A Look at My Writing Group’s First Year, part 2

In my previous post–A Look at My Writing Group’s First Year, part 1–I introduced you to the first six months of novel-writing topics explored by my writing group. With minimal preamble, I present the second half of our year!

July’s Show and Tell: “Show, don’t tell.” “But aren’t I telling the story?” There are clear warning signs to indicate where your story’s unfolding plot is being force-fed. We looked at these indicators before swallowing our pride and sharing scenes from our novels-in-progress that had bottomed-out and needed help. When in doubt: skinny the narrative and fatten the dialogue.

Critique Workshop: So, I completely lack originality when it comes to naming these quarterly enrichment gatherings. A couple of members from a neighboring critique group (happily accept advice–particularly good advice) offered this workshop in August, sharing the formula for what has worked for construction among their writers as well as corrections for common mistakes that writers make. This also took the place of our regular monthly meeting.

September’s Just Say It: “All the information you need in a book can be put in dialogue.” –Elmore Leonard. We picked excerpts from our novels-in-progress that were full of dialogue, and then we brought a number of copies of that excerpt equal to the number of characters with speaking parts. One member of the group was chosen for each of the speaking parts to read aloud. Where tongues slipped, we analyzed the dialogue, looking for ways to improve its flow. For homework, we were charged with reading all of a single character’s dialogue throughout our nip to gauge whether or not the voice was consistent and distinct (then moving to the next character, and so on). After this exercise, all dialogue attribution should be able to be removed without risking any confusion as to which character is speaking at any point in the story.

October’s The End: The beginning of the book is the writer’s first chance to make a good impression; the ending is the writer’s last chance to leave a lasting impression. There are a couple of simple rules for titles (which some writers don’t choose until after the book is finished): 1) it should get the reader interested then 2) it should mean something different to the reader by the end of the book. We discussed The Best Ways to End a Story. For those of us whose novels-in-progress had already met their conclusion, we shared them with the group. If the ending had not yet taken shape, we brainstormed possible conclusions for those stories.

The Storytellers Author Extravaganza: An event sponsored by our local library and open to all local writers and lovers of literature. This served as our third and final quarterly enrichment activity (perhaps  next year we’ll actually plan four quarterly events…or learn math). There is no greater way to find success as a writer than by encouraging other writers and encouraging literacy, starting in our hometown.

November’s 2015 Planning Meeting: All members weigh in on how the group will best serve and strengthen them through another year. The focus may shift from literary elements to basic grammar tools (commas are tricky, folks). Monthly writing prompts as well as in-meeting timed-writing have sparked some interest with members. We’ve also considered a goal-setting and motivational workshop, an all-day creative writing workshop (open to the public), and assembling press packages and other promotional tools for our independently published members. Where our writers need help, there will our focus be.

A closing note: Stories does not collect dues at this time. We set out to see how far we could get if we started with the expertise, willingness, and experience of group members before branching out to professionals who would visit us for a fee. In our local scene, people have been very generous with their time. Do not underestimate the value of your fellows in the trenches.

The greatest thing a writers group can offer you is a sounding board for your ideas and people to whom you feel accountable writing-day in and writing-day out–all year long.

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