What I learned through Critiquing

When I started writing this blog back in June, one of my early posts was titled When Do You Let Someone Read Your Writing? I mentioned at the time that I was almost obsessed with ensuring no one read my words, even hubby had the laptop closed on him any time he entered the room (if the poor guy was any less trusting, he might have thought I was surfing for porn.) I’d barely mentioned to anyone, including family, that I was trying to write.

The problem was, I had to get my writing to a level where I felt a modicum of confidence in showing another living soul. I knew that for a long time what I was doing was dreadful. And it was gut-wrenching to go through revision after revision and then find every time I opened a page or a chapter in the light of a new day, what I’d thought was great the previous night, was now crap once again. I’m sure Gremlins were in my system!

Two people through the RWA Critique Partners Program have now had a look at my book, His Brand Of Beautiful.

These are the major things I’ve taken from the process:

Not enough narrative

I had been so obsessed with the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ that I had excluded narrative to the detriment of the book. I launched into scenes and chapters without slowing down long enough to give my reader the most basic concepts: where are we, when is it? Both my CPs picked up on this in different ways, but what brought it home for me was when in one of my chapters I say:

Christina Clay walked into his architecture-award-winning four-walled mausoleum for the second time about three-thirty on Saturday afternoon. Actually, stumbled into it was closer to the mark, mannequin crossways in her arms like a sculpted sack of potatoes.

And my CP wrote: “phew – call me lazy but it’s nice just to know where they are. Tate’s house. Saturday afternoon.”

The other CP said the same thing, but in different words:

It is very enjoyable to be dumped mis-en-scène and then discover what is happening.  It can be tiring to have this happen a lot.

The good thing was: both of them felt the same thing, and it forced me to sit up and take notice and change it, and hopefully this is for the better. I am sure that if I take that time to ground my reader with a sentence or two in the beginning, they can then better concentrate on the plot developments and dialogue and where I want to take them next.

Double description

I never realised I use similies like I use my tissue box in hayfever season ( 🙂 ), until my CPs began commenting. Neither were negative about my use of similies, both CPs liked my descriptions and felt it was a strength in my writing, but a comment that resonated with me was:

Sometimes you use two strong and sometimes disparate images and the reader flounders, just having absorbed and enjoyed one, and forced to picture another.  I have put “1 or the other” to show what I mean.

Here’s an example (I’m describing a taser shot):

And a high-pitched ticking, like the fastest clock in the world. Like a bike wheel with a leaf trapped in the spokes.

Once you’re told you do it, and told to look for it, well – now I see them everywhere. In my last round of revisions after the two CPs had looked at His Brand Of Beautiful with fresh, ‘reader’ eyes, I tried to be lethal with the delete key on my similes. Less is more, Less is more. And perhaps on that philosophy, if I’m only keeping the best of them, they’ll be more cut-through because of it.

And finally, for Kathy (just in case she’s listening!) 🙂

Commas in dialogue!

“Use them, Lily!”

There were many more points each CP raised, including plot points and inconsistencies – all of which were useful – but one of the sentiments I see in just about everything I’ve read on critiquing is: only take out of it the things you want to.
So these were the big three for me!

Jennifer Crusie recently posted a piece about critiquing. If you’re considering going through this Critiquing process (and I now strongly recommend it) it’s an excellent post covering the whys and wherefores. http://www.arghink.com/2012/10/09/critiques-some-questions/

 

Terrified of telling

I love the internet. It’s the best thing for showing that pretty much no matter what is going on in your (writing) life, there’s someone out there who has been through it too.

I was lying awake for a few hours this morning trying to go back to sleep (like that was going to happen) and in the end I figured, bugger trying to write my thoughts in my head, I’d just get up and do it. Go Nike.

I’m a bit of a ‘list’ person, hubby always laughs at the bullet point notes of ‘things to do’ on the various notebooks I leave lying about, so in no general order:

• This jury duty is on my mind. I have to go down to the court today. I’ve been three times so far without being called for a trial. It’s like a mini-ballot every time you go down there.

• The first scene of His Brand Of Beautiful is on my mind heaps. With the jury duty, I haven’t looked at it for a while but I did again last night for a few reasons: (queue subsequent bullet list)

a) I had a two-line letter back from the agent I queried (I thought these things were supposed to take weeks!) which said: Thank you for contacting our agency. Unfortunately we are not looking at manuscripts such as the one you describe. A list of literary agents can be found at http://austlitagentsassoc.com.au/index.html Best of luck with your writing.

Which doesn’t give a girl much to go on, but I think if you’ve sent a query letter with a pitch for what you’re doing and they say ‘send it’ and then “not looking at manuscripts such as the one you describe’… well I think that means they took a quick look and didn’t like it. (And fair enough). So I was a bit flat last night but I’m okay about it this morning.

b) Last night we watched The Descendants. It’s the George Clooney movie where his wife has a jet-ski/boating accident and is in a coma for most of the movie and they have to turn off her life support. Man what a tear-jerker. I kept running to the kitchen for tissues and in the end I had to bring in the whole damn box. Clooney of course is Clooney, but the Director, Alexander Payne? He wrote the script and there was an interview with the author in the extras on the DVD and she’s amazing too. I think when you see really brilliant & talented people doing spectacular things it shows you just how far you have to go 😉

Traffic on my blog has been fairly high (for me) over the weekend, most people looking at the opening scene of His Brand Of Beautiful I posted a fortnight ago. It hasn’t had any comments, which is fine, people are busy (or maybe too kind!) But the rejection letter from the agency made me take another quick look at the scene. I think I’m making some classic mistakes: introducing too many characters, not giving enough context. I know that my early (very terrible) drafts were full of ‘telling’ not showing and I think it’s made me terrified of giving any exposition at all. I will have to weigh those thoughts up.

Maybe I can take the laptop down to the courtroom instead of the book I’m reading (currently One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – which is also adding to my feelings of writing inadequacies… my god that book is brilliant.) There’s a whole heap of waiting that goes on down there. Waiting for the sheriff’s officers, waiting for lawyers and judges, waiting for a courtroom, waiting to see if you are needed. Maybe I can find a little quiet corner and tap, tap away!

I need to retain the faith that the story for His Brand Of Beautiful is “there” and that I know how to tell (oops – show) it. The next deadline for me is the RWA STALI. I think that opens in a few days and closes about 5 October. So that’s something to work to, and the good thing about competitions is, it will help me with feedback.

Cheers, Lily.