Tough Love

I didn’t post last Sunday’s critique group evisceration due to sheer exhaustion.  But the hardest two weeks of the academic year are behind me at the dayjob. I took an extra day off for the holiday weekend and I pretty much wasted yesterday (on purpose).  So, I figure looking at these crits would be a good way for me to get back into writing today as I (try to) keep live audio and video feeds of Roland Garros in the background.

It occurs to me now that I’ve only looked at the story once or twice since then. I was temporarily seduced by a couple of flash fiction projects, one for a prompt on Zoetrope, and the other by a Twitter joke gone too far, with further yet to go.

Anyway, I brought the next bit of the short story I brought last crit group session, which is for a seekrit project.  The group read the first part of the second act.  With scalpels and machetes out, here’s what they said.


  • Scene I brought was “heavy” and “dramatic.”  Also, “vivid.”
  • Readers had a better idea of the who and the why of the story
  • The scene “comes alive” where the shit starts hitting the fan and was “scary” and “suspenseful.”
  • The struggle between one of the main characters and the viewpoint character contains “tension” and “suspense.”
  • One reader mentioned that the way a particular magic spell was used might not have worked on TV or in a film, but worked just fine in prose form.


  • Wrote about relationship dynamics between characters that were missing for some readers in the first part of the story.
  • One section I wrote where I blended one character’s speech with the jeers of the crowd didn’t work for everyone. (Though the ones it did work for seemed adamant that I should stick with it.)
  • [This one I knew would be a problem going in–and I was caught red-handed.] With all the drama going on between the viewpoint character and one of the main characters, other characters just sort of faded away into the background… the aforementioned crowd, for instance.

So, lots to fix with this story and a third act to write.  Luckily, I have several months to get it together.

Tough Love

It’s been over two months since my last confession piece was eviscerated by the critique group.  Almost forgot what it was like.  Luckily, I picked it up again pretty darn fast!

I’m writing and submitting, even got two publications in so far.  I’ve also trunked two longer writing projects this year that just weren’t working for me.  I hate doing that because it means violating Robert Heinlein’s #2 Rule for Writing: You must finish what you write.  But I was prompted to start a new story by–well, I can’t tell you why, not yet.  It’s a seekrit.  Suffice it to say that this is the first time in a long time I was so excited by an idea.  In one morning, I had a rough plot outline of all the major points I want to hit.  By lunchtime, I had a title.  I almost never have a title until the end.

I spit out Act I in time to submit it for vivisection by the critique group.  And, vivisect it they did!


  • I was worried about being heavy-handed with the story’s theme or of telegraphing anything.  Apparently, I did neither.
  • The prose was “engaging”
  • My setting was “rich” and “full of details”
  • Some readers liked the tone of the story, as well as some of the detail and emotions
  • There were some really good guesses as to where this story might be going.  For all the apparent confusion about plot details (see below), most of the readers picked out all the plot elements/questions I wanted to throw out there, even if they weren’t all understood. 


  • One two of the five pages I brought,was utterly confusing for a lot of readers.
  • I confused one reader (likely, more) about the mechanics of a particular piece of magic being debated between characters
  • My introduction of the viewpoint character was confusing.
  • Pacing was really slow 3/4 into Act I (which wasn’t helped by some really embarassing grammatical errors).
  • I didn’t give enough information about the particular Cause my characters are fighting for.
  • (edited to add) I repeated a few phrases waaaay too many times.

Quite possibly, I should’ve let this draft cool before bringing it.  But apart from obvious fixes, I got a couple of really good suggestions that I’ll implement right away.  And hopefully, I’ll have at least Act II ready for next session which, because of scheduling around some holidays, will be next week!  Gotta get moving…

      Tough Love

      Been awhile since I’ve attended the literary vivisection that is my biweekly critique group with something to read.  This week, I brought in a 996-word flash fiction piece, written to a story prompt I found online–sorry, but due to the rules of the forum, I can’t post the prompt here.

      Anyway, here’s what the gang had to say…


      • I was unsatisfied with the working title I gave the story, but at least one reader thought it fit just fine.
      • As usual, at least one reader called my story “intriguing.”
      • People liked my description of “bad college behavior,” especially in regard to one peculiar substance.


      • That certain peculiar substance didn’t click as much for a couple of readers as much as for the rest.  They understood how I used it; just didn’t resonate, it seemed.
      • Only one reader out of eight seemed completely satisfied with how I ended the piece.  Most, even those who understood the implications, still thought the ending could’ve been “stronger” or “more clever.”

      A short critique for a short piece.  Sometimes, though, I don’t feel I deserve the praise I sometimes get for my flash.  Flash seems to cover a multitude of sins, where my writing is concerned.  It makes sense–the more I write, the more that can go wrong.  But sometimes, I feel like the success–or lack thereof–of my longer pieces is more representative of my current abilities. Oh, well…

      Tough Love

      Wow, last week was a shitty one for writing. I’m not making excuses. Just stating the plain fact that between the crazy shit going on at my dayjob and life in general, I just couldn’t pull the end of this story together like I’d planned. Of course, being fixated on the Australian Open didn’t help, either. What can I say, I’m a sucker for Grand Slam tennis, plus it was my escape from dayjob hell.

