Thursday, December 1, 2011

Awkward? Ya think?

    Ian, behind Max, hand on the hilt of his sword and the Kaltenschnees, flanking their brother, weapons at the ready, left no doubt as to the serious nature of the conflict.

    The above sentence was tagged as awkward by one of my critique partners. I have no argument with that. My only question is; who wrote it? I didn’t write it. For one thing my attention span isn’t long enough. It had to be an anti-muse.

    Just because nobody has ever seen an anti-muse doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Antis are like black holes; they can’t be observed directly but we know they exist by their effect on other things. Black holes bend light making it appear an object is light-years from its actual position. Antis bend thought and take your story light years from where it should be. Black holes can perturb orbits, sometimes sending objects careening off into inter-galactic space. Anti-muses perturb plots sending them off... Young black holes suck in matter and produce gamma-ray bursts. Anti-muses suck in prose and produce awkward sentences. Lucky for us there is an anti-anti-muse thingamajigger. Unfortunately, you can’t buy an anti-anti-muse thingamajigger. You have to find one or form one. They are called critique groups. A good crit group can uncover the work of the anti-muses.

    Crit groups come in many shapes and sizes. Online and face-to-face, juried and open. Some you stand up and read your thing. Others you hand out pages. Still others you submit pages to be taken home and discussed the following week. You could go cross-eyed trying to think it through and decide which is best. You just have to get out there and give one a try. If it doesn’t work, try another.

    Finding groups can be a problem, but they are out there. Some are sponsored by writing groups like, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. You should be a part of a larger writing group anyway so join something and see what they have to offer. Web-sites geared toward writing often have something set up. If not actual crit groups, an area where you can post your work for review. You could try the library, put a note on their bulletin board. You can find them with a little effort.

    Another option is building one from scratch. You can form a group online but I prefer face-to-face. This requires more work but it will be good for you. Trust me. You will have to put yourself out there, make friends and acquaintances, tell people you write, ask people to read your stuff. You’ll have to get out of the house, go to meetings, events, write at the library or a coffee shop. You’ll have to introduce yourself as a writer.

    I heard a collective gasp. I suspect writers may be more introverted as a group than the general populace. We hide in our little corner with our characters putting on our puppet show for nobody. Time to stop it. Anti-muses love this environment. Get out there, get in a crit group, meet new people, show your work, learn, listen, laugh. It’ll be fun.

    I’ll end with a few guidelines for crit groups. You can make a whole bunch of rules and have someone be the sheriff but I prefer things a little more relaxed.

    First, try to give as much positive feedback as you can. People learn from their mistakes but they also learn from success. Tell them what worked so they can keep doing it.
    Be honest. Don’t gloss over something in your crit partner’s work that you think is a real problem. Explain what’s not working and why, also offer a possible solution. If you are on the other end, relax and think about what you are being told.
    Allow for questions and brainstorming. Many groups don’t allow the writer to speak up during the critique because there just isn’t time. Our group is smaller. We have time. So we brainstorm if we need to. I like it better that way. 

    One note of caution. It’s your story and sometimes you have to disregard the advice of your crit partners. Do so if you must but do so at your peril.

    I think I’ll do another crit group blog in a week or so. I didn’t cover everything I wanted.

Go have fun, Mike


  1. Mike,
    I have so many sentences like that. It made perfect sense to me at one time, possibly when I was sleepy or had a migraine. Sometimes, just knowing that my critique group is going to read my stuff makes me see the error. Crit groups are the best.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Good post. I agree that things should be relaxed and writers should be able to ask questions. For one thing, sometimes the advice isn't very clear.

  3. I've written sentences a three year-old could have written better. I swear gremlins get into my computer from time to time and mess with my words.

    I go back and forth on wanting to get involved with a critique group. There are a few of us who shoot problematic sentences or ideas to each other, but we're not geographically convenient.

    Good post, Mike.

  4. The anti-muse! RUUUUN! I think that was the monster thingy that was munching on folks in Super 8, right?

    I love to untangle choreography and body language. Those anti-muse chunks of writing are lip lickin' treats. Kind of crunchy though.

    Thanks for posting!