Critiques and guesswork

I’m all signed up for the FenCon Writers Workshop with Baen ghoddess Toni Weisskopf. I got all signed up and paid up back in March. But . . . it’s coming up next weekend, and I still won’t be able to drive the car!

I have to do five critiques and attend my one-hour session with Toni Weisskopf, at minimum. Begged hubster to take Friday the 21st off so he can take me over there for my session. Serendipity has it that I’m at noon to 1 PM on Friday, so he can just drop me at the hotel door and pick me up again around 1:15 or so (to give me time to hobble back out and perhaps schmooze a little.) I don’t have the stamina to stay for the entire three-day con, alas. I know several people who’ll be there, but none of them are in my one-hour session group. That’s fine, as I could get them to read and comment on my stuff anyway! This is five new people . . . AND the editor. Not that I’m going to hold out any hope, but maybe maybe maybe she’ll ask for the manuscript. Stranger things have surely happened . . . in this universe.

I’m assuming that the editor will have glanced over the submissions by the time our hour rolls around. Maybe she won’t feel moved to request anything. You never know.

The book I submitted to that workshop is _Camille’s Travels_. I sincerely believe it’s in as good a shape as it’ll ever get. I won’t be changing the concept or the characters’ arcs or any of the other things that would destroy my vision of the work, although I would still tweak at the sentence/paragraph level if given logical direction and good reasons (such as an editorial revision letter.) We’ll see. (As Daddy said when he meant, “No, not unless your mama takes a wild hair to.”)

I submitted _The Pundit’s Take_ to a different workshop and got back the packet of results today. I tell you what (as Unka Buck says), everyone who has read this has quibbled with a different paragraph! The first guy will find paragraph 1 fine and then pick at paragraph 2, and then the next guy finds that 1 is a mess and 2 is transcendent and clear. It’ll drive a body mad. Still, I pick and choose like a cotton gin plucking out the boll weevil.

Here are some of the odder things that were quibbled with or questioned.

In general, most people don’t have a wide store of literary knowledge or general knowledge (nor do they want one–in fact, it irritates them if YOU do), so any time I assumed someone would “just know” something, I got into trouble with at least one reader. (sigh) I think I’m going to let most of those stand. Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to assume that people know that Dick Van Dyke had Jerry Van Dyke (his real-life little bro) play “Stacy,” his brother, in not only the original Dick Van Dyke Show but also in “Diagnosis Murder” (where he played “Stacy Sloan” who ran a soda shop in Branson, MO, and who had a sleepwalking problem played for laughs exactly as the Stacy Petrie character had on the original show!) BTW, Jerry Van Dyke owns (or used to) a soda shop in Fort Worth, Texas, across from where Cartan’s Shoes used to be, and I think it’s actually a B&B. That’s one of those trivia items that p*ss readers off. (grin)


One reader asked what a “snipe hunt” is. Now, if you’re from Texas, you know perfectly well what a snipe hunt is. And when I Googled it, it snapped to attention with several explanations. I don’t see why I can’t keep that.

When Kay falls down, Whit runs over and asks, “Where does it hurt?” Because she’s grimacing and is obviously in pain. Now, isn’t that your natural reaction? If you say, “Ouch,” doesn’t a doctor say, “Where does it hurt?” One critiquer suggests changing this to, “What hurts?” That doesn’t make as much sense as the original, at least not to me.

Various readers have flip-flopped sentences back and forth . . . things that I changed to suit one critiquer get marked by the next critiquer as “backwards” or “switched.” It’s fun to watch the way people read.

And it’s not just ME. One of my cohorts found her manuscript bleeding with phrasing changes made for no good reason (mostly). Suggestions made by a red-pen-wielding nut are in parentheses.

* Every evening before heading (HE HEADED) home, Patrick stopped by Joni’s desk to make sure she was all right.

[This is probably an application of the “no -ing words” deal that you hear from so many critiquers. They’re generalizing from the advice not to use -ing phrases unless it’s a continuing action. But this is perfectly natural and is the way it would be said in conversation.]

* Unlike most of the pubs in this town, which was (WERE) made up (FILLED) largely of a college campus, the Tavern was a haven for those not interested in hanging out with the college crowd (WHO DIDN’T FIND IT INTERESTING TO HANG OUT WITH THE COLLEGE CROWD). It tended to attract business men (BUSINESS-MEN) and women who wanted a quiet place to go to
enjoy a drink and a meal without competing against a loud crowd and even louder music.

[I won’t defend the original sentence, but may I point out that the “editor” here doesn’t realize that the clause set off by commas refers to the TOWN, and therefore “was” is correct. I don’t know why she wants “FILLED” to replace “made up,” but maybe it’s just a new ploy of the Illiterati. The rephrasing of the “hanging out” phrase is needless. “Businessmen” is never “business-men.” If a writer took these “suggestions” to heart, aaughh.]

* He put her age at maybe forty, but there was (YOU COULD DETECT) youthfulness in her

[Now our redneck corrector has taken the “never use a ‘there is’ or ‘there was’ pseudo-rule” to an extreme. Her change would move the sentence into the imperative. (I think.) “You can detect. . . .” Even if it became “one can detect,” it’s still possible that a picky editor would claim this was breaking the fourth wall or authorial intrusion to speak to the reader, even though it’s understood that we’re talking in the royal “you” or generalized “you.” Let me point out that “there was” is idiomatic in English, and if it makes things awkward to replace it, just don’t!!!]

Anyhow, all I mean to say is that if your instincts and the Harbrace College Handbook tell you you’re right, don’t change stuff like this. I almost never get high-level feedback about motivations and conflict and what’s happening in the plot, which is what I’m usually looking for.

And I’ve found several published mystery novels, recently put into print, that have the same flaws that my work supposedly has . . . ALL of them. Without having a particularly appealing voice or gripping plot to offset the “problems.” Still getting published. Who are these people schmoozing with? If I could, I’d bop them with my crutches. Life is unfair!!
# # #
“I want to help you if you have a dirty word problem. There are none. […] It’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness.”–Lenny Bruce

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”–also Lenny Bruce


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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