Writers’ Mill Minutes 201611

Writers’ Mill Minutes November 20th

18 members attended November’s meeting, where Ron and Sheila gave a joint talk on the art of giving and taking in critique (see below), copies of the journal were handed out (email Sheila if you’ve not received yours), orders were taken for Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co (email Sheila if you still want to order it), and Jean led a fascinating discussion (also below) as we critiqued Patty’s prolog. Plus we had one new member, another Ron! Welcome!

Two copies of the journal were passed around and signed, one for the library and one for Hannah who did the gorgeous artwork for the cover.

Sheila announced two upcoming events:

  1. Friday/Saturday, December 2nd/3rd, from 9am to 4pm, at Sunset Presbyterian (between 26 and Cornell, just N of where Cornell crosses 26), please join Sheila at the Oak Hills Bazaar and start your Christmas shopping. If you have published books, or been published in books, those books may be put for sale on our table. Please get any books, together with your name and the selling price, to Sheila before the end of the month. Or please LET SHEILA KNOW you are bringing books and give her the name and selling price to add to her list. Then bring your books for 8am to Sunset Pres on December 2nd.
  2. Sunday December 4th, Sheila and Jean have both been invited to join lots of famous Oregon authors at the Oregon Historical Society Holiday Cheer event downtown. They would love to see you. You’ll even find our very own journal for sale, plus lots of other great books. Your chance to meet lots of authors and buy more Christmas gifts.

December 4th is also the deadline for our next writing contest – if you’ve not written your “ring” entry by then, join us at OHS, listen to the Dickens singers, then “Ring” your changes to their song and send it to JudyB at portlandwritersmill dot org before the night is out.

Contest awards

 for October went to:  3rd Roseanna with Moondoggy meets Joe, 2nd Matthew with Carl meets Fred and Joe, 1st Jean at the 7/11. And for November: 3rd Karen A-B with Crows and Swans, =2nd Catherin with Cob ‘n Pen and Jean with Swanee River, 1st Judy with Frog Prince

Other stories were Robin Dog’s Eye, Susan Quietnes and Dylan, Judy No birds today and both Frog stories, and Sheila the other swan poem, Favorite Things, and Kitkit’s Splash. All these entries are included in Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co.

Our next contests will be:

Our next meeting is on December 18th

  • Christmas Book Exchange
    • bring a book, take a book
    • bring several, take several
    • don’t wrap them – we want to know what we’re taking
    • don’t worry if you forget to bring something – there are bound to be spares
    • be prepared to take some great reading material home with you!
  • Inspiration Journal information –
    • Please send more submissions to JoeM at portlandwritersmill dot org
    • Joe wants around 12 stories, no more than 2 from each author
    • He’ll choose the best 2 if you submit more than 2
    • Yes, you can submit things already in the journal
  • Zeus and Bo deliveries
    • Don’t forget, email Sheila with your orders if you haven’t already paid her.
    • And mail the payment if you haven’t already made arrangements.
  • Don’t forget
    •  December 2/3 at Sunset Pres, and
    • OHS on the 4th
  • Meanwhile, write something about rings
    • Wedding
    • Diamond
    • Bell
    • Phone
    • Ringing in your teeth or ears
    • Circus ring
    • Ring around the bathtub or collar
    • Ring of truth
    • Lord of the Rings
    • Saturn’s rings
    • Nose ring
    • Etc
    • And send your 750 words or less to Judyb at portlandwritersmill dot org before the end of Dec 4th
  • Plus, Sheila’s Mum hopes to join us in December
  • And we’ll review the year, set goals for next year, enjoy two critiques (of Minnie’s and Robin’s pieces). So…
    • In the light of the talk on critiquing, perhaps we should all set goals of
      • Entering a contest, reading entries, and leaving comments on entries
      • Submitting a piece for group critique and leading a group critique
      • Joining/forming a critique group.

Ron and Sheila’s talk on critiquing

began with some questions.

  • Our Website describes us as “writers helping writers.” How do we help each other?
    • Information – from speakers, form each other
    • Encouragement – from snack time, just from meeting, or from encouraging comments…
    • Feedback – from critiques
  • We get all three of these from critiques: For example”
    • A poem in this month’s contest mentioned a bird with angel wings. Someone commented that angel wings are a deformity in birds. The author was probably very grateful for that piece of information.
    • Another poem received a fairly serious and informative critique. Whether the author was an accomplished poet or not, that would be very encouraging.
    • Sheila asked Judy to critique a horror story (probably not her genre). Judy gave her feedback where she envisioned something completely differently from how Sheila imagined it. Clearly it wasn’t as well described as she’d thought, so she could
      • Choose to ignore the comment
      • Or check what she’d written
      • And change.
    • Which is how we can always react when we receive critique – choose, check and change!
      • Sheila shared the occasion when a critiquer wrote “This writer doesn’t know how to tell a story.” Norm shared when another author used his story as an example of how not to do something. Occasionally critique will hurt, but we move on.
    • Do we all need critique/feedback? Yes
      • If writing for grandchildren, We’d prefer they actually read
      • If writing to get published, ditto
      • If writing just for ourselves, chances are we still want to write better so we don’t hate what we’ve written when we look back.
    • Can we all give critique/feedback, given that we’re such a mixed group?
      • Judy’s critique of Sheila’s horror story was invaluable.
      • “I’m confused” is valid critique – author decides if they mind that they confused you.
      • It’s always good to see through different eyes, hear through different voices, etc.
    • How do we offer this as the Writers’ Mill?
      • Group critique –Typically broad feedback on a story fragment, though we have done a poem and some very short stories on occasion.
      • Critique groups – we have at least two, probably more running at present. Meeting weekly allows critiquers to read a whole novel a chapter at a time, offering deep individual feedback with lots of back and forth.
        • One group meets on Friday afternoons at a coffee shop – we socialize and critique
        • Another meets monthly at Robin’s home (TV highway and 185th)
        • One meets just to write, at a coffee shop.
        • Are there more?
      • Contest critique – contest comments offer a sort of beginners opportunity to critique and receive critique

