Writer’s Critique Meeting Four – It must get better!

I went to my first meeting today specifically geared toward science fiction writing. For that reason alone, I was excited about the meeting. This was also my first meeting outside of a library based group, and since it started in the evening, I assumed the crowd would be a younger one. I found this group through another website. I’m not giving them free advertising so I won’t explain how I found a group of people looking to MEET UP with each other. I’m sure if you use any of the many many search engines (Geez… There must be a google of them.) you can find your own group of writers for the purpose of critiquing. There are lots of wannabe authors out there looking to MEET UP with each other.

The meeting took place in a community clubhouse which was nice because it gave us enough room to fit a few hundred people. There was only six of us. Plenty of elbow room. Unfortunately, since it was essentially a public room we did have a few random people walking in and out during the meeting. Some of them making noise while the reading was going on.

This meeting is scheduled to run ninety minutes. The first ten minutes were essentially wasted by small talk and marketing discussions. It was possible that more people might have been on the way and they didn’t want to get started but… meh.

I’ll go through my general impressions of the people in the meeting. One of these people you might recognize from one of my earlier posts. I won’t say which one. That’ll give you a reason to go back through my earlier blogs.

Person one is the man I contacted through the mystery website. I’ll call him Fred. I once knew a man named Fred. He had a horse named Fred. (Search that reference if you dare.) Anyway, Fred has brought two short scenes that he would like us to listen to. He begins by explaining that he only wrote this one a few hours ago, and it’s not very good. It needs work blah blah blah. [Protip: Don’t start off by excusing the quality of your work. Let it stand on its own merits.] (Am I Pro yet? Am I allowed to give out Protips? Hope the guild doesn’t come after me.) The scene describes the captain of a space ship and her interaction with the ship’s environment. If any of you have read B.V. Larson’s Star Force series, you’ll recognize the concept of walls, chairs, control panels, etc forming from a material that is endlessly malleable and controlled by an A.I. The scene was short but perfectly fine for its purpose. The next piece was a scene from a novella he is working on staged in the 1800’s about a slave. He apologized profusely for bringing this to a Sci-Fi meeting. It wasn’t an issue for me or anyone else. It was another short scene, and it seemed well written. Just about everyone gave him some constructive feedback which he accepted gratefully.

Person two is the meeting’s founder. I need to call him Uncle Dave. I don’t have an Uncle Dave, but you probably do and I want to draw you into my experience. Dave is presenting us with what I think was chapter 2 of his work. Here’s where we need a chart or something to get organized. I’m going to list you all the events of this ONE chapter.

1 – Native American boy arrives at Boston Airport for his first day at MIT. He’s carrying a bow.

2 – Boy walks into an MIT building and marvels at the murals on the wall that contain famous big thinkers throughout history.

3 – Boy meets girl and two other people & they are all assigned as roommates. One of the roommates also happens to be into hunting with a bow.

4 – There’s some discussion about a power source that was invented but covered up by… no idea.

5 – Girl somehow tracks down the inventor, and gives him a bunch of money to get the secrets to his invention.

6 – A page or two of technobabble explaining power source.

7 – Some kind of business meeting happens and it all ends with them happy about this device that will make them all rich and powerful.

Throughout this entire chapter, there was never any reference to a time change or even a scene change. It could have all been the same day or years passing by. There were even a few POV switches.

People made some comments. I always try to be honest when critiquing. I also always try to give the author an idea of what I’m thinking at each point in the material. [Protip: If a reader tells you they don’t understand X and you KNOW that X is explained later at a better point in the story then, fine, let it go.]

I started by telling him I thought the whole Indian/bow thing would be viewed as stereotyping and offensive to some readers. I’m not Native American. I wasn’t offended, but I can see how others could be. He didn’t seem to think my point made any sense. There was a perfectly good expla-blah blah blah.

I told him about the odd POV switches. One of them he agreed may need to be rewritten.

