When I was fortunate enough to find the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, be accepted as a member, and joined the Surfside chapter, I was of course thrilled. I remember discussing how the meetings work. You know, the usual stuff like dates to meet, how to submit my work, how to accept critiques of my work. And then the first meeting came. I remained thrilled and naturally went through all the normal emotions -- excitement, anticipation, nervousness -- all the feelings anyone might experience when they’re about to have their work looked at and yes, scrutinized.
I knew I needed to be open-minded about the critique. I knew not to take the feedback personally and to leave my ego at the door after all, I was in this to learn and to improve.
Then they told me I would also critique others in my group. Huh? Really? Didn’t they know I like to be liked? What would I say to others? I don’t have a PhD in English Lit. I screw up tenses and make the age old mistake with its versus it’s all the time.
Okay. I can do this and so can you. Remember, the person whose work you are reading wants feedback. They want to improve. They wanted to present their work and be scrutinized because it’s a tough, competitive world out there. They are like me. Tired of the family/friend who says, “This is good.” They can’t say why it’s good or bring themselves to point out weaknesses instead, they say, “No. It’s really good. I liked it.” You try to help them along with questions like, “Was the conflict believable? Did the story move along? What about how the protagonist fought the giant ants and then came face-to-face with Bambi’s mother? Did it make sense?” And they respond, “I liked it. It was all good.” Bull. Nothing is all good. Hence the need to find a writer’s group and seek feedback.
So you’re like me and want to be liked. Okay. Just critique the way you would like to be critiqued - honesty with encouragement and give examples of what you mean. Help to focus the writer on the main issues. There are two objectives to a critique. 1) To identify weaknesses; and, 2) Offer constructive advice. That doesn’t mean you have to destroy the author. Be objective and honor the writer’s voice but help them learn so it isn‘t a waste of their time or your own.
I checked out some web sites to assist me in the art of critiquing. I also tried to come up with a checklist to help me. The checklist isn’t all-inclusive but it’s a start that keeps me on track.
Before I give the list, I want to say that you should always let the author know if the type of story you’re asked to read isn’t really your thing. Let’s say it’s a fantasy about animalistic-like aliens who come to earth and take over dog mills so they can conquer the world. Well, fantasy might not be of interest to you so tell the author. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer feedback. You recognize a good story when you see one so provide comment on the areas that matter in any good story telling.
1. Opening - was it captivating? Did you find it interesting? Did it grab your attention?
2. Conflict - is there action? Struggle? Emotional conflict? Something that keeps your interest and makes you want to turn the page?
3. Setting - does the author paint a picture of where the story takes place? Is it consistent to the era? Is there too much detail that drags the story down? Two pages on how the hotel room looked right down to a complete description of bedbugs will probably not help the story plot or keep the reader’s interest.
4. Point of View - is that consistent? Through whose eyes are we seeing the story? Whose emotions are in play? Is there a lot of head hopping?
5. Show Versus Tell - how much is the author telling us and how much does the reader simply know because of how the story is shown? Is the POV consistent with the character? Does it represent how he/she would think, feel, react?
There are other elements as well to a critique. Pacing is important. Does the story move along or slow to a snail in parts? Does it flow well in a logical order? If the story involves flashbacks, is it confusing? Does the reader get lost in to much background information? Does the plot make sense or does it get lost along the way? Is too much time spent on details that get too technical while the main action is left flapping in the wind? Are the characters believable even if they are aliens who bark and quote Hemingway? Is the dialogue consistent to their personality? Can you sense who is speaking without being told? And finally, the mechanics of grammar, spelling, choice of words all play a part. Writer’s know what they want to say, what they intended to say, and when they read back their own words, that’s what they see…even if it isn’t there. I no of what I spoke.
As much as possible, give examples on how to fix the weakness. Offer suggestions without taking over the style and let the author come to their own conclusions on how to improve.
Above all else - praise. That is so important. Add positive comments on where the author did something really good. It might be a funny line or a description, or the story itself that has good potential, but there is always something good that can be found. "We all need to be told where we are very good as well as where we are very, very bad. We cannot grow, otherwise." - Pete Murphy.
For more resources check out: http://www.crayne.com. Also see: shortstorygroup.com; and suite101.com.
Hope to see you at the SCWW Conference October 19-21.
Linda Cookingham (aka. L. Thomas-Cook)
Writer, Photographer, Member of the BOD SCWW, Mother, Wife, Beach Walker, Dog Lover, and all around dreamer.
