Tag Archives: Writing Group

Saturday Writer’s Group: Revising, Critiquing, and Noobs.

9 Jun

I’ve come to really enjoy my Saturday Writing group. The critiques are really good and the writing quality is already high, which makes it fun to give some really good critiques.

Before we got started, I told everyone I was about to embark on the U.S.S Editing and asked for some advice for a safe voyage. I got some great advice!

  • Cut it into sections and re-arrange them on the floor. (For a novel length piece, write the plot points on note cards and rearrange them on the floor to see what works best.
  • Read it aloud
  • Write the plot as you remember it after reading
  • Think about how it relates to your original goal and adjust plot or goal as necessary
  • Think about the main conflict and how it relates to each scene

Thanks to my group for grounding me in this advice!

There were a few points that came up from reading other member’s critiques. One man shared a piece that was writing like a personal essay, but was not about a personal experience. Before he told us this, I thought the piece was a reflection of something that had happened to him and wrote my critique with this thought. When he told us that the plot was fictionalized, I had the desire to re-critique it. I felt that I would have different suggestions if I went into the piece knowing it was fiction. Do you critique differently when something is a memoir or personal essay? What kind of things would you avoid saying? Off the top of my head, I would avoid suggestions for additions or changes to characterization or dialogue. If those things really happened, how truthful is it to change them? I might also leave out some personal opinions about the characters that I might normally give. If they’re real people, I wouldn’t want to offend their personalities!

There was one thing slightly off about our group at this meeting. We had a new member. This group has been really good about new members before so we didn’t think this would be an issue at first. However, it soon became obvious that this member did not understand what our group was about, how we worked, and hadn’t read the pieces we would be discussing. He continually tried to push his (outlined) novel and couldn’t provide a lot of feedback because he was unfamiliar with our pieces. After he left, we considered adding more security to the group website. Our moderator requires that someone submit a sample before joining and this person had not. We were wondering how he was able to see our meeting location.

For those of you in writing groups, how do you handle new members? Do you require writing samples? What do you do with unwelcome new members or people who don’t follow the group rules? I’ll be running the next meeting and he’s promised to return with a friend! I need to be strong and stern looking, and that’s not normally my specialty.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Prompt Group: It could have been deported parachute pants.

20 May

Wow, it’s been a while since I posted prompts. I guess that’s because it’s been a while since I visited my prompt group! Nicole and I grabbed dinner before heading to a very crowded group. I haven’t been in a while and there were some new people I was excited to meet.

We did three prompts. I’ll list them below and if you want to try them, please do and post the results! Link here so I can read them. I’ll put my responses below that. (NOTE: There is some cursing in these prompts and responses. Please be warned and do not read if it offends you.)

  1. But it could have been worse. (3 minutes)
  2. Imagine you are part of a different ethnic group. Write something from that POV. (8 minutes)
  3. Parachute Pants. Fuck Yeah. (2 minutes)


And my responses:

  1. It was raining and my car broke down.
    But it could have been worse.
    My jack wouldn’t fit under the body
    And I had to break down and call AAA
    Even though I made fun of my brother for calling them last week
    But it could have been worse.
    AAA gave me a wait time of two hours
    And showed up with the same car jack I already tried
    So they had to send another guy who took another hour.
    But it could have been worse.
    Because while I was waiting for a jack
    And then the right jack,
    I escaped.
    A world where fathers are shot by their own daughters
    A world where a thought can span an entire generation
    And memories can slowly be restored.
    It was a world with mysterious messages
    And prison mines underground.
    So yes, I lost four hours of my life because AAA is incompetent
    And I’ll never get it back.
    But I had a book, so it could have been worse.
  2. Mamá pulls the empanadas off the stove and puts them in front of me. I stare at them but I’m not even able to pick one up.

    Se regresarán,” she says, trying to comfort me. “No te preocupes.”

    I nod, but I don’t feel like being cheered up. So I reach out and grab an empanada and don’t flinch much when it burns my fingers.

    My mother does this. She tries to comfort me with food all the time. When I was younger, I let her but now I’m trying to take care of myself; to forge my own path. I’m doing well in school and I thought I’d be more than a kid from the barrio. I’d been so sure of it.

