weaknesses… (darn critiques)

Last night was time for our monthly local writing group to get together and… well, talk about writing. We talked, I shared a little of my book, reinforced the fact that I have no life by offering the daily word count of my collaborative for-fun-only project, and plugged google documents as a great resource for keeping an up-to-date backup online.

After the meeting had ended, one of the women had taken the time to critique the first thousand words of my first chapter. Any one of these would be a good topic to cover later, so for now I’ll give an overview, then start writing on some of these in detail. This is what she found.

Pronouns. I dislike using names over and over in sentences. I also like long sentences with lots of commas, often with two characters involved, interchanging ‘he’ and ‘him’ without discrimination. Most of my test readers weren’t confused, but she’s right. It’s all technically incorrect.

Research. The sweet older lady has a lot more experience in killing things than I do. Apparently if you’re a cannibal chopping off a leg, you really want to do it at the knee, because the tendons are easier to cut than the muscle and bone. Also, the body’s legs would be straight, not twisted, because it’s easier to strip that way. Obviously, I should kill things more often.

Redundancy. I have got to stop saying things like ‘dead body’ and ‘living man’. Obviously, if the living man is protesting, we’re not going to confuse him with the body. It’s not that kind of fantasy.

Subtlety in all the Wrong Places. I’d put too much space between the discovery of something new and my character’s reaction in attempting to describe the symbol in detail. It made my hero look strange, and his sudden panic became confusing instead of effective.

Blah Words. As Mark Twain forcibly restrained himself from writing the word ‘very’, I have found myself still unable to completely escape the mire of somewhat, almost, actual, and their equally deplorable cousins.

Which isn’t to say that everything was bad. The setting and descriptions interested her (despite that it was just a freezing stone cave with a dead guy), she liked the pacing, thought the story was interesting, and wanted to read more. I also saw approving marks around my dialog, which I’m particularly proud of. My test readers in general say that vocal interaction is a particular strength of mine.

Overall, I’m pleased with the feedback, even after the routine humbling. I’m always more concerned with pacing and plot-holes; most of the work I need to do now are serious, but cosmetic changes.

93 thoughts on “weaknesses… (darn critiques)

  1. How do you find a writer’s group? That’s something I’ve always wondered, along with wondering whether it’s worth it to join a writer’s group. What does belonging to your writer’s group entail, for instance?

  2. It’s always hard to open yourself up like that, let someone in and examine all the angles of the work you’re creating. Having been through a major in Writing, myself, I’ve had enough of workshops for a while. So I select friends to share with, but friends who I know won’t just say “OH it’s GREAT!”

    When it comes down to it, it’s always your choice, though, to do what you will with peoples’ critiques. Just because they say it, now, doesn’t mean you have to change it.

    Good luck!

  3. The internet, actually– after I participated in NaNoWriMo, the chapter leader for my area offered a link for a local writer’s guild. The group is mostly older women who write for magazines, and most of the things they talk about aren’t directly relevant for novels, much less genre-fiction. But they did get me working on query letters, which really helped my focus, and it’s nice to get the encouragement.

    But then, I think most groups are different. It’s probably worth sitting in on a few meetings if you’re not sure, and seeing if you like it.

  4. Kudos to you for having the balls to take your work to a group! It sounds like it was pretty positive overall, and I think hearing what your weaknesses are from the outside is always really exciting (and horrifying at the same time).

    (For the record, I may in fact be stalking you. I think your blog is really interesting!)

  5. I actually love being critiqued after the fact, though during I need to stop trying to explain what I was trying to achieve, ect. Maybe a good gag could do the trick. I could carry duct tape in my purse.

    Anyhow, stalk away. This blog is stalker friendly. 😀

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