The next level

Just when I thought I had a handle on this writing thing, I attended a writing critique group where the other attendees were at an advanced level.  I had submitted the first part of a short story thinking it was pretty much ready to go, but wanting other opinions.

Everybody seemed to like it and some were intrigued with the concept.  Many mentioned they liked the tone, the dialog and interactions, and the story as a whole was fun.  So far so good.  Then they got down to it.  I took notes, writing down problems as they were mentioned.  When others mentioned the same problem I started with hash marks to indicate how many had a problem with the same thing.  They were as follows:

  • A cooking sequence was too long and too detailed.  It’s a romance, Jim, not a cooking show.  (My words.)  ||||
  • My protagonist capitulated too easily when she had the means and opportunity to put up more of a fight.  ||||
  • Protag is too passive, reacting to what happens to her instead of being proactive.  ||||
  • Her career is mentioned as being traditionally male dominated but exactly what she does is not explained adequately.  Inquiring minds wanted to know.  |||
  • The logistical whys and wherefores of the secondary character’s initial appearance in the MC’s vicinity do not compute.  What the heck was he doing there?  |||
  • There are point-of-view problems.  Those delineated by changes of scene are okay, but when head swapping happens within a paragraph, that’s a problem.  |||
  • There was plenty of opportunity to set up more conflict between the MC and the secondary early on in the story that could have taken care of some of the problems leading to a reader’s suspension of disbelief.  |||

Color me surprised!  Not only that, I was excited!  It all made sense, and I couldn’t wait to get home and work on it.  Of course I could have told them all, “You’re not the boss of me” and mutter about how nobody appreciates my writing.  Didn’t even enter my head, just had to put it out there.

Many friends and relatives have read my stories, and the feedback has been valuable (and often fed my greedy ego) but none of them are professional writers or in any way connected with the writing industry.  The level I need to reach in my writing is one that will leap the hurdles of professional slush readers for publishing houses and agents and cross the finish line with them still avidly reading.  Alas most writing submitted to said readers falls out of the race when they bash through any one of those hurdles instead of leaping over them.

I’ve poured over my notes from that meeting, the hard copies with notes given to me by some of those who critiqued, and later the emails I’ve received with attachments of the same from those who didn’t print.  I printed my critiques for the stories I critiqued, but may go with emailing them later for a couple of reasons.  One would be the price of paper and ink.  The other is the size of the font in doing a critique in Microsoft Word.  It’s really teeny-tiny when printed, and I haven’t figured out how to make it bigger.  On the screen you can always make the whole page bigger.

The upshot of the whole experience is that I’m faced with taking my writing to the next level.  Some of the things that were mentioned, I hadn’t even thought to examine.  Now I will.  The first time I went over all the critique notes, I felt positively manic.  I haven’t been so excited in a while, and I’m looking forward to climbing firmly onto the next level and then finding another.

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