    José and Manuel always gave me people to look up to. They were set to graduate first in their class and had dreams of going to college. They wanted to go to TCU and Manuel was going to be an engineer. Not that it mattered any more.

    I can’t eat the empanadas. I only picture Jose eating empanadas off the stove in Mexico. His mamá, crying as hard as ever and her tears dripping onto the hot surface of them. His papá, sitting quietly at the table like I was, trying to keep his head up. But he can’t. And José can’t meet his own father’s eye. There’s no good way to tell your son that his college dreams have been dashed because you were speeding and gotten pulled over. When you failed to produce a driver’s license and blew numbers, even .09, citizenship and residency started to be called into question. And when those questions started being asked, there was no way to take it back. There was no way to slow down the car or find your license in your wallet when you’d left it at work or to have filed for residency properly. There was no way to stay after that.

    And if José and Manuel couldn’t stay, couldn’t earn their diplomas and move their tassel from the right to the left, why would I ever think that I can? Why would I ever think that I’m better than that?

    Mamá lays her hand on my elbow and I realize that the empanada had not yet made its way into my mouth.  “Come.” I put it in my mouth but don’t chew. “No eres lo mismo que ellos.”

    I shake my head.

    Estudia su matemáticas. Será bien.”

    I go to my room and open my computer but I don’t do math homework. Instead I Google how an illegal immigrant can avoid being deported if his parents are. I Google if I could be different or if I am the same as them.

  3. Of course they have different pants for skydiving. They have different versions of everything to skydive. There are skydiving glasses, skydiving hair ties, and skydiving shoes. So yes, of course, they have skydiving pants. And yes, thank you for asking, they make my ass look A-Mazing. So don’t go asking me where I got my ‘awesome running pants’ because I’ll slap your ignorant little face out of a jet flying over a bad drop zone. These are my skydiving, parachute-safe, no drag, no snag pants. Fuck yeah.

Thanks for reading, all! Take care and until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

New Writer’s Group: Small Group of Strangers Workshop

15 Apr

As if there wasn’t enough going on in my life, I’ve joined another writing group! This one is workshop centered and run by a young woman with a creative writing degree (yes, I’m jealous). I found the group on Meetup.com and if you’ve ignored me before when I say this is a great place to find writing friends, take your fingers out of your ears and give it a try.

The group was great and I loved how it was run. The moderator says it’s the same way they ran workshops at school. I loved how organized the group was. As a note, all writers groups are different and you just have to find one that works for you. They all have their virtues, just find the one you like. That lecture aside, I think I’ll continue going to this one. Here’s how it was run.

We all arrived no more than five minutes late and there were only four of us. This was wonderful as a first timer because I didn’t feel too left out. The other three had all attended before and only two of us had submitted something, myself and a gentleman. We did his piece first, which was nice because it showed me how mine would be reviewed.

We started with him reading the first page or so of his work aloud. I loved this because it told us how to pronounce one of the names (which I was saying wrong in my head) and get the tone he wanted to get across. Then we as a group summarized what happened in the piece, cutting each other off and finishing where someone stopped. That sounds rude when I write it like that, but it was nothing of the sort. It was really great and made us all feel really connected to the piece again.

Don’t worry, we did get to the critique part! We said what we liked about the piece, what we thought it had going for it and was well done. And then, finally, we did go over what we thought could be changed about the piece to make it better. This ranged from metaphors and words to voice and character development. I got a lot of good advice from this group, some of it I’m not sure how to implement yet. I’ll go over it with the Novel Girls before I’m done and I bet I put it through another round of edits. Such is life.

I hope those of you who are writers have found a group of writers to bounce pieces off of. How is your favorite writing group structured? Do you like large or smaller groups? I love hearing about all the different ways a piece can be critiqued.

As a reminder, if you’re interested in doing a Read-Along, please respond to this post. There’s a poll where you can vote on what book you’d like to read. Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

Tips on Writing for a YA Audience (Article)

24 Jan

I was running through my head about what I should post today and I realized I haven’t done an article in a while. I popped over to Writer’s Digest and instantly found a great article.