I told him I didn’t understand any of the time-frame or scene switches. He said, there’s a bar across the written page for scene switches.

I mentioned his technobabble went on a little too long. At least that’s what I tried to say. He interrupted me at the mention of the term technobabble. He brought out a page of mathematics to show us all how much it wasn’t technobabble. It was real math. Sigh.

I never got a chance to mention that I got nothing out of what he wrote in regards to the character’s personality. Stories are about people. Technical manuals are about things.

[Protip: Are you writing to entertain other people with an interesting story or are you writing for some other reason? Ask yourselves this. Repeatedly.]

If you want to have readers enjoy what you write, then make sure you write about interesting characters. I love well-written fantasy and sci-fi. But those are only settings. Tell me about a box that can transport people faster than light or magically across the mountains, and I think… Neato. What did they do with it? That transport box will go in and out of my head in under a second, but a character doing something big with it will stay with me for weeks or longer.

Person Three. His name is going to be Butters. Butters seemed sure that I (and the one other new person) would need to hear his story from the beginning. He wanted to start with his Prologue. Other people didn’t seem happy about him going back to the start, but… meh. It’s his nickel, let him read what he wants.

Prologue starts with MC looking out over a cliff at some majestic scenery. Descriptions are given and then the MC gets hit in the head from behind and finds himself falling over the cliff. Chapter one then describes the development of cyborg type beings in this world and all kinds of interesting world building stuff. It’s obvious the character from the prologue will become one of these creatures.

Points I brought up when my turn came around included enjoying the description in chapter one about the failures of the technology involved. He had a couple of interesting and original (to me) ideas so I won’t give them away. A more important point that everyone except the author agreed with was the whole issue of it being a prologue. It contained the MC. There was nothing in it suggesting it should be a prologue instead of calling it chapter one.

The forum website I participate in has had lots of recent discussion about prologues, mostly concerning their misuse. Some agents and publishers hate them and will reject any MS containing them. Many are nothing more than background information that would be better served in the main body of work. I have my own opinions on the topic.

If you’re interested in reading the prologue arguments, you can find it HERE.

The next person in our circle was another person new to the group. He didn’t bring any material to read but gave out business cards for his website. Maybe I’ll look later.

My turn to read. I have brought my trusty spare copies so everyone can follow along as I read it out loud. The MC in my story is about a WG Senator seeking to save the species as long as he gets to line his pockets and become more powerful in the process.

Comments given to me include the use of WG without explanation until the end of the chapter. (It stands for World Government.) This issue has been brought to my attention before. It’s intentional. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I like the idea of having the reader curious for a few pages or chapters. It doesn’t affect anything in chapter one by not knowing the answer to that question until later. Besides, when I’m reading, it makes me feel smart if I figure things out for myself. [Protip: Make your readers feel good about themselves even if it’s by showing how bad your character is.]

Another commenter says he doesn’t buy into a government that is both evil and trying to save humanity. Really? Wasn’t Hitler trying to save humanity in his own special way? My story doesn’t have an evil government. It’s a massive government made up of individuals who have their own motivations. I think most people are happy trying to do their best at their jobs even if they occasionally do something selfish in the process.

Someone else who was paying attention to the written copy spotted a mistake. Thank you, I’ll fix that later today.

During all the comments people made to me, my responses were limited to, “Thank you.”

No explaining, no defending. They heard what I wrote. End of story. If they didn’t get something or didn’t like something, it’s my problem. I need to review things later and think about making changes (or not.)

The last person escaped his mother’s basement to read us a chapter out of his fantasy novel. In a Sci-Fi forum. Nobody appears surprised or concerned. I guess this is normal for him. He spends five minutes setting up his chapter. There are about ten minutes left in the meeting. I won’t go into a description of his chapter. By the time he’s finished reading, we were five minutes past our deadline. I don’t actually care about running late, but if it was me, I would have skipped the five-minute preamble. (And the twenty-minute post-show.)