- The novel has a theme that is always present, though, its pinnacle is close to the end of the novel.
- There are several subplots that are interesting in their own way. King weaves them into the overall story and theme.
- The characters in all the plots are skillfully drawn.
- Details flow as easily as the dialogue. In fact, most of the story and details are moved forward by dialogue.
- The novel takes an almost overworked time-space-travel idea and makes it a great tool to address King’s philosophical stance.
- Yes, King is philosophical here. He poses the question of whether we should tamper with destiny, even if this were possible. He takes his main character back in time-travel several times before he takes a firm philosophical position, which piles on more intrigue for the reader.
- The work is based on an amazing amount of research. So much research that one has to forgive an occasional mishap. King can afford a research assistant, but he also visited many of the sites himself.
- 11/22/63 has plenty of gory actions to please all King lovers. For those who don’t like gore, the final trip back in time erases most of the blood and guts. You are left with only a memory of the gore.
Wallabies in the Bathroom
PS: Don't forget the annual SC Book Festival, May 18-20. Two Master Writing Classes will be offered on Friday, May 18, 2012 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. The classes run from 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Registration is $35 per person. Topics include the "How to Get Published" with faculty Eric Liebetrau, Elizabeth Keenan, and Signe Pike and "Children's Writing: The Road to Publication" with faculty Kami Kinard. Register and pay online at www.scbookfestival.org.
I hate to admit it but all too often I live by the adage, “If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.” But, you don’t have to live that way! Today is April 8 and you have twenty-two days to submit an entry in the 2012 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards contest.
There are some major changes this year. First, the deadline now coincides with The Petigru Review (March 1 - April 30). Next, the first place award is a full scholarship (including the Friday night banquet) to the Annual Conference in October and the second place winner receives a free 30-minute critique at the Annual Conference plus the Friday night banquet and both first and second place winners will be published in The Petigru Review.
We’re going green, all submissions are electronic. No more printing out four copies of your submission and mailing those heavy packages.
You can submit one each in three genres: First Chapter Novel (up to 3,500 words), Fiction (up to 2,500 words) and Nonfiction (up to 2,000 words). Check out all the guidelines at www.myscww.org. Click on 2012 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards or SCWW Contests.
Be inspired by the rebirth of spring and create something new or dust off an older manuscript, do a little re-writing if needed but submit.
This is spring in the south and these are some of the things we’ve gotten accustomed to dealing with around here.
Another thing I’ve gotten accustomed to in the spring is creating a To-Do List for SCWW.
This year it isn’t a long list:
1) Clean out last year’s stuff – make room for 2012
2) Make list of potential faculty for this year’s conference
3) Do we have enough bags for the conference?
4) Do we still have volunteer buttons from last year?
5) Where are the badge holders and lanyards?
6) MUST CLEAN STORAGE UNIT
7) Get Volunteers for 2012
On Saturday, I crossed number 6 off my list and found answers to 3, 4 and 5. I spent several hours cleaning out SCWW’s storage unit and making notes and lists for this year.
Now, I’m working on item 7: getting volunteers.
A few weeks ago our Quill special edition came out announcing that we are looking for volunteers. So far the response has been pretty good, but I would like encourage any SCWW member in good standing to apply to be a volunteer at the conference. We don’t require any special skills or talents, just an enthusiasm for SCWW and a desire to help your fellow members have the best conference experience possible.
There are part-time and full-time opportunities available. Both will require the volunteer to work a few hours each day during the conference. Full-time volunteers receive free attendance to the conference while part-time volunteers get a 50% discount on the conference registration cost. All volunteers are responsible for their travel and lodging.
There are some pre-conference opportunities available such as: publicity, gathering items for the silent auction and setting up for the event to name a few. So if you’d rather work during the year leading up to the conference we have that as an option as well.
To request an application send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you back as quickly as I can.
I’m sitting here on my screen porch smelling fresh (yes, new) jasmine and seeing that the grass is turning green. With buds on the trees and a robin at my bird feeder, it’s clear to me that spring has arrived. Yes, the newness of spring. What was old is new again. Oh, Lord, is that one of those dreaded cliches writers are forewarned against? Adjectives and cliches. What’s next? (Insert gasp here). Well, all of this is necessary for the point I’m trying to make…this past year for me has been about newness.
The end of March marked my one year anniversary. Hard to believe. It stills feels so fresh to me. I moved here from upstate New York. A northern in the south? Nothing new there according to the demographics of my neighborhood, but, having been born and raised in NY, it’s all been a time of discovery for me.
