I have the best writer’s group ever. I mean, ever. Six women who all write YA. Six women who are monumentally talented, and each in their own unique way. We have a fantasy writer (yours truly), one contemporary, two magical realism, one working on historical fiction, and even a graphic novelist (artist and writer, whoa). I believe something like four out of six of us have been published in the past. And, to the internet’s credit, we all met on Facebook. If you like, I can do a post at a later date about how I found and organized this group, and the critique method we’ve developed to make the most effective use of our limited meeting time.
So. I love my writer’s group. But now you may ask, “Why does the headline also say you hate them?”
Because they are always right. And that usually means I have to do a lot of work.
Lately I’ve been bringing the first sections of my novel The Aeronauts to group meetings. This book has been a pretty painful learning experience for me, because the story is A) more complex than anything I’ve done before, B) involves a purely fantastical world where none of our rules apply, and C) has a lot that happens off-screen (prior to the novel’s timeline) that needs to be folded into the text in a natural, showy-not-telly kind of way.
Boy, is that harder than it sounds.
My wonderful writer’s group gals don’t just point out what’s wrong with the story–they also provide some seriously excellent suggestions on how to improve it, and devices I could employ to solve my problems. And, because we have the whole hive-mind thing going on, the ideas get refined by each participant until they are, quite literally, golden.
As a result of all this, The Aeronauts is shining brighter than ever before. One of my girls pointed out I have a little bit of a “problem” with plot progression–and suggested to me this awesome video where South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone teach NYU students the key to good storytelling. Their best bit of advice: avoid “and thens.” They are boring.
The Aeronauts has a lot of “and then this happened, and then this other thing happened,” without much reason or result besides happenstance. UGH. So, while writing group has been immensely helpful, it has also been painful to step in front of the word processor and realize the scope of my required changes. And yet, there is this deep, fulfilling sense of satisfaction when the overhaul is complete.
The gem hidden inside the mush is shining brightly. Thank you, writer’s group! You girls are the bestest.