Category Archives: Writing Critique groups

A Space Opera Selection

Who do you listen to when you write?

Dean Wesley Smith has written more than a hundred books over many years along with his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch who has written equally as much. Both are Oregon Coast writers who know what they are talking about when it comes to writing and publishing. So it was interesting to read a blog where Dean advocated not having Beta readers or even writing groups.  https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-sacred-cows-of-publishing-beta-readers-help-you/ His point was that in the cacophony of advice, the author ‘s voice may be lost among the mumble of suggestions, and the story damaged or diluted.

I work with both a writers’ group and Beta readers because I find their input helpful in making my story stronger.

But he has a point. A very good point.

Some writers want to polish each word to a literary high gloss, while others encourage a stampede of action and excitement to keep their readers turning the pages. Others drench their characters with emotion much like a teenager in the throes of first love. And you, as the writer, may be pushed and pulled by their suggestions.

In The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon  (mentioned in my last blog) I delighted in brilliant metaphors and similes until it became too much and felt like every third sentence was a finely crafted metaphor to show off how clever the writing was.

I love Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Series, but the strong emotions of the characters take center stage, leaving descriptions and action to tag along.

And anyone reading space opera science fiction or a series like The Expanse knows that action is paramount. Authors are told to have the first chapter start bang with strong action that hooks the reader and fill out the characters and setting later.

So a writers should decide what his or her voice is, or it could become a hodgepodge of other people’s suggestions.

Make no mistake, suggestions are helpful and often make for a stronger work, but only after asking the question : Do I know what my voice is and is this suggestion consistent with my voice and how I want my story written?

In my last blog, I mentioned the international aspect of blogs. Writers are blogging with other writers from all over the globe. It’s quite international. But now we have come to a whole new level when Google translate can instantly translate a blog into many different languages. My friend Diana Peach wrote a guest blog today for Christopher Graham. (copy/paste)

https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2017/10/03/world-building-from-imagination-to-reality-guest-post-by-diana-peach/?c=128961#comment-128961

The blog was excellent, but what attracted my attention was the ability to tap the drop down in the upper right hand corner and immediately have Google translate the blog into a bewildering number of languages. Take your pick.

Think about that one.

I return to space opera this week for my science fiction suggestion. David Drake is a prolific writer of science fiction with several series, and I have been meaning to read him for some time now. Written in 1992, Starliner came out in trade paperback this past June with additional content.

Third officer, Lieutenant Ran Colville, receives his staff side position of making sure all goes smoothly on board the newest and largest starship, the Empress of Earth. Even with the efficient help of the attractive lieutenant Wanda Holly, politics, greed, young love and war threaten to disrupt the orderly passage of the luxury ship with its high class passengers. And Ran’s job is to see they are happy and safe. Different chapters describe various landings on interesting worlds, each one presenting a challenge to the ship. All through the story is the threat of pirates or a military fleet from a warring planet that would love to add this majestic ship to its fleet. Jumping through wormhole, exploring exotic world, dealing with dark politics, and fending off panting women all keep Ran hopping.The Spark

Drake writes a fast-paced story but keeps in mind his characters and their various emotions that drive their actions. This book is a stand alone, but I’m certain to try out other of David Drakes stories having read this one.  Maybe this latest one.

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An Author’s Life

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I’m coming down the home stretch.

The latest book in the Alysian Series is gathering momentum as the publication date comes in sight. Toni Boudreault, my cover designer, just sent over the cover for me to approve.

What did I consider important in the cover design?
First, I wanted to use the same font as I used on the others in the series to tie them together.

Second, I wanted a title short enough to fit comfortably on the cover, while indicating the theme of the book. I wanted the letters big enough to be able to read in a thumbnail.

A central theme in the story involves an equation that not only predicts, but can manipulate the future. It took a long time and several working titles to finally settle on Time’s Equation as the final choice.

Next I wanted the background to show interesting equations, but I didn’t want the cover to look like a math book. Several of my immediate readers don’t like people on the cover. They prefer to imagine what the characters look like. For science fiction, about half have people and half have images of ships, worlds, planets, etc. So some of mine do, but most don’t show faces on the cover.

But this story is about time travel along with the development of a romantic relationship. Consequently, we settled on hands reaching out to touch through a swirling timegate. The story contains both mathematical science and romance.

I chose the blue background because it’s cooler and contrasts against the warmer tones of the hands.

There’s also aliens, androids, clones, cyborgs, nano viruses, you know… the usual.

That’s my process for working with Toni to get a cover. I’m lucky that she listens to my ideas and then goes off to make magic. Towards the end, she is patient with my many tweaks and suggestions because we both know how important a cover is for attracting readers.bk8_cover_proo4

Also happening is the incoming comments from Beta readers. One of the things that I work hard on is to get the writing right. Through a writing critique group and then Beta readers, I’m able to polish the writing. It isn’t easy and takes months of hard work.

Occasionally, I hire a professional editor, but they can be very expensive and sometimes not worth the price.

I format as I go so I can estimate the length of chapters and start most chapters on the right side page. Often I add or delete sentences during writing to keep the formatting professional.

