A section of the world of Irikara

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Critiquing Tips - Receiving Critiques

Recently I posted about my awesome writer's group, the Village Peeps, and about how useful they are for improving my writing.

Every writer's group is different in how they operate, but we have a model that we feel is very successful. It's important to have some ground rules to insure that the critiques are most useful and respectful, from both the critiquers and those being critiqued.

Here are our guidelines for you as the one receiving critiques:
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  • When you hand out the piece, set the critiquers' expectations, such as by telling if it is an early draft or a later revision, if it is a complete piece or if it is an ongoing work, and who the intended audience is. You may even wish for the piece to be read aloud. If the piece is very short (maybe only 1-3 pages), then the group may wish to do it in that session. Otherwise, it may be passed out for feedback in the next meeting.
  • Make sure everyone in the group gets a copy of the manuscript to be critiqued. It is most respectful to hand out the pieces in person, if possible, but email is okay if the critiquer doesn't object to having to print a copy themselves.
  • Be humble and respectful. Everyone has a different point of view, and there are times when the different critiquers will differ a lot. Remember, it is your piece, and only you have the final say on how the piece is written or know where you are going with it.
  • Take a vow of silence, no matter how tempting it may be to try to explain why you agree or disagree with a critique. 
  • Take notes as you receive critiques and listen respectfully to all comments.
  • Be aware of visible reactions to your writing. Does it bring out passionate responses from critiquers?
  • By the end, have a feeling for whether your manuscript is appropriate for its intended audience. What are its strengths or weaknesses? Did you hear specific suggestions for improvement?
  • Once everyone has had a chance to critique, it is now your turn to ask clarifying questions. This is NOT a chance to try to explain why you disagree with critiques.
See my previous post for guidelines for as you as the critiquer.

Cheers and happy reading!

Critiquing Tips - Giving Critiques

Recently I posted about my awesome writer's group, the Village Peeps, and about how useful they are for improving my writing.
Every writer's group is different in how they operate, but we have a model that we feel is very successful. It's important to have some ground rules to insure that the critiques are most useful and respectful, from both the critiquers and those being critiqued.

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Here are our guidelines for you as the critiquer:

  • One person in the group should act as a "facilitator" to determine whose turn it is to give feedback. That person will also be the last one to give feedback to the writer and to make sure critiquers stay within the guidelines.
  • Be humble and respectful. You are just one point of view.
  • If you are the first critiquer, always begin with a positive comment. It sets a positive mood and helps minds open.
  • It's a good idea to reflect what you feel is the main idea of the piece, particularly if you are the first critiquer.
  • Avoid telling how you would handle a writing problem; it's up to the author to do the actual fixing and writing.
  • Keep comments relevant to writing and avoid getting personal in your responses. For instance, avoid questions like, "Did that really happen?" or statements like "I had an aunt who was just like that character." What you probably mean is "That plot twist seemed implausible to me," or "When Matilda gritted her teeth, she came to life for me." Be more concerned with effectiveness -- how it was written.
  • Be as specific as possible. "It's really good" is useless; "It's really lame" is damaging, and neither comment helps the writer revise. For instance, instead of saying "Your description of the cat was good," comment on where and how it was good, such as "When you describe the cat entering the room, I could tell it was a Persian without you saying so."
  • State your comment one time only and be brief. If the writer needs elaboration, then can ask for it when it is their turn to talk.
  • Write down your critiques on the manuscript, not just relying on the writer to take a note.
  • Try not to re-state what others have already commented on. You can "pass" if everyone has already said what you would say.
  • Do not comment on other critiquers' comments or belittle them. They are entitled to their opinions.
  • "Line editing" (such as correcting commas or grammar) can be helpful, but try to focus more on the bigger issues.
  • If you receive the piece to be critiqued for the next meeting, but cannot attend in person, then make sure to return the critiqued piece as soon as reasonably possible.

See my following post for guidelines for you as the one receiving critiques.

Cheers and happy reading!

Why You Need A Writer's Group

The Village Peeps at our holiday meeting
(plus Ann Marie, pictured below, who
took this picture)
Why have a writer's group? Because different points of view will improve your work. Because they are "beta readers", if only piece by piece. Because they share your interest and will share what they know with you, and you with them. Because they are part of your writer community.

My writer's group is the Village Peeps of Corvallis. I joined the group way back in the late 90s soon after it formed. We all (I think) had taken writing classes from a great children's fiction writer, the late Anne Warren Smith. Using her rules for giving and receiving feedback, decided to "take it to the next level" and form our own group.

Members have changed over the years, with a few members moving away (whom we still consider honorary members), and a couple passing away, and then others joining to take their places. There are eight of us at the moment, and not likely to increase (Margie, Marissa, Dean, Beverley, Monica, Donovan, Ann Marie, and myself). It's a good number for our style. We used to meet at the Good Samaritan Village, so we were the "Village People" at first.

