Our local critique group met yesterday and it was an exciting meeting. Almost everyone sent the first chapter of a new project. That’s exciting. It means that the group is healthy, that we are collectively working hard on our stories.
I learn almost as much when I critique manuscripts, as when I get a critique. Because I come to a story with a fresh eye, I can see the strengths and weaknesses in ways that the author can’t. It helps me to understand the role of a reader better.
Two things strike me: First, the author must put it on the page. When I ask for clarification on something, the author ALWAYS launches into an explanation. In other words, in her mind, it’s perfectly clear. The problem is that it didn’t get onto the page.
Second, our work is iterative. That is, we do a version, and then tweak, and then repeat and repeat and repeat. With each revision, the story is closer to perfect. We close the gap on communicating clearly and with emotion. One author’s plot and characterization were great except it lacked emotion. Can you layer that in later? Of course. Anything can be layered in later. That’s the revision process.
First Drafts. But this time, the main thing I said was, “Keep going!” These were mostly the first chapter of a new project and at this fragile moment of the writing process, the writer mostly needs encouragement to continue. For one writer, this is especially important because this was the first chapter of the very first novel she has ever attempted. At that point, well, all you can do is turn cheerleader. “Go! Go! Go!”
When it was time for comments to turn to my own story, I felt the familiar stomach pinch that says, “Please love me.” But that quickly turned into the wise and mature response (Ahem!), “Please tell me the truth.”
It seems I have a major plot problem in the story. Two people noticed it and others agreed. And, well, OK, I sorta agree. Ok. I do agree.
And the revision won’t be that hard or that major when I sit down to do it.
In fact, I’m excited. The story pleased me, but I knew I was still in the early phases of revision. The critique groups comments were MORE than I ever hoped for. Exactly what I needed.
Why do we ever fear feedback? Ours is a business of communication. Ideas, characters, images–things in my head should be reproduced in the reader’s head EXACTLY, through the medium of words written on a page. Duh! I need to check that the communication actually happened. And when it’s not passed on EXACTLY, I need to tweak.
Thanks, critique group! You’re the best!
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