Gurus, St. George and Uncle Orson

200px-Saint_George_-_Carlo_CrivelliI write stories.  I tell people what may have happened had St George not slain the last dragon and taken the fun out of life.  Obviously I am telling the tale from the position of a storyteller.

This works well in the first draft, where I can “he did” “they went” to my heart’s content, but during the second draft I must take these “telling” places and expand on them, making them more active.

Many people ask me what I think about ‘critique’ groups.

I don’t.

I don’t think about critique groups at all, as critiquing is only a small sliver of what an author needs to hear in order to get his or her work ready for submission. Any wannabe can trash another person’s work.

I have found that for every serious author, there are five posers who think they are Jane Austen and that gives them the right to “just tell the truth.”

My ears are bloody with the sounds of unpublished and unpublishable authors piously ranting about the rules and quoting self-help writing gurus as they shred a fellow author’s work in the guise of critiquing it. This is why I don’t go to the groups whose main focus is destroying the dreams of others.

I have found a group of writers who share an understanding of all the phases that a manuscript goes through before it reaches the final draft.  Comments, when solicited, are encouraging. Flaws are noted, yes, but more importantly the places where the story shines are also noted. The writer is a fragile creature–it takes very little abuse to make them bleed.

enders game orson scott cardThe award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, Orson Scott Card is one of the guru’s whose books on writing have shaped my approach to not only my own work, but how I look at the works of others.  Uncle Orson, as he refers to himself, has a fabulous website with many links to writing seminars, Hatrack River. Orson puts himself out there with his political and religious views, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he KNOWS about writing and how to write a good, readable book.

Orson’s wife is his first-reader. He has a list of questions that he asks his wife to answer in regard to his work, and the way those questions are phrased is interesting. I now use those same questions and so do my two writing groups when we are PRIVILEGED to be first readers of an author’s cherished manuscript.  This is the list as I have it in my own files, tailored to my own work:

Five Questions for The Wise Reader who is evaluating my tale:

1. Were you ever bored? Please tell me where it became slow and hard to stay with it.

2. What did you think of the main character _______________________? Of ____________________? Of _________________________?

3. Was there anything you didn’t understand? Is there any section you had to read twice? Is there any section you became confused?

4. Was there anything you did not believe? Any time you said ‘Oh come on!”

5. What do you think will happen to the characters now I am done telling their tale. What are you still wondering about? 

My goal is to eliminate any areas of boredom, implausibility and cliché and I need your help to do so!

I think that writers grow when another eye is on their work. Of course it is an uncomfortable thing to have a whole section pointed out as being repetitive and possibly irrelevant, but it’s better to hear it from trusted friends before you publish than to never know why you keep getting rejections. Agents and editors rarely have time to tell hopeful authors why their work isn’t acceptable. This is why they use the dreaded form-letter-of-rejection.

outhouse at lake bernardHaving received enough of these to wallpaper an outhouse, I can tell you honestly that we aspiring authors are left to struggle on our own and learn the craft of writing as well as we can. This means we take courses if we can afford them or we avail ourselves of the very good education we can receive via the internet.

It also means we must ask others to look at our work. Local writing groups are the best places to meet people you can trust. Perhaps you’re not a member of a writing group and you want to become involved in one, but you are afraid of having your work torn to shreds. This is a real possibility, but there are MANY groups in every community, and quite a few will have the same rules as my group does. Attend several meetings as an observer before you commit to bringing any of your work. Once you see how they treat each other’s work you will know what you can expect from them.

Treat others the way you want to be treated, regardless. Don’t let the occasional bully stop you from growing and achieving your dream.

And this brings me back to where I started–trying to take an idea as it was laid down in the first draft, tell the story and yet show the action without going off the rails in either direction–showing OR telling.  As a reader I cut my teeth on Louisa May Alcott and J.R.R.Tolkien. They were authors who knew how to TELL a story and I lived it as they told it. Nowadays it takes a special sort of reader to enjoy classics as they were originally written, because they were rife with telling and not showing.

The second draft is much easier when it comes to laying out the action.  In the first draft I know what is supposed to happen at a given point, but I don’t always know how to show it, so I have a conversation that tells what happened. In the second draft I take those conversations out and replace them with the event.

Now I must have my characters go forth with their swords and kill me a dragon. We’re done talking about it boys! Show mama what ya got!


Filed under Adventure, Battles, Dragons, Humor, Uncategorized, Vegan, writer, writing

7 responses to “Gurus, St. George and Uncle Orson

  1. Those questions are amazing – so simple and revealing at the same time. Thanks for this lovely post!


  2. A terrific and informative post, Connie. As you know, I run a writing group and a specialist critique group for those that want it. I’m always respectful of others’ work and always point out the great parts, and suggest ways of improving the areas which don’t quite gel. I operate the critique group in a similar way to how I edit – and you know how I do that! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing Uncle Orson – I’ll check him out!


  3. Great to hear what a well-respected author asks about their first draft, really interesting, thanks for sharing that.
    Interesting for me that those questions are pretty much what my co-members in my writing group answer for me without having formalised those questions. I’m really lucky that the group I work with are almost all published in one form or another, and we’ve developed a really positive critiquing style that, as well as pointing up the good bits, pulls no punches when necessary, but does it in a constructive manner which usually ends up in a brain-storming discussion about how to remedy the problem.
    I just wished I lived that tiny bit closer to Carlie so I could join hers too!


  4. @Deborah – I think that brainstorming is one of the more positive aspects of a writing group. It helps the author to see his work with fresh eyes, and even if he takes none of the suggestions, he will find a solution of his own.