What I'm reading right now: Your First Novel by Ann Rittenbert & Laura Whitcomb
Today's logophilic post falls more on the side of loving the way words are grouped together than the characteristics of a given word. Taking seemingly random words and arranging them in an interesting order, it is this act that drives us, whether personal, hobbyist, or within a professional context it is what we do.
Recently I attended a reading by a local author, Sara Zarr. She writes YA Fiction, more or less aimed at teenage girls, so not a genre I'm familiar with. However, after hearing her talk and listening to a reading from her new book, Once Was Lost, it was clear that she knows something about putting seemingly random words into an interesting order. I now have two of her books.
While I sat in the audience, I was fortunate enough to share a space with her husband, Gordon. During the QnA, someone asked Sara how much Gordon gets involved in the writing process. Does he give critiques? Brainstorm? Sara said, "No. He does not get involved. All I want to hear from him is good job; I love you."
If that works for her, then good on ya. This leads me to my question: Can our loved ones read our stuff and give us valuable feedback? It's possible, yes. Tracy Hickman and his wife Laura have written many novels together, but I find that for me, when family and friends read my stuff the feedback I get is, "I like it. It's good." Sometimes I get a bit of something, "I like your voice." Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that they are willing to read anything I write and I appreciate anything they have to say. But can they do more than that, if prompted? I think yes.
Back in August of 2007, I was selected to attend Orson Scott Card's Literary Bootcamp. It is a week long writer's workshop. The first two days are open to anyone who wants to attend. The remaining four days are for the selected Bootcamp participants, usually around 15 people. You spend one day writing a brand new short story and the subsequent three days reading and critiquing everyone else's short story, which includes OSC. Yes, Orson Scott Card reads and critiques your manuscript (that's way cool. Although he does not write one of his own. How cool would that be? As if any of us would dare to critique it if he did.)
One of the things he teaches in the two day course is how to have anyone critique your work, including family and friends. It is called Oh Yeah? Huh? and So What? You simple have whoever is reading your work make a mark on the page anytime he becomes bored, distracted, or confused. As a writer, you don't want your reader to experience any of those three while reading your work. Many readers don't know why a certain section doesn't work, they just know that something is not right.
Those three categories are lesser examples of Oh Yeah? Huh? and So What? I am fortunate enough to belong to a fantastic writer's group where we give each other salient feedback. To give valuable feedback, you want to look for any instance of these three:
Oh Yeah? Questioning or challenging believability
Huh? Confusion or misunderstanding
So What? Why should I care about this? How is this relevant?
If you can get your reader/critiquer to make that distinction over just a mark, then so much the better.
I felt compelled to bring this up because OSC just announced the dates of his 2010 Literary Boot Camp and this year he is doing something new: two sessions. One in Utah and one in Virginia. If he is coming to your town, I would make every effort to attend. Check it out: Uncle Orson's Writing Class and Literary Bootcamp.