The manuscript I’m in the process of editing is for a Young Adult audience. I started the book when I was a young adult (14) and now that I’m no longer in this age group (23), it’s sometimes hard to think like one. This article, titled Writing for the Young Adult Audience, had some really good advice for how to jump back into my 14-year-old head.

  1. Everything is big and important when you’re a teenager. That boyfriend who just dumped you? First break-up. That fight you had with a friend you’ve known since Kindergarten? First real loss of a friend. First test you failed? Your chance at college is ruined forever. Chose to play the cello over the piano? It’s a stigma you will carry the rest of your life. I remember what this felt like and looking back it seems silly. But in that moment, it was a life or death situation.
  2. Romantic Relationships are huge. They define some people socially and can make and break friendships. Do you remember how mad you were when that girl you were friends with liked the same boy you did and he picked her? I do. It’s something that’s on the mind of a lot of teen readers (especially the girls I’m writing for) so including it is a must for popular fiction (check!).
  3. They’ve realized the dark side of life. It’s about freshman year of high school that someone in school will start using drugs or start cutting or have a bad sexual experience. Around this time, teens stop seeing the world through rose-colored glasses and the darkness of reality will start to set in. The article’s author implies that the popularity of dystopian future books is due to teens wanting to relate to a world as packed with war and economic crisis as our own.
  4. Bring theme to the forefront. Give the readers a theme the interact with and let them see the characters play with it, too. Bring it forward in dialogue and the resolution of the story.

The article’s really great and helped me think about what a reader will want from my book. I recommend it.

Reader, let me know what you think. How do you get into the head of your target audience? What are some things you incorporate to engage your reader?

Until next time, write on.

Prompt Group: Book Plot, Gangs, and Disney Villains

17 Jan

I went to my prompt group last night for the first time in almost a month. It’s crazy how awesome it was to see everyone. It was only Sonia and I from the Novel Girls and by the way, you can check out Sonia’s blog here. I’ll give you the prompts first and then give you my responses. If you want to do the prompts, please link back here so I can read what you wrote!


1. Write the title of a hypothetical book and the synopsis that goes with it (2 minutes)

  • Most of us thought this would be good practice to do during October to prepare for NaNoWriMo next year.

2. Write a short justification of the thought process of a Disney villain (5 minutes).

My Responses

  1. Penguins, Pot, and Paraguas
    John has always wanted to touch a penguin. It’s a childhood ambition that drove him to study zoology and take an internship on an Antarctic expedition. Finally within the reach of his un-flying aviary dreams, he meets Tomas, a Swedish sea-captain who befriends him and invites John to long sessions of ‘just hanging out’ in the hull of the boat. When his internship supervisor dispels him from the expedition days before they set off for the final leg, John is stranded in Johannesburg without a way to get back to his home in North Carolina. He has two months to kill and gets a job working for a Spanish immigrant in a tourist shop that only sells umbrellas.
  2. Cruella de Vil. (Written as a transcript of her civil suit trial)
    I think this case is focusing less on the issue of if stealing was wrong and more on the moral side of if killing 101 puppies for their fur is wrong. I want to redirect the jury’s attention to the decision of the law at hand and not the subject of my client’s moral fiber. She is no worse than yourself or your mother. Let’s be honest, Miss de Vil motivated by the same thing must humans are: money. She’s not seeing cute little Dalmatian puppies; she’s seeing dollar signs in their spots. We’ve all heard of puppy mills and seen ASPCA commercials that make us want to cry but the true reason they still exist is because someone can make a buck off of little Fido. So Miss de Vil is no worse than those men at the pound who you called to take away the scared little kitty you found in your back yard and though you think it’s cute, you’re still afraid it has rabies. In a culture that values entrepreneurship, why are Americans passing judgment on one of their own; a capitalist trying to pick herself up by her bootstraps and make a decent living. Shame on those who shun her. They can go have fair trade coffee at Starbucks while wearing Tom’s shoes and talking about volunteering in Namibia while secretly swearing to themselves they will never go to Namibia. Look at yourselves and think; wouldn’t you do the same?