      I did manage to pull together Act II of my story, and that’s what I brought to the biweekly crit group vivisection yesterday. Here’s what they said:

      For the Win

      • This section was “intriguing.” (I get that a lot these days)
      • Good character details: e.g. being a member of MUFON; scene on the train ride in; what she wears to work
      • Apparently, the way I wrote a section showing “The Battle of the Moon” was 95% win, in terms of its description and most of the details of how my protagonist came upon it.


      • Good question on one reader’s part: I never described wtf MUFON was.
      • I ended Act II with a confusing situation. Out of seven readers, only one verbalized what was going on, and even that was only a guess on his part.
      • One thing I apparently failed to fix from the last section I brought, my character still isn’t showing enough of her alleged skepticism. She’s still taking what’s told to her at face value.
      • The 5% of “Battle of the Moon” fail had to do with exactly how the MC stumbled onto it.

      I probably will not be bringing Act III to group. I’m behind, not only in terms of my personal goal of finishing and sending off one new story per month, but because the deadline to submit this story as the opening salvo in my contest with the other Four Horsemen is today. I did get some plotting help from the other members of my crit group, and I already have one of my trusty beta-readers on what I already have. The plan is to finish this bitch and fire it out to the rest of my beta readers today or tomorrow. Okay, Wednesday. After all, Mercedes has already drawn steel.

      Tough Love

      It’s been way too long since I’ve had an example of my critique group’s biweekly vivisection of my writing (Holy shit–August? Really, Don?). If you’ll recall, the latter portion of 2009 was spent rewriting. But, one of my 2010 goals is to write a story a month, so I had to have something to bring this time around.

      I brought Act I of the story that I hope will make people dance for me.

      Here’s what the group had to say…

      For the Win

      • One reader was drawn to the main character. She “loved her voice.”
      • Another liked the description of the internet communications between the main character and the supporting character–an alien.
      • A few readers liked the opening hook, which let them know what kind of story this was, and more importantly, what kind of story it wasn’t.
      • One commented on the “pop culture/sci-fi mix” I worked into the story. cf. the film Contact, except for the immediacy of the meeting between human and alien in my story.
      • Everyone thought one aspect of the story–which I’ll keep secret for now–was a really good device.
      • Overall, the story was called “fun” and most of my descriptions “good.”


      • The main character had a bit of skepticism in her, which she should’ve shown during her first alien encounter…
      • In particular, one piece of evidence I invented for the alien to convince the MC that he was an alien wasn’t all that convincing (this is why I hate writing sci-fi ;)).
      • One reader had a different opinion of the way I wrote the initial internet communication between the MC and the alien (emails and chats). He saw what I was trying to do stylistically, but wondered why I just didn’t write the emails like emails, and the chats like straight up chats.
      • My description of the alien, while generally clear–except for the alien’s clothes–raised questions as to certain mechanics (especially regarding the aspect of it I need to keep secret right now :)).
      • There were some beats missing in the last scene of Act I–readers questioned the way things escalated between the MC and the alien.

      I don’t mind telling you that the whole thing went a lot better than I thought it was going to go. I was able to come up with (what I believe to be) quick fixes for most of the problems the group pointed out to me. In the end, though, I’m glad the problems seemed to be in the details, rather than in any fundamental story flaw.

      There’s a first time for everything, huh? 🙂

      Catching Up is Hard to Do

      I’ve decided that part of the problems I’ve been having with writing have to do with all the stuff swimming in my psychic RAM that needs to be dumped out. So many blogworthy things going on; so little time to blog them. So, here goes.

      Just ‘cos there haven’t been my usual Tough Love posts doesn’t mean that I haven’t been attending the biweekly evisceration. I just haven’t had anything to be eviscerated, not by the group, anyway.

      I’m eviscerating my current short story in-progress, formerly titled “The Six-Hundred Dollar Man.” With every section of prose I clean up, I feel like I’m butting my head trying to stick to the story I want to tell.

      You may be thinking, “Maybe it’s not the story that needs to be told.” Except I know in my gut it is.

      And aside from that, I’ve got 3 other stories that I need to finish revising and send off.

      I entered The First Annual Brain Harvest Mega Challenge a little while back. The Second Place Winner has been posted. And I have to say, if that’s second place, I think I’m pretty sure I didn’t make First Place. 🙁

      Last Friday & Saturday, I attended the 2009 Rod Serling Conference. I’m still processing the experience, a weekend filled with scholars, fans, and artists including Serling’s surviving fammily and the legendary George Clayton Johnson on whose every word we hung.

      A modern-day John the Baptist, if I ever saw one.

      I’ll blog the blow-by-blow later.

      And now that I’ve taken time out to process my inbasket and tickler files, I can get some sleep and hit the WIP tomorrow.