Okay, so a new home and new State. New accents and new foods to try. And I must admit have tried a lot of food (South Carolina peaches - love ‘em). Something else I discovered is that I love volunteering. The first place I tried was Huntington Beach State Park (HBSP). I do tours there and with that came a whole new bunch of things to learn. Then I started to take courses at Coastal University where I was very lucky to meet a wonderful woman, our own Tibby Plants. Tibby invited me to join SCWW. I did and I as a result, I’ve literally come (back) into being a writer. I have discovered, rediscovered, and gained many fresh ideas. I can’t begin to thank Tibby enough for her help, her encouragement, and her insight. This may sound odd, but that kind of real dedication and support to help others learn and improve is new to me as well. In fact, the entire Surfside Chapter of my writer’s group has given me so much that my writing feels fresh and new.
That brings me to my next new point. Taking something old and making it new. I have been working seriously on a fictional series for years now. In fact, two of the books were published. Problem was, I was never satisfied with how they turned out, so I got back my rights to the books and began to revise them. I’m much more proud of them now and with the help of my writer’s group, they are shaping into exactly what I hoped. My new goal is to publish them by late summer and, you guessed it, find a new publisher. Notice the theme here?
My other new experience was to volunteer with a theatre group. I had assisted in theatre in upstate NY but I found they weren’t as willing to help me learn. That can sometimes be the problem with acquiring new skills. Sometimes people only want experience and overlook the pure joy of teaching and sharing knowledge. They often forget that we all learn something new everyday. At least I hope so. I have lots of experience in my bag but none of it is perfect. None of what I know is so flawless I can’t learn new things. Anyway, I missed the theatre so I joined the Murrells Inlet Community Theatre (MITC) group and, yes, once more, fell in love. They are a hard working band of people oozing with talent. They have also inspired me to try something else…I would like to write a play. It may or may not go far, but something tells me this band of professionals will help me learn this new skill. Of course, I hope I have the talent, but jitteriness over something new is the old me. This blog has helped me realize that.
So what have I learned? That new isn’t just for the young. I think (cliche alert) you can teach an old dog new tricks and that the old dog can use old tricks to aid them in learning something new. New is an attitude. A desire to redo, undo, and add. It’s an urge to begin…again. Spring does it every year. New growth on an old plant.
New is a journey. It requires an open mind and a degree of courage to let go and simply try. Of course, good friends and good organizations like SCWW, MITC, and HBSP, are great starts.
So what else have I learned? Reach out. Take old likes/loves/interests and find ways to make them new again. Search for a great bunch of people who will help. New doesn’t have to be scary. Look at me. I just completed my first blog. It may not be the best, but I did it and I bet I’ll learn something new from it. The whole point is that in the end, new can make old young again. It really can be a beginning to more new things. Oh, and did I mention? I had a birthday at the end of March. Which, come to think of it, only means I’ll be a new age. I’ve never been fif…er, never mind. Guess I should save that for another blog.
The SCWW Scott Lax Wildacres Scholarship is made possible through an anonymous donor in honor of Scott Lax, a former Wildacres Writers Workshop faculty member. Both the donor and Scott urge those who have put their writing aspirations on hold while working, parenting and participating in all those other wonderful activities of life, to finally take up the paper and pen - or computer - and begin.
In Scott's words:
"It's never too late. Writers 50 and older have so much to offer. Yes, we have some aches, pains and losses. But we have the experience and patience and love of life to offer readers, whether one reader of millions."
To everyone who applied to our first award, thank you. Selecting the winner was a close, difficult decision.
Douglas, enjoy your week at the Wildacres Writers Workshop!
I'm spending March hard at work on a sequel to Gatekeeper. The new novel is half done. I had given it up a couple of years ago to finish one I had also half finished a long time ago. I love world building. The book is a contemporary fantasy, set in the real world, but I get to develop the rules for magic. I've invented deliciously evil creatures that resemble spiders—of which I'm terrified—but these are the size of dogs, with an occasional one as large as a horse.
That comparison with horses made me remember where this interest in storytelling all began.
In fifth and sixth grades I attended school in the tiny town of Ismay, Montana. There were 8 of us in fourth through eighth grades. My teacher was a caring and nurturing woman much ahead of her times. She encouraged each of us to follow our dreams. My dream was writing stories.