Ann Marie (who took the pic
of our group, above) as she
gives a reading from her book.
No matter how polished I think my draft is, they will always find things that need changed. Without exception, every piece I bring in is made better. We are a diverse group, in terms of what we write. Only two of us write fantasy or speculative fiction. Others write more mainstream fiction. Some write autobiographical pieces (including one who just published an autobiographical book). One writes historical fiction. One is more literary. Though some groups are more focused in genre, I find this diversity to help my work due to the different ways of looking at the writing.

I don't make 100% of the changes they recommend, since, as the writer, I have the best idea of where the piece is headed and the audience I am appealing to, but I would say that the vast majority of recommended changes are made.

Thinking of setting up your own group? HERE is a good page about considerations. But I have a few of my own:

  • Consider the best size of the group. I recommend a size of around 5-10 people. 8 is our golden number, for the amount of work we bring in. Too few and you don't get enough critiques. Too many, and you find yourself competing for getting your piece critiqued and you run out of time (I've been in a group like that, which had nearly 20 people in it!).
  • Where do you meet? It could be at someone's home or a public meeting room. I know a group that meets in the back of a local book store. The Village Peeps currently meet in a meeting room at a local church (though our group is not religious in nature). We used to meet in the dining room of a retirement village. Wherever you meet, make sure that it is suitably comfortable, has enough chairs and table space, it's free of distractions, and it's accessible to everyone. Don't forget to have enough parking!
  • Consider the format. Do you want only to read pieces that you take home and then deliver at the next meeting with your critique? Read it aloud in class? For us, we only occasionally do pieces in the session, and only if very short. Most are "take home" pieces followed by oral critique summaries at the next meeting. And we practically never read aloud.
  • How often to meet, and for how long? For us, it's a couple hours in the evening, on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. That fits our level of productivity. Some groups meet only once a month. Others every week.
  • Who facilitates the meeting? It's important to have someone "in charge" during the meeting to determine what order the pieces are critiqued and what order people give feedback. In our group, we rotate who facilitates based on alphabetical name.
  • What rules to follow?  I have written special posts for this (see links, below). But every group is different. It's very important that the group has guidelines and that everyone follows them, to insure proper respect, the best feedback, and timeliness.
    • HERE for the guidelines we use when you are the one giving the critique. 
    • HERE for the guidelines we follow when you are the one receiving the critique. 

If you need more advice, please leave a comment, below, or go to the "Contact Me" form in the sidebar to the right.

Cheers and happy reading!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Check Out My Interview

I was recently interviewed by a fellow fantasy writer, Marissa Byfield, on my Heartstone series, White Lands Dragon (completed) and its sequel (in-process), Footman of the Ether. She posted my answers on her blog, as part of her "Author Coffee Break" series of posts.  Please check it out HERE.

I recommend you visit and read the whole interview, but here's the first couple of question-and-answers to whet your appetite:

M: What distinguishes your epic high fantasy series — featuring dragons, elves, and gods — apart from others? 
J: I think the point of view makes a big difference, as it shapes how the stories are told. Ever read a book written from the point of view of the dragon? A demon? A strong female mage? Or a sadistic villain? White Lands Dragon is told from two of these, and its sequel, Footman of the Ether, is told from all four. But the point of view characters aren’t what define the Heartstone series, they just color it. I pride myself on not relying on constant action to build the story. The action punctuates the plot and keeps the wheels turning, but those wheels take the reader down a road of discovery, realizing that they are part of a narrative where the characters are caught in the middle of a celestial war, fought by gods over eons, for control of the world of Irikara, and wind up playing a part in it. 
M: I’ve always loved books about dragons — especially those from the dragons’ perspectives, or with shapeshifting dragons (like one of your characters, Darilos Velar). What fascinates you about dragons in particular? 
J: Did you know the emperor of China was the only person allowed to wear images of dragons? He was considered the “son of dragons.” Wherever dragons were part of the native mythology, all over the world, they were seen as symbols of power, luck, or danger, never to be trifled with, called upon for powerful magic, and only defeated after massive battles with gods, heroes, or saints. 
The Kilgore coat of arms.
Thus I have called upon them in this new mythology. And though the dragons of Irikara have great strength and magical ability, destroying entire cities and citadels with potent renegade magic and on a first-name basis with gods, I have also made them accessible to the reader. You get to know them. What are their insecurities? How do they relate with each other and the humans they travel with? With multi-generational memories that can span longer than the lifetimes of entire civilizations, how can they relate to the present? Writing from that point of view is more entertaining to me than anything else I can think of. I should also add that a black dragon is even on the Kilgore coat of arms. So dragons are literally part of my family identity. 
Read the rest HERE.
Marissa Byfield will soon have her first novel published, The Soft Fall. Read more about it HERE and in the first "Author Coffee Break" post, HERE.
Cheers and happy reading!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Busy Editing. Happy Birthday To Me!