      Tough Love

      …will return in two weeks. Because it’s been hellish at the dayjob and I think I deserve to enjoy the holiday weekend, such as it is–I don’t get a third day off.

      So instead of busting my ass to get something done to get vivisected, I’m chilling out, watching US Open tennis, and a little later, I’m gonna drive out to a cookout with some friends to have, what Laura Nyro calls, a “Stoned Soul Picnic.”

      Speaking of, Nyro’s a singer/songwriter I’m discovering again for the first time. Apparently, I’ve been listening to her songs for years, as covered by Blood, Sweat & Tears and other bands on rotation in my playlists. I kept seeing the name “Laura Nyro” come up as the composer–it’s a kind of name that jumps out at you. So I looked her up and now I’m binging on her music!

      But I digress. You’ll have to excuse me. I got very little sleep last night and I’m finding myself struggling to gather the energy to get to the cookout that I’m blowing off crit group to go to.

      [Edited to add] The day after I wrote this, I found out that I’ve been living in the same town as Nyro’s brother and have seen the group he conducts, Vitamin L, perform several times!

      Tough Love

      Finally finished the work in progress and brought the ending to the biweekly abatoir that is my critique group.

      Remember the last few times when the Win list was longer than the Fail list? Not this time, but that’s okay. It’s called a “puke draft” for a reason. Not only that, I brought about 3 times as many words as I’d brought before–of course the Fail list was going to be longer!

      For the Win

      • Folks liked my description of the painful way the protagonist “solved” his problem.
      • Those scenes had a “feeling of menace and chaos.”
      • Praise for how I cashed in on a couple of plot points from the beginning of the story. (It’s funny–I had no idea I was gonna do that.)
      • The usual praise about dialogue, prose, etc.


      • Unresolved question #1: What are the stakes? (Yikes!)
      • Other unresolved questions:
        • What exactly is the protagonist’s motivation for getting involved in this “strange, new world” in the first place?
        • Why does he choose such a drastic solution to an unclear problem?
        • In fact, isn’t he making matters worse?
        • What’s his sister’s motivation, ‘cos the way she pushes the protagonist and where she pushes him to makes her look like more of a bad guy than the bad guy?
        • What did the bad guy want that was so bad?
      • I definitely strayed from the idea of “cultural tension” that I started out with in the beginning.

      The entire puke draft clocked in at over 7300 words, so there’s a lot of tightening and rethinking to do. In a way, this piece is a victory because it’s been so long since I just cranked out a first draft of a “full-length” story with as little looking back as possible.

      I’ve got a good feeling about this story though. I know all the pieces are there, even if they’re in a jumble.

      Tough Love

      I feel like a writer again, having brought the most words (1.5k) than I have in weeks to the crit group. Of course, that’s more to be vivisected. The good news is that the win column on this latest bit of my short story seems to be longer than the fail column!

      For the Win

      • The story remains “intriguing.”
      • One reader was glad to be able to understand my world’s tech as I’ve written it (she isn’t typically a sci-fi reader). Another appreciated [I’m paraphrasing, here] the lack of technobabble.
      • More praise for my dialogue. One person in particular noted that when characters are asked questions, no one really gets a “direct answer.” Put by another reader, the answers are given “how real people talk.”
      • There “wasn’t a dull place” in the section I brought.
      • Praise for the family dynamics I illustrated between the main character, his sister and his parents.
      • My descriptions about emotional reactions were “sparse” yet “dynamic.”


      • Unclear to some readers “where we’re going from here.” Namely, with regard to an important secondary character’s plans for the protagonist being unnecessarily vague.
      • A couple of lines that need to be rearranged for clarity.
      • A plot point about a lie that didn’t really make sense.

      So, maybe on my road trip to Boston, Mass tomorrow, I can at least give some thought to where I’m going from here. ‘Cos hell if I know.

      Tough Love

      I low-balled my wordcount for yesterday’s critique group crucifixion session again. 820 words. Just couldn’t get the story done, but I did bring something. Better to light an inch than curse the darkness after all, no?

      I took bits of the next scene I’d planned and decided to staple it to the end of the scene I brought last time. An obvious decision that you just don’t see when you’re in the midst of a puke draft. Comments were as follows…

      Story Win

      • I was a little clearer about the way the tech in this story works.
      • Tension was raised
      • Like last week, readers like the interaction between the protagonist and his sister.
      • I painted a clear picture of the protagonist being a little foolhardy, yet barreling ahead anyway.
      • Hm…I made a note of “Not a lot of words,” but I’ve forgotten what that meant…?

      Story Fail

      • Anything involving the color green and computer coding will always say The Matrix.
      • [I’m paraphrasing here] The form of the tech in my story, as I describe it, doesn’t follow the function I describe. Or at least, I’m overcomplicating it.
      • [Edited to add] I evidently don’t know how to spell the singular of lenses.

      Thank God for the techies in my group, that’s all I have to say! 🙂