Sometimes, you gotta take the plunge just to see if things work.
At least that what I told myself the night before getting the first chapter of the Jennie Manning book critiqued. I wasn’t going to do it. I came home Friday night from work and dinner with a friend exhausted and with my body asking, pleading, for quality sleep time. But, around midnight, I said what the heck.
Why was I so nervous? The critique was from the Dallas chapter of the Mystery Writers Association and would be lead by published mystery writers. Five pages. We got five pages to get our story across.
While I’ve had the first chapter of the current Jennie Manning book read by other writer friends and have revised it, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
I’m glad I didn’t because hearing the published writers give notes to everyone’s pieces garnered some gems of writing advise. Here’s a couple that I think everyone can appreciate.
To create a hook, center on one person in a moment of crisis.
I heard this piece of advice and I cheered! Yes! I always thought this, that first moment when the reader picks up the piece has to instantly involve them into the world. To put it more in more plan words and to quote an former advisor: “Books very rarely start at the beginning. They start in the middle.”
Too much play-by-play is like ketchup. A little is good but a lot is a hot mess
Play-by-play is the little things that characters do that can slow down a narrative. For example, he opened the door, closed it, walked across the room, sat down and crossed his legs. That gives every detail of action that really isn’t significant to the narrative. Of course the quick fix is, he came in and sat down.
Do flashbacks only when the reader feels firmly planted in the world
This one made a whole lot of sense when it was said during the critique session. I love writing flashbacks but is the reader ready to read it? The critiquers suggested that once the reader is in the world already, that’s when flashbacks should be introduced. It’s a matter of making sure you don’t lose your reader and that they follow you through the entire piece.
So how was my feedback? It was great! Again, I’ve had that first chapter done for awhile and it’s been revised and read by other writers so the feedback was really zeroed in on making it better. I’m not a fan of the shallow critique which include people adding commas and periods in your copy. Seriously? I can do that myself. For critiques, I want to work on story, if it was effective, how to make the narrative pop, etc. In short, I want to concentrate on things I am not able to see for myself because I’m in the weeds. That’s what I got here.
I also go encouragement from the seasoned vets. They all thought I had something and said to continue to write it. I loved hearing that and getting that kind of feedback too.
The feedback was so good, in fact, I decided to take the first 20 pages of Jennie Manning to VONA! It took a couple of weeks to decide but it’s a pretty firm decision now and it’s going to be interesting to take this to my workshop next month.