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?




26 comments:

Morgan Mandel said...

It definitely helps to have a different set of eyes check out a manuscript. At my RWA chapter critiques, I'm amazed what others find that I didn't notice!

Morgan Mandel
http://www.morganmandel.com

Kaye George said...

I wouldn't dare inflict my ms. on anyone else until it's been seen by my most trusted readers. I have a tendency to stick convoluted sentences here and there. Really, twisty, hard-to-read sentences. I don't know why, but I have to have these pointed out to me! And other things, too.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Congratulations on your new Carrie Singleton series, Mariyln. She sounds like a fun character. I like what you write about critique groups. Mine have been my most valuable writing tool.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Morgan, Kaye, and Kathleen,
Thanks for your comments. I'm glad we all agree another pair of eyes--or more--certainly pick up things we've missed.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Kathleen,
Thanks for your comment about my new series. I'm having fun with it.

Amy Bennett said...

My two most trusted confidants are my husband, Paul, and his sister, Cynthia. Paul is a man of action, NOT a reader, so I know if I can keep his attention throughout an entire manuscript, I must have something good! He is also my eagle-eyed proofreader and very few typos get past him!

Cynthia is not only a linguistics professor, she is also a voracious reader and knows what makes a story flow. She's given me invaluable insight on pacing and character voice.

Also they both love me very much and would rather stop me in my tracks than let me be embarrassed by sub-standard work!


If they say it's good, it MUST be good!

E. B. Davis said...

I recently sent my ms to beta readers. I appreciate their comments and criticisms, but I'm also looking for beta readers who are more atuned to supernatural mysteries. One beta reader thought I was half-way in between a thriller and a mystery, which poses problems. I'm trying to reconcile that this is not a cozy supernatural mystery, which my first beta readers favored. Have you ever had to switch beta readers to your particular genre, Marilyn?

marja said...

Your new books sounds great! I love the idea of a ghostly landlady.

I have group of three to critique my books, and I critique theirs. It seems to be working pretty well. Great post!
Marja McGraw

earlwstaggs said...

Marilyn, I have six critique partners and I never send anything out until they're gone over it. Each of them usually takes a slightly different slant and, with their combined input, I have confidence in what I've done.

Marilyn Levinson said...

E. B.
I don't have specific beta readers who read all my new projects. Since I write in various genres, I ask people to read a ms only if they write or read in those genres.
I write mysteries, and many of my friends don't read mysteries.

Not everyone's going to like supernatural elements in a novel.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Amy,
Sounds like you have two great readers who aren't afraid to tell you the truth re what needs work.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Marja,
Three sounds like a great number--to read your books and to have the time to read theirs.

BTW, my ghost "lives" in the library. Carrie's landlord is a good-looking guy who's gone most of the time doing mysterious business.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Earl,
I'm in a group of 7 plotters. You're so right--each person contributes something a bit different. And once they all give their seal of approval, you know you're on the right track.

Anne K Albert said...

Congrats on your new series, Marilyn. :) As for editing and proofing my work, I have a small group of beta readers I trust and depend upon. They're a vital part of the process...and oh, so necessary.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Anne,
So true. We need those other pairs of eyes.

Jim Cangany said...

I'm very fortunate, Marilyn. My wonderful critique partner, Brenda, helps me with the mechanics and details and I have four beta readers who tell me whether or not I have a story worth reading. I don't inflict a new project on them until I'm on my fourth draft. I'd be lost without them!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I love my critique group--they hear and read every chapter of each of my books. I call them my first editors. Sure does help. The books sounds great, Marilyn.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Jim,
You're very lucky to have people you trust re your work.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Thanks, Marilyn. I'm not surprised that you have a great critique group.

Holli Castillo said...

Marilyn, I love the way someone in your group shows you where the novel should begin. I always start my book off where I think it should, and then rearrange chapters until I get the right chapter first. My first readers are my husband, who checks out all the street stuff to make sure I have the lingo down; two of my fellow former prosecutor friends, to make sure I didn't miss something on the legal end, my sister and two other writers to look for errors and make sure everything makes sense. My publisher also reads it and we go back and forth correcting errors or issues. And yet I eventually discover errors that have been missed. Just think if I didn't have all those readers!

Polly Iyer said...

Great that the new series came easily, Marilyn. That's always the best. Best of luck with it.

I couldn't publish anything without my two critique partners. Both offer different expertise, so I feel very lucky to have them. Still, I or someone else always finds that little typo or missing word in the finished novel. I'm convince a keen eye can find something. I hate it, but it happens no matter how careful I am.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Holli and Polly,
I think it's safe to say we all need and appreciate our early readers and critique partners. And Holli, I agree it's important to have a professional in whatever field we're writing about check the ms. Which is why I've sent my partial to two librarians to read.

Maryann Miller said...

I would be absolutely lost without my beta readers, who are primarily other authors. Nobody will argue that a fresh set of eyes is so helpful in the writing process. Given enough time away from the project, we could probably see those problems ourselves, but it is so much faster when friends can point them out as we are going along.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I appreciate the support of my fellow writers just as you do, Marilyn. But my work isn't shared until seen by an editor. This has advantages and disadvantages as well.

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

I ususaly send them to one or two of my fellow LIRW mates. Critiwue partners are invaluable. Couldn't do without them. : )

Marilyn Levinson said...

Maryann, Jacqueline, and Donna,
Glad you stopped by to share your thoughts on this topic.
Jacqueline, no one reads my complete mss before I send them in. I share a chapter or two, if one of my groups is critiquing, if I'm having a problem or doing something completely new or different.