Thursday, May 6, 2010

Managing projects

My work on the werewolf short story was stalled by the 18-page essay I did for my take-home final in my French history class. Last night our critique group met, and it was only four of us, with three of us presenting chapters. I presented Chapter Seven of Courting Apparitions.

The beauty and agony of working with other writers in a critique format is when other people are right.

I leave these critique meetings feeling energized about my craft, but when they articulate problems that either I didn't notice or I thought I had fixed, it can be demoralizing. That is part of the process. And once you establish a relationship with your critique group, you learn to lean on certain members to find certain things.

You can rely on me to nitpick about tight sentence structure. One member of our group is what I like to call a visual reader, because she seems to visualize every detail in her mind and will let you know if anything seems out of place or confusing with the logistic flow especially with moving people from place to place. Another member seems very into verbs.

They also have opposite tastes when it comes to some things, which is good, because it shows how some readers will like what another reader doesn't.

But mostly, they start poking around in a chapter talking about the tension and the action and sometimes I realize, I've missed the boat as the author. That my text, which so clearly has a mission in my mind, has fallen completely flat on the page. Other writers will know what I mean when I say that sometimes you write something beautiful, with no particular flaws except one: it doesn't move the story forward as you intended. Then, the reader might ask, "Did I miss the point?"

As an author, I've had several experiences where people said this about a scene. So, I look at it and I read it. Removed from the creative impetus that spurred it, I no longer remember why it seemed so perfect. I cannot say why I wrote it.

And so it must go. The scene gets deleted. Or, as might happen with this manuscript, characters get deleted.

Yes, I am starting chapter 14 of Courting Apparitions, my second serious full draft, and my critique group has pointed out that some characters aren't adding anything.

So, they are between Chapters 7 & 8, and I have made the decision to remove Helen. But I'm not going backwards now. She will no longer exist from this point forward and I'll fully remove her in the next draft.

Hopefully we fix Pierre and Jules. There's been some rustling that they don't belong, they feel extraneous. They shouldn't be. They earn the right to be salvaged. But poor Helen, she's gone.

No matter what your project, you have to be willing to dismantle something that's not working, no matter how beautiful it looks.


  1. no, don't remove Jules. Please please please. I heart the werewolf chef.

  2. he's central to book three. And he stays in book 2. Gotta pump him up more.

    Did you just "out" him????