I hope you enjoy, let me know how your prompts go. Happy writing!

Prompt Group: Character Development Exercise

5 Dec

After a hiatus for NaNoWriMo, I finally returned to my prompt writing group. We did an exercise about character development that I liked. I might be able to turn this into a short story? I’m not sure I want to? Is it obvious I’m hesitant?

Here’s the exercise for you all if you want to try it. I’ll include my answers and writing at the end. If you give this a go, please let me know if it worked for you and if so, how it went.

Step 1: Take five minutes and write descriptions of two characters. What’s their name, age, occupation, hair color, eye color, quick personality traits, etc. Probably about four lines each.

Step 2: In three minutes, write down what each person wants, either long or short-term, that they will work for. What’s their motivation?

Step 3: Answer the following questions about each character.

  • What is their greatest virtue?
  • What is their greatest weakness?
  • What angers him/her the most?
  • What is he/she afraid of?
  • What is his/her secret?
  • What is his/her biggest regret?
  • What is his/her attitude toward:
    • Love?
    • Death?
    • Religion?
    • Money?
    • Politics?

Step 4: Once you’ve done this for both characters, take fifteen minutes to write a scene between the two characters.

Got it? Now do it. My answers are below.

Character 1
Jamie. 32-year-old, lives alone, Engineer. Sandy blonde hair, average height. Brown eyes. One solid friend, Aaron. Bachelor-pad apartment. Clean-ish. Likes music, especially 80s rock.
Goal: Save enough money to move to Ireland. wants to quit to work at a recording studio there.

  • Greatest virtue? Truthfulness
  • Greatest weakness? Single-minded
  • Angers him? Interrupted music
  • Afraid of? Being an engineer forever
  • His secret? Afraid to commit to anything
  • His biggest regret? Not majoring in music
  • His attitude toward:
    • Love? Blaise. If it happens, okay. Not actively seeking it.
    • Death? Only after a long life
    • Religion? Be a good person
    • Money? Saving it, he’s cheap
    • Politics? No opinion as long as it doesn’t interfere with his travel plans.

Character 2
Tom. 59-year-old Banker. Divorced, 25-year-old daughter lives in town. Male pattern baldness, wears grey suits to work
Goal: Retire to Florida and be alone.

  • Greatest virtue? Hard-working
  • Greatest weakness? Cynical
  • Angers him? His own failure.
  • Afraid of? His daughter not loving him.
  • His secret? Goes to visit prostitutes because he’s lonely
  • His biggest regret? Daughter having to live through his divorce.
  • His attitude toward:
    • Love? It doesn’t exist.
    • Death? “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
    • Religion? Strongly against. Ex-Christian.
    • Money? It’s his job. It comes easily to him so he spends liberally.
    • Politics? ‘Angry Republican’

And finally, my scene:

Jamie felt his car jolt from behind. He groaned aloud, already summing up how much this would put him behind in his savings. He put on his blinker and pulled onto the next side street. The road was slick and he’d been dreading being rear-ended all winter and his bitterness was already stored up, waiting for this moment.

The car that pulled up behind him was a nice, slick BMW. He rationed to himself that someone with such a nice car was sure to have insurance as he reached into the glovebox for his own. The man who stepped out had a sour look on his face as he marched to his front fender to inspect the damage. Jamie got out of his Mazda and joined him to stare at their collision.

“It’s not terrible,” the man said, looking at Jamie’s bumper.

“It’s hanging off of the car!”

“But at least it’s only your car. Mine’s fine.” It was true, his bumper had buckled, but it would pop out and with some touch-up paint no one would ever know.

“Can I have your insurance? I’ll have to replace the bumper and I need to have it covered.”

“On that piece of junk?” the man looked the Mazda over, taking in its rust stains and dingy cloth seats inside. “Couldn’t you just replace it?”

Jamie shook his head. He didn’t want to explain that the car was only needed for another two years before he left the US for good. “I don’t need a new car, I just need a new bumper.” He offered up his own insurance card as a sort of peace-offering. “I can give you my information if you need it.”

“Is everything alright, dad?”

