On writing

Peek into another book

Finished a major draft of SHARED MEMORIES last night. I’m sitting here now with pen in hand while Sherylyn reads it through, waiting to write down her comments as she reads.

  • She doesn’t like the start. That’s normal. She never likes the start of our books. This one has already been re-written about five times. We replaced it with a different start for a while, but just recently reinstated the old one.
  • Then she starts on the holes. “Kym would have gone through his bag that first night, particularly if she thought there might have been drugs there.”Hmm. This one is a problem, as Kym’s going through the bag two days later is important. If she finds the map any earlier it loses impact. Unfortunately, Kym is a professional. She would check the bag that first night.

More holes, all the way through the novel. They get worse (because the first part of the book has been re-written so many more times than the second half), and Sherylyn’s comments get more and more honest, especially if we’re doing this over a glass of wine, which we often do.

By the time we’re at the end it’s:

  • “… and the poor Wyverns, they just come charging into the room and make straight for Roland and try to kill him. They’ve had plenty of time to do it before, but they don’t. Instead, they go out of the room and then come back in and then race over to kill him … and they don’t even succeed. They can’t even slash his throat with their claws. I mean, these claws are inches long. They would have done it. Then Roland’s father comes in behind them and what does he do? Absolutely nothing.”

It’s funny and very honest. We have a great time.

Some people think it’s too honest. We had a friend staying one night (they were staying a lot longer than that, otherwise we wouldn’t have been working on our novel that particular night). She was horrified that Sherylyn was so brutal.

“Karen has gone to a lot of trouble to write this,” she said. “The least you can do is give her positive feedback about what she has written.”

She didn’t understand that we didn’t need praise, we needed an honest assessment of what was wrong.

When you’re critiquing for a writers group—such as the excellent Critters, for example—you need to say positive things about the story as well as telling them what doesn’t work. Firstly, it’s polite. You don’t know the writer, and a writer puts a lot of him/herself on show when they put a story up for critting. It’s up to you to respect that they have done so. (Not to forget that Aburt will boot you out of Critters if you are not polite.)

These writers need to know what works, as well as what doesn’t work.

But Sherylyn and I, we have been writing together a long time now. I know the story must be working on some level or she wouldn’t stick with it through all those rewrites. Not only that, when she says something works, she really means it works. When she says, as she did for this review, “The bit where Marco and Hamill talk about his son is much better. You have really improved that,” she means we have really, really improved it.

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