Finally, I have scheduled Cosmic Entanglement for a free run on KDP Select from November 13 through November 16 to set up some buzz on the series.

I apologize that I’m not an avid social networker. My life isn’t chock full of excitement (thank goodness) because most of my time is involved in writing or editing.

And currently, a wedding.
My daughter is getting married in February, and that’s taking up a bit of time and will accelerate as the wedding approaches.

My recommendation for this week is to read Caught in Time as a start to Cosmic Entanglement…although I’ll tell you a secret.

Cosmic Entanglement works very well as a first book. You can do that with time travel. Both Caught in Time and Cosmic Entanglement start around the same time. One just goes back in time while the other goes on to normal time events.

Here I have given you a sneak peak into an author’s life this week, and now I have to go do some more writing and editing. See you next week with a new recommendation for science fiction or fantasy.pumpkin

Powell's books

ps. Here’s photo of Robin Hobb’s signing at Powell’s.          HAPPY HALLOWEEN

                                                                                                                    

 

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Fantasy vs. Science fiction

photoMy writing group has a mix of both science fiction and fantasy writers, and I’m coming to some conclusions on how these two genres differ in regards to writing styles.

One differences is the extent of world building. Sure I put a map in my second book, but I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance tome, and he has not only an extensive map but extensive illustrations of the flora and fauna in his world, the fashion of his world, and the social hierarchy. Science fiction writers paint a world and then get on with the action; fantasy writers dally in the landscape and admire the scenery more.

Fantasy seems to be more character driven while science fiction is more plot driven. The reader doesn’t get too deep into the complex psychology of the Splinkx, whereas in Fool’s Assassin, the complex emotions of FitzWilliam is a focus for the story and provides the impact at the end.

And the science fiction writers like their high tech gadgets and cutting edge science almost as much as fantasy writers like their magic. Sometimes the two are very similar. (see sidebar quote)

In my series, there is time travel. Poof you’re here; poof, you’re there. Sorta magical.

Both may involve large battles. However, in Lord of the Rings, the battle is mostly on the ground while in in Star Wars or Star Trek, the battles are usually out in space with lots of lasers and gunships.

The enemy tends to be ugly in both genres. Whether it’s Klingons or Orcs, it’s not a pretty face. Our allies, however, are attractive. Legolas and Aragon make me drool, although we should skip the characters of George R. R. Martin as he is changing this trope a bit . Princess Leia and Hans Solo are also easy on the eyes…but the occasional hairy Wooki does pop up. And some of our friendlier aliens often exhibit odd behaviors.

In writing group, the fantasy people are always telling me to put more description in my story while I’m always asking them to stop admiring the scenery, the dress, character behavior and get on with the action and storyline.

This interplay makes for better writing on both sides of the aisle. Still, as a writer, you must recognize your genre and the style that your reader expects, and accommodate that expectation to a certain extent.

I recently read a blog by Tara Sparling and even though it is dated, the numbers are interesting. It’s data on the best selling books of 2012 with charts and graphs. Check it out here: http://tarasparlingwrites.com/2013/08/21/2012-bestselling-book-data-visualised/ 

Words of RadianceThis week I finished Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. (Huff. Huff) The over one thousand pages looked overwhelming, but they were actually easier to do than I expected– although it entailed a few really late nights. Way of Kings is the first in this series and I reviewed that last year and really liked it. Brandon Sanderson is a favorite of mine.

If you like chunky epics with detailed world building, you will love this one. The characters are compelling and the magic, as ever with Sanderson, is interesting. There are three major point of view characters: the doctor’s son betrayed into slavery and clawing his way back, the king’s uncle and stalwart hero who battles both in the trenches and in the  evil court, and the abused beautiful young girl who searches for the strength to become a powerful woman. Each has a story and each interact with the others. The stories start slow, but build beautifully.Way of Kings

Sanderson writes with passion and a good storyline. That combination always makes an excellent read and is worth being a little sleep deprived at times.

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The Writing World and Critique Groups

 

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Writers’ Critique Groups

Writing about the new book publishing age, I mentioned the importance of a good critique group to help polish a self-pubbed book. My critique group has been invaluable, so I asked D. Wallace Peach to say a few words about what makes a good writing critique group.

Known to me as Diana, she has published her third book, SunWielder, which I recently reviewed, and has submitted the rest of her Myths of the Mirror Trilogy: Eye of Fire, and Eye of Blind to her publisher. So stay tuned for that sometime in 2015.

Even with an editor and Diana’s exact eye for copywriting, I believe the critique group helped make the final books of the Myths Trilogy even stronger and better.Sunwielder

So here’s what she had to say:

Diana:  “A critique group is different from a support group, though they overlap. My mother is a one-woman support group; she loves everything I’ve written since I was six. And for that reason she’s an awful person to ask for a critique.

Joining a critique group may be one of the smartest steps we can take in our careers as writers. Pointed, honest feedback is essential to learning and refining our craft. But finding the right group is like finding the right psychotherapist; sometimes you have to work at it to get a good fit. You want the truth, but in a way that’s helpful and encourages you to grow.”