Jamie looked up and for the first time realized there was a passenger in the BMW. The girl had raven black hair and she looked frustrated.

“Just stay in the car, Katherine.” He shot her an annoyed glance before she rolled her eyes and closed the door, shivering at the outside cold. “Here’s my card,” he extended it toward Jamie. “Can you take down my information in your phone?” Jamie nodded and pulled his phone out of his pocket, flipping it open and finding the notes app. “Jesus Christ, son, you still have a flip phone? Are you stuck in the stone age?”

“It gets me through,” Jamie said, starting to grit his teeth. “What’s your name?”


How did yours turn out? Was this exercise helpful? Leave a comment and let me know.

I hate to ask, but if you could spare the seconds to click over to my Facebook Fan Page (link on the right) I’d appreciate it. I’m three people away from being able to see analytics! Thanks, guys.

Until next time, write on.

Prompt Group: Vessel of Place, Using Other Senses, and a few Tips

10 Oct

Time for my prompt group yet again!  We did some exercises this time that were not exactly prompts, but were designed to teach us to write better.  The first was one my friend MB did at a writer’s conference.  It was: Imagine a situation with a strong emotion attached to it and pick an object to describe it.  This is called Vessel of Place, a way of saying that an object can have more emotional memory attached to it than the memory of an event.  (I hope that makes sense.)

The second one was a two part exercise.  We first were instructed to describe a place we had recently visited.    The second part was to use other senses.  Specifically, we had to take out all references to sight.  Mine didn’t have that much, so I worked instead to add more senses into the prose.  I’m including only the second here.  Please criticize me if I used too many visual references.

The final prompt was to take an object from the second prompt and do another vessel of place exercise with it.

Please post your exercises as well!  I’d love to see them.  I’m posting my responses below and then will end this post with some brief writing tips we went over.

Prompt 1

The wine glass was half filled so by default it was half emptied.  I stared at it and saw the reflections of the lights from around the dining room glaring back at me and hurting my eyes.  Looking through it, I could see him sitting on the other side of the table, his own glass of wine in his hand.  He swirled it around and around, mixing the sweet wine with a bitter bite to it.  I took a drink myself and what had previously seemed sweet and aromatic now seemed bitter and ashen.  It was funny how a few words could change the taste of a vintage wine.

I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure I lost more than my taste for wine that night.  The glass slowly drained in the same way the life slowly drained out of him.  What was before savory had turned ashen.  Link the life blood draining out of him as he left this world, the red wine into my mouth and disappeared forever.  The reflections in the glass faded as the night ended and the light in his eyes slowly went out over months of illness.

The pattern on the tablecloth that night reflected strangely in the base of my wine glass and looked like a cross.  I now believe it was a plus sign.  It was telling me, “It’s a plus that you’re with him now.  It’s a plus that you get to see this happen to him before it happens to you.”  But it was a plus for HIV positive, which is always a negative.

Prompt 2, Part 2

The ground was soft and muddy.  Most of the sites had ground the consistency of a baby’s diaper and the ones that weren’t were none too common.  When we finally found a place, the rain let up just enough to make us brave enough to venture out of the car.  Only one site had both a grille and a fireplace, both critical things in our opinion that the site director didn’t seem to find important.  A square of flat land had a few sticks that we threw into the woods so that they wouldn’t poke us in the back all night.  We should have considered that we’d want them later for firewood.  My husband opened the trunk and we got out the small tent, only then realizing that I’d forgotten the big tent at home.  This isn’t exactly what you want to realize 3.5 hours from home when you’re on a budget camping trip.

$106 later we were back with the roomiest tent in the site and were happily setting up for our other friends to arrive.  The sun was finally coming through the clouds and the humidity started to dip below 100%.

Prompt 3

The car smelled like a wet dog.  The carpets had mud rubbed into them from the college friends who didn’t bother to wipe their boots after hiking.  I found an entire McDonalds meal under the passenger’s seat.  It seems someone didn’t listen when I asked them to take their trash out when we left the car.

