I really do believe in critique groups. They have helped me a lot. I’m also quite convinced that Creative Writing in Higher Education works mainly because students are taught to reflect critically about their work.
However, none of this is without problems and we must be discerning about how we respond to critiques.
Creative writers say that because they can
Someone in my critique group said that to us. I don’t think he realised what my day job used to be. We’d pointed out a slipped point of view. We are so keen now on first person and close third that we might forget that some of the greats – e.g. Charles Dickens – frequently used a roving point of view. It worked for him and his readers. Why shouldn’t it for us?
I’ve recently had an almighty rejection from an online publication that has accepted pretty well everything else I’ve sent them. I’m a little puzzled by how much information they provided considering they didn’t want to accept the script. Were they trying to train me up for something else?
Some of it made sense. Some of it didn’t, and in particular, a distinction I made between pads and paddles on a defibrillator. I had to try the text out on several people and then watched several episodes of Casualty and Holby City. Ah. Sorry Mr Editor sir. I had made this distinction correctly and all of my readers got it.
Sore breasts in early pregnancy? Surely not?
Okay so it’s a long time ago now but I remember it distinctly. In fact, one of the first clues the first time was that a dress wouldn’t fit over my boobs and it actually hurt if you touched them. The person querying this was much younger than me. I just had to conclude that different women have slightly different experiences but that what I was describing here was valid for some.
Yes I’m a great believer in avoiding tags altogether if you can and if you can’t use “said” most of the time, with the occasional “whispered”, “shouted” or “asked”. But just occasionally, it is okay to use something else. It’s an art to know when. It never is an exact science.
Write with the senses
Yes, definitely. But every sense, every time? Isn’t there a danger of it all becoming like a list? Anyway, if you can hear the bacon sizzling in the pan, can’t you smell it as well?
We tend to stick to the visual. Perhaps we could use one of the other senses more often and let it carry some other detail?
A says one thing, B another and the two contradict each other. What to do? Look at what’s being discussed anyway. This is probably happening because there is something out of kilter in what you’ve written. You may have to find a third way.
Put the script away. Rest it for a week or two. The come to it with fresh eyes.
The best sort of feedback – a personal opinion
I just like to find out what my readers have understood. Have I succeeded in getting the film from my head into theirs? Isn’t that ultimately what we’re trying to achieve?
In the end, we have to listen to advice, weigh it up, return to our writing den, be our own best counsel and edit as we see fit.
Happy writing and editing.