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.

research: wyrren jadis

I have a very important character with a very unusual trait. Wyrren, the most prominent character in the book, can’t move her face. And I want to explain this in a clear, yet subtle way without confusing people, cutting down the impact she makes, or making her seem apathetic– she’s certainly very important to Rylan, my protagonist. Since this isn’t common even in my fantasy world, most of the characters assume that she’s mentally retarded. … I’ve always had problems trying to convey Wyrren. She’s a very smart, very complicated character that I admire for a variety of reasons, and she’s been part of my writing cast for the last eight years.

I’m using Mobius Syndrome for technical descriptions of what’s wrong with her: you can read more of it here for the wikipedia article, or here.