I hadn't yet read the Island Stallion series so I wasn't interested in being shipwrecked on a faraway island with only a horse for company. We were too far from civilization to have television. Aside from angleworm races with a friend and never-ending Monopoly games with said friend and my father (who brazenly cheated), I delved into my imagination and wrote stories.
One story became a saga about a girl growing up on a ranch and somehow finding the best wild horse in the world just wandering the prairie. It, of course, learned to love me, followed me home and became my best friend. We did something heroic. I can't remember what. Perhaps we rescued a lamb from a bear (I always had a soft spot for lambs). My teacher helped me turn the story into a little chapter book with a cover and table of contents and all. All hand made and illustrated by me. She helped me enter it in the State Fair. I won a blue ribbon. I still have the story and the ribbon somewhere.
My mother always told my brothers and I that we could do whatever we set our minds to. We may not achieve our dreams in quite the way we anticipate, but we'll have a wonderful time along life's highway.
Think about a time when you felt eager to write, when you felt a passion for telling stories--fiction, nonfiction or poetry--and just do it.
Maybe I'll never be a rich and famous author, but my stories are out there. And I'm having the time of my life building my worlds, be they real or fantasy.
1. BE YE KIND. Read for your fellow writers and offer good, honest critique. It’s easy to look down on someone else’s work when you yourself are long passed the stage of development where everyone either longed to tell you get another hobby or just flat-out said it. Be generous with praise, but be genuine.
2. PLAY WITH THE NICE KIDS. There was an unpublished writer I greatly admired. For a bunch of psychological reasons I won’t go into, I felt like such an idiot around her. This should have been a huge glaring neon red flag, but it wasn’t. One day I listened to her chew up one of our group members and hock him out; by now the alarms on the flag were blaring. The way she explained herself to me, she made it seem like she had a reason for what she did, but not a good one. I was so enamoured with this person, I remained friends with her. But my work suffered horribly and, while I read reams of her work, she’d Email me back a few minutes after I sent her mine and lecture me on how important it was to be “serious” about my craft. One day, I was her target. Let me just say, those red flags are there for a reason.
3. STICK UP FOR YOURSELF. If you’re serious about writing, put yourself out there in critique groups. LISTEN to everything and fight the uncontrollable urge to defend your work. If the criticism is valid, it just is. Whether there is or is not a consensus about the issue, you might want to rethink things as objectively as possibly. But don’t be a pushover. When the critique is over, IF and only IF you are given the opportunity, explain your view or process. Discussing your work means you have to think about it on a different level. Amazing things come of this.
4. TEACHERS KNOW EVERYTHING. Not everything, but teachers have a bigger and better toolbox and they know how to use those tools. Best of all, they want to teach you how to use them, too. You will know you’ve had a really good teacher when you’re writing or critiquing someone’s work and hear your teacher’s voice in your head. “More sensory detail. SLOW DOWN. Let your character stretch out a bit.”
5. CLEAN THE BATHROOM…AGAIN. Sometimes writing is like cleaning the bathroom with I was a kid. My mom would always come behind me and, no matter how well I thought I done it, she’d find something I’d missed and make me do the whole thing again. When I finished the first draft of my first novel, I thought, “I’m done.” Be ready to write and rewrite and then rewrite some more to get noticed, and then, after you have an agent and hopefully a publisher, you’ll rewrite some more. Get used to it.
6. TAKE CARE OF YOUR PRECIOUS THINGS. With computers and their tiny vast minds, it’s easy to think of them like a piggy bank. When you need your work or a version of your work where you said something really cool and want to use it, you just give it a shake and there it is. As amazing as computers are, they aren’t fool-proof. Back your writing up yourself on disk. Use a back up service. Hell, print out the manuscript and put it in the safe deposit box at the bank in case the house burns down. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and just the frustration alone that comes with trying to recreate what you had or what you think you had is crazy making.
7. STOP PLAYING THAT $*%* GAME. Nobody every wrote a bestseller while simultaneously playing Spider solitaire or Skip-Bo or any of those free games on that gamehouse.com website. Sometimes games are a good distraction, the beginning of a ritual that leads to writing, but ultimately if you’re spending more time playing Be Jeweled than you are writing, you might want to rethink your calling.
