My workshop ended an hour and a half ago and I’m still processing the critique session I sat through tonight. It wasn’t my excerpt being critiqued, it was someone else’s. It was an odd experience because I had to turn an excerpt in to the group tonight and as the critique got underway, I could literally feel heat in my face and my own gnawing anxiety in anticipation of how my work will be received.
The work we discussed tonight was good and I give my fellow writer huge kudos for going first. It really was very good. It had a great first sentence, great hook, lots of tension, excellent description, and a good balance of scene and narrative summary. The voice was strong – there were one or two minor things related to timeline that were a little confusing, but I think they were the result of some revisions that haven’t been completely edited and polished.
I assume people see the same things I see, but they don’t. Overall, the reaction was very good, but some questions and discussion came up that baffled me. One person wasn’t sure where the initial scene took place – it said so right on the page. There was a paragraph where there was a lot of confusion as to whether the character was being sincere or sarcastic – it was crystal clear to me what the intent was, but even when I pointed out a sentence that made the intent obvious, not everyone was so sure.
It was sort of like watching a movie with someone else who becomes confused about the action because they didn’t pick up on an earlier detail. The information is all there, but the viewer has to be paying attention.
The next time we meet, I’ll be listening to everyone discussing my work. It’s a draft of a first chapter so it needs a lot more work, and I’m aware of a number of specific problems it has. It needs to move more quickly, needs more tension, conflict and stakes. There are other aspects I’m pretty happy with, but now I’m not so sure the parts I was confident about are going to come across. That’s OK – I need to know these things.
To be clear, I’m taking this workshop to work on craft and technique, so I’m not deluded into thinking I’ve got something that’s anywhere near finished, or even good (yet), but I am trying to incorporate some techniques, primarily descriptive and related to place and to the character’s gestures and facial expressions, that will evoke a mood, attitude, or sometimes foreshadow things in order to avoid spelling everything out in narrative summary or dialogue. It works well for skilled writers and for me; it will take a lot of practice.
How much subtlety do you try to use in your work, and how much do you feel needs to be spelled out? Have you written scenes that you felt provided clear information, but been given feedback that indicated people were confused and you weren’t being as obvious as you thought you were?