Sheron: Cross mom and Aunt Susie off the list.

Diana: “Group Composition

Not all groups are alike. Some are loosey-goosey, others more formally structured. Learn as much as you can about the expectations of a group and be honest with yourself about your needs and the time commitment you’re prepared to make.

A few considerations:

  1. Not everyone in a critique group needs to work in the same genre, but there may certain drawbacks to being the only romance writer is a group of military science-fiction buffs.
  2. Four to five members is ideal, providing sufficient feedback while not overwhelming members with critiques.
  3. A mix of male and female participants is great for garnering different perspectives.
  4. Though some writers may prefer a group with equivalent experience, a mix of new and seasoned members can be extremely rewarding. New writers often bring fresh energy.
  5. If a group experience leaves you discouraged and angry, don’t stay. Groups are supposed to vitalize your love of writing, not drain your enthusiasm.

Structural Norms

How groups are run and structured varies group to group. Some meet face-to-face, others are entirely on-line. In general, guidelines for effective critiquing are the same, but I am a strong proponent of face-to-face feedback where verbal and physical cues (like smiling) augment the words we chose in our critiques. Meeting in person offers an opportunity to elaborate on comments and ask/answer questions.”

Sheron:  I like to look them in the eye when I tell them what needs fixing. Sometimes, they have a reason for the story to be that way. In addition, you should have a rule that all weaponry be left at home.

Diana:  “However a group is structured, there are generally norms related to timing, submissions and how critiques are returned to the authors. The critique group I belong to meets twice a month in person for approximately three hours and a written critique is completed between meetings. This is how we work:

  1. Via email, we distribute our submissions to other group members. Submissions are limited to 20 double space pages (with occasional exceptions).
  2. Group members critique each submission and return it via email to the writer with comments. (Word has a “comment” tool that is very helpful in this regard.)
  3. Prior to the face-to-face meeting, we review our comments so we’re prepared to discuss ideas and answer questions for the author.
  4. Meetings start with a focus on one member’s work. One at a time, readers offer additional feedback and respond to questions. The process repeats itself until all submissions have been discussed. (Set time limits for face-to-face feedback if meetings run over. Don’t skip discussing someone’s work.)Myths of the Mirror

Receiving Feedback

Rarely do two people provide the same advice, and sometimes what one person loves, another would “suggest tweaking”. Sally may be great at tracking emotional themes; Margo is the queen of punctuation. Larry gives a man’s perspective of … well, everything. Jenny adores lurid descriptions, and Katie is the verb-police. Everyone brings something to the table and the author uses what’s helpful and dumps the rest.

Sheron: This is amazing. No two people read the material the same way and just when I think all’s been “fixed,” someone makes an important comment.”

Diana: “Some writers submit first drafts, others a final product, and most something in between. What a writer turns over for critiquing will flavor what comes back. A first draft may point at awkward dialog, holes in the story, punctuation problems, word choice, and grammar. Often a first draft will benefit from a second look after the writer has smoothed the rough edges. For a “final draft” the critique may serve as a last review before the manuscript wings off to the publisher. Either way, a critique group does not eliminate the need for repeated, careful editing on part of the author.”

Sheron: Read that last sentence twice.

Diana:  “Giving Feedback

Writing is personal, and when a writer shares her work and asks for feedback, it’s an act of trust, worthy of respect. Be cognizant of your personal preferences and writing style and separate these from your critiques.

An effective critique starts by emphasizing the strengths of the work. An initial focus on the writer’s successes makes hearing suggestions easier on the ears and heart. There’s always something positive to comment on – story, scene, character, section of dialog, a description, humor, rapport, tension, punctuation, word choice, grammar, pace. A critique is successful if a writer feels good about his or her work and eager to tackle the hurdles.

As much as possible provide suggestions so that the writer gets the gist of your comment. If you identify a weak verb, give a few suggestions for stronger ones. If a sentence is awkward, suggest a possible rewrite. If you think a section of dialog feels stilted, explain why. If you think the character’s emotion is inappropriate, explain your perspective.

You may end up critiquing the equivalent of a chapter or two every two weeks. Remember that this isn’t a typical pace for pleasure reading. A book may seem as though it’s dragging, but that may be more a result of the group’s pace than the book’s.”

Sheron:  This is true if the work is long. Or you meet with lots of time between the critique.Melding of Aeris

Diana:  “When we critique another’s writing we are commenting on the work, not the person. The most helpful criticism is specific to the piece. It points to a word, scene, or paragraph and explains what isn’t working for the reader. Then the writer can see exactly where the challenge lies, learn about another’s perspective and make a choice. Broad negative statements aren’t only signs of a poorly crafted critique, they’re unhelpful and demoralizing. Broad positive statements are fine, but grounding positive feedback with examples shows the writer the strengths he can build on.”

These are great comments and thank you to Diana.

BTW: Diana and I will be signing our books at Jan’s Paperback Saturday, August 9 at 1:00 p.m.

We invite you to join us there.

Address: 18095 SW Tualatin Valley Hwy, Aloha Check out their website@ http://www.JansPaperbacks.com

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