I Learned More Than Just Writing Tips From My Critique Group

I submitted my short story, The Ravenous Flock, to http://critters.org/ on 7/8/2012, where it sat in the queue. On Wednesday, 8/1/2012, it was released to their community of over 15,000 members. Later that week on a Saturday morning, I received my first 3 critiques. Verdict: It was worth the wait!

I learned some valuable lessons about my writing that I can now consciously pay attention to so that I can avoid them in the future. Some of which were just bad habits that had been formed long ago that had never been brought to my attention. For example, pay attention to the punctuation on this sample sentence: A dangerous voice spoke to him, weighted in a thick accent, “You will tell your king what I have done here this day, or I will come to reclaim your life.”

There should be a period after the word “accent” instead of a comma because it is actually a sentence and not a dialogue tag. This was an error that I had made a couple of times – an old habit that simply stayed below the radar of my critical eye. But the ability to learn things about your writing that you weren’t conscious of before is invaluable! The line by line corrections/suggestions that I received are immensely useful and will aid me in my next revision.

Another bad habit of mine shows in this sentence: The weight was lifted from his chest and Grindor began to hack and cough between his sporadic breaths. Did Grindor actually hack and cough? Or did he only begin to hack and cough? Words like “began” don’t help when trying to describe the actions in the scene and should be removed.

Lastly, I had some POV shifts that jarred the reader. Occassionally, the narrator switched from the point-of-view of Grindor to Ocamyr. I think I was trying to have an omnipresent narrator, but since the narrator spent so much time describing everything from Grindor’s perspective, it was odd to suddenly be in the mind of Ocamyr. These shifts in POV will be addressed and corrected so that the reader’s perspective of the events are all described through the eyes of Grindor.

I believe that by incorporating these edits and reworking the ending a little bit will strengthen my short story and prepare it for submission to magazines. Had I not taken the time to receive critique on my work, I may never have learned these flaws in my writing until it was too late. Having patience as a writer is a virtue. Take a moment and let that sink in. Maintaining one’s patience while on the cusp of achieving career-making milestones is difficult beyond measure. If a magazine purchases the rights to publish my short story, then I can join SFWA as an associate member. These two small events are what agents and publishers like to see on a submission and will get my foot in the door in this industry. Selling this short story could be the deciding factor as to whether my novel sees the light of day. So deciding to delay submitting it to magazines and patiently await for critique was unimaginably tortuous on the mind, but my desire to have the best chance of success for my short story overcame it all.

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What Good Writing Is

I had the pleasure of reading On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King over the weekend and it really slapped me awake. It is a highly recommended read for any and all aspiring fiction authors. In my writing, I had to overcome one large hurdle to change my style and now I’ve found that I need to overcome another. So, as I perform some last minute revisions to my manuscript, I thought I would offer up some of the advice that Stephen King had provided (this is a summary of only a select few of his points and the examples are my own).

1) Show, don’t tell. This was my first obstacle that I had to overcome, however this weakness in my writing was brought to my attention by my most trusted friends early on, and I was able to adapt to reveal information to the reader in a more scenic way. I’ve encountered a lot of this in my readings on Critters Writer’s Workshop, so it does warrant mentioning. Telling is required, but only up to a point. Mr. King emphasizes the fact that you should always show the reader, rather than tell the reader.

Example of tell: The hag makes a foul and putrid mead that many rumor to taste like swine’s piss.

Example of show: Eric watched as the hag swirled her broomstick to stir the bubbling stew that filled her bathtub. She threw in a honeycomb speckled with dead bees into the mixture. The hag bent low to retrieve a stein from the mudded floor as she pat her pet pig. She dipped the stein into the bath and scooped up some fluid.

“Here’s your mead,” she said as she plopped the iron stein onto the counter.

2) Adverbs are the devil. Anything that ends in -ly should be removed. This is my second hurdle that I am now addressing in my manuscript. Adverbs are a clear sign of a new writer. It’s lazy. Describing scenes and actions without them promotes and fosters more detailed writing. Mr. King emphasizes that they should especially never be used to describe how a character says something. “He or She said” is all that is required.

Example: “I love you,” he said passionately.

Alternate Example: The candle light shone in his eyes as he held her hands in his. “I love you,” he said.

3) No fluff. No Redundancies. Often times simple scenes can be over explained, or you describe the obvious. Plain and simple, Mr. King’s recommendation is to follow this formula to tighten up your writing. It increases pace and matures your work.

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

4) Don’t stop reading, and don’t stop writing. Getting better at the craft requires both. There has never been a successful author that doesn’t have the time to read. Additionally, Mr. King suggests setting a goal for yourself: Set aside a block of time each day and try to write at least 1,000 words a day. Sticking to a regimented schedule is important, even if you don’t meet that goal every day.