But how do we / can we critique?

Ron had lots of great pointers

First, why do we think we can critique anything?

  • We’re a diverse group, but science (as in the Wisdom of Crowds) has shown that 23 non-experts, as long as they know something about the subject, will usually produce a better solution to a problem than 3 experts who know almost everything. So we, in our diversity, can and should give great critiques. Even if the genre is not “my field”—perhaps especially if the genre if not “my field”—we can always critique

When do we need critique?

  • A critique is not a developmental edit. It comes before editing. You hire an editor for that
  • It’s not a chance to check spelling and grammar
  • It happens while we’re getting the manuscript ready

Who benefits from critique?

  • The author
  • The critique leader
  • The listeners (the more effort we put into being more than a listener, the more we will gain)

How we critique is somewhat dependent on what we’re reading.

  • Read the submission twice
    • First just to get the feel of it
    • Second (and more) to critique it
  • Find something nice to say about it
  • In a story, look at:
    • Characters
    • Dialog
    • Plot
      • Are there too many subplots in a short story
      • Do subplots need more attention in a novel
    • Backstory
      • Too much backstory
      • Is the backstory an information dump? Could the information be better woven into the whole pice?
    • Point of view
      • Does pov shift, and do shifts make sense in context?
      • Whose is the key point of view? Does their view engage the reader, or should we look through other eyes?
      • Does the author create a good contract with the reader – There are things I won’t tell you, but I’m not going to cheat.
    • Show vs Tell
      • Look for sensory input which anchors reader into the reality
      • Rather than sensory input that distracts
      • Tie sensory information to point of view
      • Use senses to frame the action.
    • In Poetry
      • Is it personal? Does it rise above the individual to become more relevant?
      • Does the title add to the piece
      • There are lots of forms and structures. One may be more appropriate than another. E.g.
        • Sonnets are a great form for offering contrasting views, but not for narration
        • (Did you know the art of storytelling began with poetry?)
        • Doesn’t have to be a traditional form. Does have to fit the poem. Sometimes free verse is best
        • Make sure form complements content.
      • Rhyme
        • Couplets and quadtrains are difficult to write but smooth to read.
        • Rhymes can be serious or mixed – doggerel can be the perfect form and rhyme.
      • Meter
        • Doesn’t have to be regular, but what fits this poem?
        • Creates the music of the poem
        • Do line breaks and verse structure fit the poem
        • Does it sound right when read aloud. If it doesn’t, there’s probably something wrong with the meter and line length.
      • Structure is not the same as poetry.
    • In all critique, look for the following and make sure they’re appropriate:
      • clichés.
      • Superfluous adjectives and adverbs
      • Remember, all rules are optional, but you probably have to know them if you’re going to break them successfully.

How do we receive critique?

  • It’s not personal
  • Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about words.
  • The purpose is to help you write better words
  • So you can do what you set out to do
  • So… listen

Applied critiquing

Patty listened while Jean led a great critique of the prolog to Patty’s novel. Discussion ranged over a lot of interesting topics:

  • The power of an opening sentence/opening emotion.
    • Hooks reader by connecting to universal experience.
    • Creates the expectation of and desire for resolution
  • The power of an opening scene
    • The slow/partial reveal of information
    • Promise enhances pact between reader and author – belief that this will work
  • Use of symbol, myth and folktale to add implied structure
  • How we choose what to keep and what to leave out
  • How much time can elapse between scenes/paragraphs
  • Use of senses to anchor characters in readers’ minds.
    • Problem of characters with similar names
    • Problem of having a large cast – can you use a family tree?
    • Can the protagonist provide insight and reminders about characters – e.g. “I always mixed up those names”
  • How do we choose whether 1st person or 3rd?
    • And how do we change our mind
    • Save your work often, and save under different names!
  • How do we narrate a character’s thoughts
  • How do we recreate location with description and senses?
  • How do we create a sense of time – details, statements, reference to contemporary events
    • Does the reader have to catch all references, or can they be there just for some readers
    • How do we create the trust that means reader won’t mind missing a reference?
  • How do we select words to put on the cover of a novel, to entice readers?

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