Wednesday, February 25, 2009


My workshop on writing popular fiction meets tonight and we begin the critiques of twenty pages from each of the first two victims - er, make that class members. Folks in this group are not just dabbling at writing, they're actually trying to write (or have written) a novel or, in a couple of cases, a memoir. And the genres are all over the place -- sci-fi, cozy mystery, coming-of-age, thriller, western, fantasy, young adult -- I'm sure I've left out something.

So how do we deal with such diversity? Good question.

The fact is that very few people like every kind of reading -- but that's what we've got here. So each of us has the task of opening our mind to this particular type of writing and trying to determine if it is working -- does it engage the reader from the beginning? are the characters compelling? is the world of the story consistent?

It's never fun having people criticize something you've worked hard on, especially if you think you've done a good job. And there's bound to be a certain amount of trepidation among first timers to the class. One of the students commented on the fact of signing up for (and paying for) "a gut-wrenching experience."

Really, it's not that bad. As a Southern lady of a certain age, I require politeness in our criticism. We begin by saying what worked well in the pages under consideration before moving to what, in our opinion, isn't working. At no point do we say things like "This sucks!" or similar harsh, unhelpful statements.

But we do say what isn't working. And to soften the blow when I hand back the pages, all marked up with my comments, I usually bring in one of my manuscripts, similarly marked up, just so they can see how important it is to get another viewpoint.

I have learned so very much from my editor's comments and corrections. Even when she wants me to change who done it (ART'S BLOOD) or to excise a major character and attached subplot (DAY OF SMALL THINGS aka Birdie's book), I'm grateful for the learning experience.

Just as I hope tonight's writers will be.
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Carol Murdock said...

One thing I learned writing songs in Nashville.If you cannot take criticism or rejection and learn from it,you have chosen the wrong field to work in.There is more of these than praise and success.I'm sure your students value your help.

Vicki Lane said...

The class went very well and I think everyone, not just the two whose pages were under scrutiny, learned a lot from the suggestions.

And it's not just my help -- everyone of them had good, on-the-money comments and ideas for improvement.