Friday, September 18, 2009
SCBWI-L.A.’s Working Writer’s Retreat Aftermath
The Working Writer’s Retreat is my favorite event of the year. It’s an opportunity to read to, and get critiqued by the editors and authors facilitating the critique groups. It’s an intense creative weekend. And a group of us usually have a chocolate and karaoke party in there somewhere. For me, it means very little sleep, writing until 1 or 2 am, and sometimes getting an editor or agent request for the full manuscript (but not this year).
A good friend and fellow SCBWI’er, Chris asked if I could share critique examples from the retreat. So here goes.
Thirteen Black Cats Under A Ladder
I read the first chapter to Arthur Levine.
On the minus side – it was purposely disorienting which was not to his personal taste. The overall tone was upsetting which meant he wasn’t in the mood to laugh when he got to the funny lines. And there was only one brief mention of the curse which was confusing. He wasn’t sure this should be the first chapter. He’d like to meet the main character in a slightly more neutral way – with a little more clarity for who she is. The line: Just because Marcus broke his leg – in thirteen places – when he turned thirteen… is an ‘as you know, Bob’ statement. This chapter comes across as dark and violent and the overall tone of the book is tongue-in-cheek.
On the plus side – the writing was Gertrude Stein-esque. It effectively conveyed the insanity.
Moving on from here (includes notes from other sources during the weekend): Fixes for this chapter include: lightening it up, making the curse more prominent, rounding out the MC more with letting us get to know who she is, building on the relationship between her and her brother through more dialogue – show that things have changed between them and a hint of what it used to be like.
I read the first two chapters to Martha Mihalick
On the minus side – The zit popping might be a little too gross. There are other spices than garlic. The second chapter needs more setting/atmosphere to ground the reader in where they are. The last line: What else did Mother not tell me? is confusing – why wouldn’t his mother tell him?
On the plus side – The characters are well rounded. The zit popping is probably spot on for the targeted reader. The garlic allergy is an interesting twist.
Moving on from here: I woke up the next morning and realized I could fix two issues. The transition from chapter one to two, and the sparse description of setting in chapter two. If I added a paragraph at the top of chapter two that showed him leaving home and how he got to the school, then I could describe what he sees and the transition from home to school is in the book rather than implied. The zits are staying as is, for now. And the last line fix came from another writer in my group who suggested What else did Mother forget to tell me?.
I’ve since gotten feedback that I need to show even more of what he’s thinking. Oy! The transition from 3rd person to 1st person fixed a lot of that, but apparently not quite enough yet.
Of course, now I think I should have switched what I read to which editor. Ah well.