Sunday, January 17, 2016

Critique Circle: A Writer’s Outfit

By Jodie Cain Smith

I have a favorite outfit – skinny jeans, cream tunic, jacket, and tall, suede boots. It never fails me. Fat day? The slimming panel of the jeans, and flyaway chiffon of the tunic take care of that. Bad hair-day? I just sweep my uncooperative tresses up and let the stand-up collar of the blazer do its magic. Accidentally catch a glimpse of my ever-expanding rear end in a mirror? The wedge heel of the boots provide a nice lift. It may be big, but at least the boots make it appear as the big derriere of a younger woman. Take away any component of my favorite outfit, and it doesn’t work. Without these pieces I stand in my closet, lost in a sea of “This just won’t do.

Petty? Yes. Get over it. It’s a metaphor. Allow me to explain.

My critique circle is my favorite writing outfit. Each member who frequents the table every first and third Monday night provides critical feedback, influencing my writing every time my fingers tap away at my keyboard. The lessons have been plentiful over the past two-and-a-half years, but a few stand out as favorites:

      1.  Even in exposition to a larger work, include compelling action. Weave the narrative into the story so the reader is engaged from page one.
2.   Long, complex sentences drag the tempo down and often reveal the indecisiveness of the writer. Craft carefully with intent. No one cares that you aced Vocabulary for the College Bound Student in your AP English class senior year in high school. Readers care about characters, action, twists, and revelations.
3.   Beware redundancy. Betty did this. Betty did that. Betty started a sentence with the word Betty so many times in a row that Betty landed on the bottom of the slush pile. Poor Betty.
4.   Celebrate personal style. Just as my favorite outfit will not work on every woman, my writing style should not be imposed on every writer. My job, as I sit at the table, is to recognize the individual’s style and intent and offer helpful critique. Before opening my mouth I must ask myself, “Will my comment assist the writer tell his or her story or am I trying to force the writer to tell the story how I would tell it?” The latter is not stylish at all.
5.      Ego isn’t pretty. Fabulous clothes cannot hide an ugly soul. Above all else, my critique circle has taught me to open my mind and heart to criticism. Every person at the table is there because he or she loves to write. So, Jodie, (Yep, I’m talking to myself here) shed that darn ego already. Oftentimes, I alone cannot see the problem with an outfit because I’m staring at my shiny, fancy shoes. The same can be said for clinging to clever passages.

Sadly, I will be leaving my critique circle soon. Rather than wander aimlessly, alone and very afraid, feeling naked in my fictional worlds, I will wrap myself in my favorite lessons learned.

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