8. ROLLY POLLIES, FIREFLIES AND MUD PIES. When you’re telling a story, it’s easy to get caught up in the story line that takes you from point A to point B and all the way through the alphabet at break neck speed. Some writers write their first drafts like that and then go back and layer in the small stuff that makes the writing rich. Some people call it adding texture, but it’s a lot like noticing the small things like rolly pollies or fireflies or the design the wrinkles make on your protagonist’s forehead. What do her hands look like and why? Yes, it’s noticing the small stuff, but it’s also like cooking with your Easy-Bake Oven, tasting the batch of words, smacking your lips together, and knowing what the writing needs to make it rich. Chocolate is always good, but sadly isn’t always the answer.
9. GO FISHING. If you want to be a good writer and you’ve never been fishing before, GO. It doesn’t take much more than a cane pole, a line, a shiny brass hook, and a soggy creek bank to dig worms. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about writing just dangling a simple line in the water. Sensory detail, order, pacing, and above all patience, which will come in really handy after you’ve written your novel and are ready to sell it.
10. TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR IMAGINARY FRIENDS. For those of us who don’t really care if anyone calls us crazy, we can freely admit we hear voices in our heads. Good writers honor these voices by writing down their stories. As one who has had as many as three protagonists telling their stories at one time, and as one who grieved during the time those voices went silent, I can say with certainty, they are a gift. They give us an understanding of our characters that can never be attained with process gimmicks, charts, or outlines. They give us clean crisp dialogue and are windows into living breathing souls that exist only to have their stories told. So take good care of your imaginary friends. Talk out loud to them, and let your characters talk to each other. They allow us to do what we love. They allow us to write.
Now it’s time to refurbish our website. We are finally in a position to begin the changeover from a webmaster-managed site to a content management system. We have negotiated the very good price of $1400.00 for this service with our current provider, Net Studios, Inc. The work should be complete in 30-60 days.
For those of us who have books, websites, and blog pages to include at www.myscww.org, the new format for submitting this information is described on the Members’ Published Work tab at the website. You’ll also see a schedule of fees for these services. The SCWW Board was hoping these fees would help defray the cost of the charges to take our website to a new level where we can maintain it with no additional webmaster charges – a big savings for our operating expenses.
In 2011 if you submitted your works using the new format, the Publicity Chair will email you within the next 60 days to confirm your information. If you haven't done so yet but would like to appear on this page, send your information, following the new guidelines, to email@example.com. We would appreciate your donation of fees as listed on the website. Thank you for your cooperation.
SCWW is in the process of developing a Speaker’s Bureau so that we can present free local workshops in communities around South Carolina. If there is a particular topic that pertains to writing that you’d like to hear more about, please let us know. If there is a particular speaker you think would be good, we want to know their name.
Our goal is to present several two-hour workshops in different locations during the 2012 year. We hope that additional exposure will showcase the many talents within our organization and encourage others throughout the state to pursue their dreams of writing.
Please send ideas for topics and suggestions for speakers to Brenda Remmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While I was off building my house, the SCWW board voted to align SCWW memberships with the calendar year (rather than expire on anniversary dates) and to increase the dues a tiny amount to $52.00 per year (or $1.00 per week), the first increase in many years. The primary reason is avoiding the confusion that arises with submission deadlines and conference registration. For example, if The Petigru Review submission period is March 1 through April 30, what happens if a membership expires April 1? Another benefit is that collection of dues early in the year makes it easier in February to budget activities for the rest of the year. It’s more work for the membership chairman (me) this year but should simplify things in the future.
How will SCWW accomplish this alignment?
Before your SCWW membership expires in 2012, the membership chairman will email you with the prorated amount (at $1.00 per week) that you owe for dues from your expiration date through the end of the year. For example, if your dues expire April 1, 2012, then you have already paid for a quarter of 2012. The bill for the other 39 weeks of calendar year 2012 will be $39.00. Then for 2013 everyone will know that dues are due at the beginning of the year ($52.00 on January 1, 2013). Because the website has only the single PayPal option of a full year, mailing a check will be the easiest for prorated dues. The address is
4840 Forest Dr., Suite 6B
Columbia, SC 29206
We encourage you to save a stamp and pay for a year (2013) and a fraction (2012) in a single check.
New members will pay the yearly rate ($52.00) when they join and will then be billed the prorated amount at their first renewal.
The conference registration fee for non-members will be $100.00 more than for members. For this extra fee (approximately twice the regular dues), non-members will have paid a membership for the remainder of the current year plus all of following year.
If the membership chairman (email@example.com) didn’t explain this well, you can ask the treasurer (firstname.lastname@example.org)for clarification.
Winner receives $10,000, with four finalists receiving $2,000 each.