The squished bug on the inside of the back windshield will still be there six months later and the smell of spilt beer will never really leave the trunk.  The back seat still smells like river and the driver’s seat will always feel like shiver exasperation at the follies of men and boys.  I saw the ‘emergency tent’ we bought when I went to put my summer beach bag away for the winter.  It reminded me that even if you forget the shelter, you can remember to bring over 5 gallons of beer, as long as you have your priorities straight.  That’s enough return money to buy another 12 pack, in case you’re interested.


A Few Tips

I won’t be too long winded here, but we discussed a few tips and techniques for writers to utilize.  The first tip was to start with a list of names so that it’s easy to grab a name for a throw-away character while writing and you don’t have to stop and look around for one.  One member of our group suggested BehindtheName.com to look for names based on origin and meaning.  I’ve used this site for a piece I’m working on and it’s very helpful, I highly recommend it as well.

The second is something most writers know already; that every detail about your character and the words they say should give meaning to the character.  For example, I can say that Joe ate breakfast.  All that says is that Joe’s hungry.  If I say Joe ate a cold Poptart, you might think “Joe’s in a hurry and a bachelor.”  If I say that Joe had bacon and eggs you will probably think “Joe’s a family man with a wife who wakes up really early.”  Either way, the detail of what he ate tells you who Joe is.  All details should tell us about the character.

The third trick might sound like my earlier post about strong language, but it’s not to use ‘lazy’ words.  For example, everyone wears shoes.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word.  A woman wears stilettos or boots.  A child wears tennis shoes, a grandpa wears Oxfords.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word that doesn’t give us much description.  Someone can be ‘nice,’ but it’s better if they’re friendly or pleasant.  Try to stay away from very general words when a stronger noun would do better.

The last is one that I think is critical for good characterization and it’s to use a ‘language bank’ for each character.  We each have a vocabulary that’s uniquely our own and when we speak we say something differently than someone else would say it.  Also, individuals have phrases that they use a lot that another person might never use.  My example of this is Jay Gatsby who always says ‘old sport.’  Once it’s established that Gatsby is the one saying this, Fitzgerald could even leave off dialogue tags because the reader knew that was part of Gatsby’s vernacular.  I plan to do this with my WIP characters.  I want to take any scene in which a character talks and put the dialogue into one document.  It should read almost like a stream of consciousness from that character and individual quirks about how the person talks should be evident in each one.

I hope these tips are useful to you.  Please leave a comment and let me know or leave a comment with your own tip.  Thanks for reading. 🙂

Prompt Group: Wyoming and a picture

27 Sep

Every other Tuesday is my prompt group!  This time around, I liked what I did for the prompts.  Instead of posting what I wrote, I’m going to post the prompts first.  If you want to, write them!  You can leave a comment or do a pingback so I know to go read your writing.

  1. The stark, bleak wastelands of Wyoming (3 minutes)
  2. This image:
Prompt picture

Picture provided by Suleman, I’m not sure where it came from.

All right, now that you’ve done that, here’s what I wrote.  I hope we came up with some completely different stuff.

  1. Well, this is where the buffalo roam and the deer and antelope play.  If only a discouraging word could be heard seldom.  Instead, my mother keeps telling my baby brother to calm down and we’re bound to find a bathroom soon.  Though, it seems unlikely since we haven’t seen a person in an hour and then it was some uber-psyco cyclist with seven gallons of water in her saddlebags and a ham radio strapped on the back.
  2. No matter how low I crouch, there are always those smaller than me.  No matter how small I feel, there will always be those lower.  It’s a funny thing in life, that you are never the bottom of the barrel.  There’s always someone lower down, someone looking up to you thinking “Dang, i wish I was where that guy is.”
    This time, they were physically shorter than me.  Their whole lives, the twins had wished they were taller, were able to see over lunch counters, could sit on a bench without jumping first.  And myself?  Well, I despised my height.  Always looking down on people from a height I didn’t want.  I had to duck through doorways, pretend I wanted to wear shorts all year long, and hope the celing was high enough in a hotel shower.
    No matter how low I got, I was never lower than them, figuratively and literally.  Their height brought them down the way mine did.  It’s funny when you’re at extremes of the spectrum, you see the middle in the same light.

How did these prompts go for you?

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!

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.