On Monday I celebrated my birthday by taking off work from my day job and focusing on my writing. Someone asked me why, of all things to do, that THAT would be my chosen activity. I think you can figure that this person was not a fellow writer, because any writer would understand that almost nothing brings me as much joy and freedom as this!
The pile of chapter edits waiting for me on my writing desk.

But four hours of my day were spent working on editing the manuscript for my book, White Lands Dragon. Although not as joyous as working on new material, it is nonetheless part and parcel of a writer's life. This time it wasn't big stuff. Rather, I focused on the smaller edits: word choice, grammar, sentence structure, etc. Mostly "line edits." Nothing larger than within-chapter stuff. Some of this was from critiques from my writer's group, the Peeps, and some from a go-through of my whole book on my part. And I still have many chapters to go.  After that, I'll go back and focus on the larger issues, like continuity issues of the book as a whole, plotting, and character references.

As you can see from the picture of my desk, all those folders contain printouts that have been critiqued and are ready to edit. Oh boy.

Author Jenna Moreci posted a video that is pretty close to my process. See below for her video on self-editing. I'm what she calls a "fuckit" editor, which is her way of saying you edit as you go. My process involves writing a rough draft of a chapter, then reading it through digitally for obvious edits/additions/deletions. Then I print it and go through it again. Then I move on to the next chapter. At some point soon, my writer's group critiques the chapter. Then, when I'm able (usually when I'm taking a break from writing new material), I'll go through their critiques and make more edits.

I'll follow this process all the way until the first draft is done. Next I go through the entire book several times, first for "big" issues, like plot arcs and pacing. What Moreci calls the "forest edit." At this point I might change large sections, or touch on each plot point where it falls in the book. Heck, I might move chapters around, rewrite, or delete whole chapters, but it's very rare at this point. Then with each pass I'll focus "on the trees" as Moreci says, doing more line edits. And then go through again. Hopefully, at this point, it'll be good enough to send out with a query. But it seems the edits are never truly done. If the book gets accepted by a potential publisher, then the professional editing process begins, which, as I understand, can be pretty grueling.

[Related: Is Line Editing A Lost Art?]

Oh, and I got some great gifts from my family, too, including a copy of Robert Jordan's Eye of the World, the first book in the Wheel of Time series, from my son, as well as a $20 gift certificate for my all time favorite bookstore, Smith Family Bookstore, which I've blogged about before. This, combined with the many books I got at Christmas, has given me some great reading in the weeks ahead.

Cheers and happy reading!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

An Agent Query and the #SFFpit Twitter Event

Today there was a Twitter event:  #SFFpit (sort for Science Fiction and Fantasy pitch).  You can read about it HERE on the pages of Dan Koboldt, who founded the twice-annual event.

The rules were simple: from 10 AM to 6 PM, Eastern time, authors who are seeking agents can post a pitch of a finished novel they wish to market, in the limited space of a tweet, with particular hashtags, including #SFFpit and other hashtags that represent the intended age of readers and the particular genre or subgenre. They can post only one pitch per hour. Anyone other than an agent is not allowed to click "like," but they are encouraged to retweet or comment.

Interested agents can then search for the hashtag(s) to find potential clients. If they are interested in receiving a query from that writer for that manuscript, they will click the "like" button. It's then up to the author to follow up with them for the query.

So, throughout the day, I posted pitches, each slightly different, for my finished high fantasy novel, White Lands Dragon (as well as one pitch for my other finished novel, Chronicles of a Warrior).  One of those pitches -- the very first one for WLD, in fact -- received a "like" from an agent! I was ecstatic.

Here's the pitch:

I won't say who the agent is at this time, but she is with a very respected New York literary agency with a good portfolio, has four years of experience as an agent, and seems very much in line with my interests and works. And, to my surprise, when I messaged her, she indicated she wanted the entire manuscript as well as the query letter.

Words can't express how happy I am right now! (or should I say write now?)

Whether she accepts me or not, I'm just happy to live in this moment. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the book is a good fit for her.

Cheers and happy reading!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Award for Non-Fiction Essay: "Grandma's Tin Pan"

I'm happy to report that I won a writing contest.  First place!  Woot!

It was for a non-fiction essay contest at the writer community, Fanstory.com, for my essay, "Grandma's Tin Pan."

My grandmother Kilgore had this little pan, which was all beat up, but she used it nearly every day. Turns out it was one of her most prized possessions, as it was the first thing she and her husband had bought, back during the Great Depression. For her, it symbolized the love of family and how she provided for them.

The piece also earned the Fanstory.com "Recognized" ribbon for the many excellent reviews that other readers left the piece. I was surprised by the wonderful comments people left. Just go to the link below, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on the little "view ratings" button to read them.

You can read the essay here:

Time to submit this to a magazine, I think!

Cheers and happy reading!

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