Friday, May 17, 2013

Wooden Nickels or Gold?

I just finished a new novel.

Again—the same one.

When I finally got the plot down, I thought, ‘I’m finished. Yeah! Now I’ll just go in and layer in more richness and I will be there.’ Did that, now I’m finished.


This could be the point at which self-published authors get themselves into hot water when they stop and publish, and fail to get their best work out. Novels take so much more to be really good than to simply slam down a story, fill in with a bit of depth and publish.

When I decided to write this present story, I knew I needed a critique group. To find the right one is absolutely essential, or at least some very good beta readers (same thing, no?) You must have outside trained eyes to tell you where you are missing the mark, because in your head you see it so clearly, and yet you might not have all of that down on the page and won’t know that until someone tells you—hopefully not after you are published.

Or, maybe you have too much down on that page, a regurgitation of all the details that should have remained in the back story and come out in the action and dialogue of the characters.

Or, you are so in love with your own words and can’t see that all those lovely phrases are slowing the story down and should be axed. Most readers will skip them anyway to get to the story—if they are patient. If not, well you might have lost a reader—many readers.

Other eyes are needed for perspective.

So, I went through this whole story with my group. It started out as a sequel to my first novel to be published in June (Dance the Dream Awake), but instead, eked its way out of that sequel (yet to be finished) into a stand-alone of the past life of two main characters in my first, and next, book. It gets complicated because I write about past lives.

Now at the end, when I thought it was ‘finished,’ the richness has to be drawn out—the criticism being focused on the details that I left out to get the story down. But I see it all so clearly in my head, why can’t you? 

Uh, you forgot to put that on the page. 

(Probably because I tend to write short (short story writer for many years)—focused on the facts—quick and dirty.)

I was flattered by one of my critique partners who is so taken with my story, she left off concentrating on her own work to give me ideas for mine (you know who you are JoAnne).

So, what to do? I need to go yet deeper—live under each character’s skin and see what they see, feel what they feel, hear what they hear in that special world that informs their whole existence. The characters need to emerge from their place on the drawing board and worm their way into the reader’s imagination so they will become unforgettable. They are begging for a fairy god-mother’s touch to awaken them like Pinocchio.

I know this. Did I do this? Not as thoroughly as I thought. Not until I got to the last two chapters and ‘finished’ did the avalanche of loving critique hit me and wash over me. Only then could everyone in the group see that they wanted more and I hadn’t fully delivered—yet. They want more richness, more details to engage them—like that ATT commercial of the little girl being questioned in the classroom: 

Have you given your story all it should have? Or do your readers want more?

. . . to be continued next blog post. . . . (It will not be as long a wait as this post was. Without boring you with details, life got in the way for several weeks there—sorry.)

Do you have a critique group or beta readers that help push you for more?

Do you overwrite or underwrite (like me)?

What is your process to be sure you have given your story all it requires?

P.S. I’ve been working on a website, and finally caved and put up a simpler one than the original I attempted. I still don’t have it finished but I threw up my hands and told myself, it is what it is—for now! (Critique of it much appreciated if you have suggestions.)


Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I know exactly what you mean! I worked on my first mystery novel, "Mixed Messages," for years. It wasn't until I found a great critique group, Queen City Writers, that I made the changes necessary to make the book the best that I could.

Cora said...

Writing is such an all-encompassing endeavor and there is always more to learn isn't there, Pat?

Anonymous said...

(Great big sigh here) Cora -
You know your story has everything mine does not - brave samurai warriors fighting to the death, devious imperial court intrigues, wonderful clothes, hot sex, captivating characters. Just get a gun and shoot me now.
P.S. I was just returning the favor of when you pulled on me to bring up my main characters fears and goals and the reasons for both.

Dac said...

Well said, Cora. I'd be unpublished without my writing group. We've been together for over a decade - monthly sessions. Sometimes tempers fly. No damage, we know each other well.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I couldn't do it without my critique group--same one for 30 years, though with some new faces overtime. Enjoyed reading this and everyone's comments.

Cora said...

That's because we want more--we want more.

Cora said...

Our group hasn't been together that long-but we clicked right away. We meet weekly (I would go crazy if we had to wait for a monthly meeting). We all love each other's work and each other's company so it is easy.

Cora said...

Wow, 30 years. That's really something. It shows your consistency.

Holli Castillo said...

I have what I call readers. We don't meet as a group, but I send them the manuscript to read before I edit and send to my publisher. Some live in different states and all have different jobs and interests, so I can make sure I'm not writing only for my lawyer fans or only for women.

Cora said...

I always wondered how that would work to have critique readers online. So much is figured out by my critique partners as a group, as feedback from one person clues another into articulating better what it is that is bothering them about a selection. It is good to have the different viewpoints as you have stated. Thanks for commenting Holli.

elizabethfais said...

I've had a couple of Beta readers in my early drafting phase. I tried a few of crit groups, but they weren't the right fit. I had my ms critiqued by a major editor at a SCBWI annual conference and after that revision hired a freelance editor to give me her feedback, which was invaluable. Now I'm going back in for a "polish edit". In the long run, I know I need to find trusted crit partners and beta readers. You are so right about needing fresh eyes and a fresh perspective to make a story as good as it deserves to be.

Ellen Gregory said...

I love the sound of a weekly critique group. I'm in a monthly one that's barely functioning at the moment, but within that I have several friends who will read for me if I need.

It is important to find the right readers -- I have some good friends who are excellent writers and critiquers, but they don't necessarily like the style of fantasy I write. It can sometimes be hard sorting out who to give it to; and if you do give it to those who don't fully appreciate the genre, sorting out which comments to heed.

How does your weekly group work? Do you sub novel chapters as you go, or do you wait for the revision phase...? I'm coming to the end of a big first draft and am pondering whether to get chapters critqued as I revise, or whether to wait until I have a completed revision.

Cora said...

We all love our time together each week. I joined the group last fall. They were a romance writer group and I fit in because I have romance in mine (but not the traditional romance genre because I'm paranormal romance suspense). I think you have a point about readers critiquing of the same genre or at least understanding the genre you're writing.

We bring however many pages we have written (up to about 10). We critique at all stages-first draft to final edit (sometimes just kicking around ideas). If we are stuck, others will share ideas on what we might do, or suggest major change of direction if the story isn't working. I think getting critiqued all along the way is the way to go (for me). There are five of us when we are all there and it works well. Our girls night out in the library.

Cora said...

Finding trusted crit partners is exactly the point. It doesn't work if there isn't trust and cooperation (egos left at the door). I had been looking for a few years before I found the right group.