We had our local ANWA (American Night Writers' Association) meeting last Thursday at Kari Pike's house. I went with some amount of nervousness because I had made copies of a few pages of my writing that I wanted my group to critique. It was my first time and I was fearful of what might be said about my writing.
The lesson was presented by--okay, I'm really bad with names, so I might have this wrong--Gail, who had attended a writing conference by Orson Scott Card. I love these kind of reports because so often I can't go to these conferences. One idea was to ask "what else" when you get stuck in a story. You can even ask other people to help you decide "what else." You might get some great ideas that hadn't occurred to you, but takes your tale in a new, exciting direction.
Other tips were things to avoid having your reader say: "Oh yeah?" - make it believable; "So what?" - make the reader care about your characters; and "Huh?" - make it clear. Even if you already explained it before, if your readers aren't getting it, you need to explain it again or explain it better.
I was talking to my Mom last week about the "oh yeah?" factor of writing. She is heavy into family history research and has been for years. She has seen many amazing miracles happen in the course of her research. She made the comment that truth is stranger than fiction. I told her that not only is it stranger, but the same experience, if written in fiction would not be believable and would make for bad fiction. Instead of "how amazing," the reader would say something more like, "Sure, like that would really happen." It means fiction writers must walk a fine line between making something unique and interesting without making it unbelievable.
The last part of Gail's presentation was a strategy she picked up from a class at the University of Utah. She called it "Steal a Plot." I think I'd call it "Borrow a Plot," but the result is the same. She recommended changing a plot idea until it is no longer recognizable, plugging in your own characters, location, etc. She said that she uses this technique in scenes too, where she wants to show a certain character trait. She will think of a scene from the scriptures or historical sources that show that character trait and borrow the scene into her own work. She had us practice writing a plot summary from a favorite movie, then tell how we might change it to use it in a novel. It was a fun exercise--go try it!
After the lesson, it was time to critique members' work. I was the only one that night who brought something to be read, which added to my nervousness. I passed around copies of my print-outs and read it aloud. And, I am happy to report, I survived! It wasn't as painful as I'd feared. In fact, I got some wonderful suggestions and some mistakes were pointed out that I really should have known better than to make, but didn't see. This was all done gently and encouragingly. The group showed great interest in my story and seemed excited to hear more of it. What a relief! I went through my first critique session and I did okay. I am really glad I did it, and I will be much less fearful next time.