The comments from other people including myself were mostly positive concerning his scene descriptions. However, even though the scene contained dialogue, I didn’t get any sense of emotion or personality from the characters. They entered a dark mysterious library and did some things. No emotion came through the writing.

The larger problem was after each person made a comment, the author responded with a few minutes of explanation. I got no sense that he was taking in any of the comments as ways to improve his material. It was like he wanted desperately to have other people come into his world and this was his big chance. He even started talking about the main character in the first person. “When I went into the antique store with my ancient ring blah blah blah.” There were some things he talked about where I had no idea if he meant himself in this world or the character in the story. It got scary. I may have peed a little.

Thank you all for reading. Do you have an experience with a writer’s group that you would like to share? Let me know. Maybe you can write the next post.

[I’m not actually a “Pro” yet. Use my Protips at your own peril.]

Blog Three – Writing Critique Group Three

Blog Two – Second Writers Group

Blog One – I just got back from my first critique group and …

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5 thoughts on “Writer’s Critique Meeting Four – It must get better!

  1. “Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I like the idea of having the reader curious about things for a few pages or chapters. It doesn’t affect anything in chapter one by not knowing the answer to that question until later. Besides, when I’m reading, it makes me feel smart if I figure things out for myself.”

    No. No. No. No. NOOOOO!

    Seriously, you just wrote about how frustrated you were with the guy who put complex math in his novel. That’s nowhere near as big a writing sin as putting in terms you haven’t defined. Readers who know complex math can still follow that guy’s novel, but they won’t have a clue what’s going on with the “WG” unless they’ve been reading your blog posts. Always write for the reader who’s never seen your outlines and doesn’t know what’s going on in your head.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Maybe I didn’t explain his math thing correctly. I wasn’t referring to basic physics or calculus. His math involved a couple of pages of theoretical physics and spacial geometry. If you’ve ever watched the Big Bang TV show you know that when Sheldon Cooper goes off on a couple of lines of science terminology it can be funny, even for people who are clueless as to what he’s talking about. Imagine Sheldon going on like that for fifteen minutes. It loses it’s entertainment value quickly.

      Thank you for the comments.

      Like

  2. You know how you hear something for the first time, and suddenly you’re picking it up everywhere? I first heard “Say ‘Thank you,’ period” as the recommended writers’ group crit response the other day on a back Writing Excuses podcast and here you are, modelling it in your blog.

    I don’t know. I agree that justifications are pointless. And a waste of everyone’s time. If a reader picks up a problem, there’s a problem— of some sort or other. But if all the writers in a crit group simply responded, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” to everything anyone said, I’d get really irritated. I’d feel like they weren’t really listening. Like my old shrink whose uniform response was, “I hear what you’re saying”— when plainly, she did not. I want to be giving my critiques to people, not robots.

    I think if I’m able to get into a critique group (and I’m envious of you, having so many available to try), I’d probably mix it up with, “Thank you, I’ll consider that” and “Yes, I can see that might be a problem. Thanks.” That sort of thing, so the critiquer will feel I’m actually responding to him or her, not spouting a standard phrase.

    And sometimes, as I’ve found with my beta readers, it can help the writer to say, “You’re telling me this particular bit isn’t working. Can you tell me more about what the problem is?” Because if a critique is shallow or vague, it won’t help me at all. Defending my writing exactly as it is, no. Probing for further information, yes.

    [End of rant.]

    Your blog is great. You see I’m starting from the beginning to get the whole course of your crit group journey.

    [BTW, I’m Catrin Lewis from WF]

    Like

    • Yeah. I say “Thank you,” in my blog, but I didn’t really mean that literally. I only meant that it’s pointless to argue or explain other areas of the work during the critique. If I realize a valid point is being raised, I’ll let them know and sometimes I do ask for a deeper clarification of their point.

      Andrew

      Liked by 1 person

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