Monday, November 18, 2013
A Paean to My Fellow Writers
I’ve begun writing the first novel in a new mystery series. My sleuth, Carrie Singleton, is twenty-nine, dresses a la Goth, and changes the color of her hair every other week. She also has a library degree. Carrie’s visiting family and ready to move on when she's offered the position of Director of Events & Programs at the local library. She’s about to refuse the job when a sweet old lady ghost with a sharp tongue advises her to consider her options. Carrie does, takes the job, and solves murders that occasionally occur during, after, or as a consequence of programs she’s set up for the library’s patrons. Busy as she is, Carrie also finds time for romance with two potential boyfriends.
For once, the novel’s plot came to me quickly and all in one piece. I had my cast of characters: the sleuth, the murderer, the victims, the suspects and their various relationships. I wrote up my synopsis and got to work. Good job, I told myself after completing three chapters. Still, I knew better than to send out a project before having it vetted by a few writers I trust. They made a few comments and gave me a few ideas. I considered them all and continued writing.
The murder finally occurred at the end of chapter seven. Kind of late, I thought. But I simply had to write about Cassie’s two encounters with her mysterious landlord. I sent it to a writer friend for her comments and critiques.
I can’t praise my fellow writers enough for the valuable input and advice they’ve given me over the years. My friend had gone over the chapters word for word, adding missing quotation marks and periods like a seasoned copy editor. What’s more, she pointed out what was wrong with my pacing. I simply had to get the murder in sooner. I had to move the budding romance back and all would be right. Of course she was right! I’d even written it that way in my synopsis, but had allowed romance to take over.
Why didn’t I see the problem? I thought. But at least this time I didn’t berate myself for not having written the perfect manuscript at first draft. The truth is, we need others to view our work objectively and to tell us what needs fixing. Years ago editors did this for their authors. We’ve all heard how Maxwell Perkins cut Thomas Wolfe’s lengthy handwritten manuscript of Look Homeward Angel down to size. But times are different now, and we writers have to depend on one another. It’s why most writers are in critique groups.
One of my critique partners usually goes through the opening pages of a new manuscript of mine until she finds the right spot. “This is where you begin,” she tells me. I don’t doubt it. It used to bother me until another writer told me that I write the many pages before that point to acquaint myself with the new book, the setting, the characters, and the situation. So what if I depend of another writer to point out where my story actually begins?
Who critiques your manuscripts before you send them out? Or do you feel you don’t need anyone’s input?