Thursday, October 6, 2011 for Novelists

The Advanced Fiction students wrapped up their book presentations last Thursday, moving into the second phase of the class: writing their novels.  October and November will be spent writing, in class and out, until the story ideas the students began developing at the start of the semester are laid out on the page.  December will be spent revising 15 to 20 pages of the finished novels and discussing and critiquing them in small writing groups.

This week’s Noveling blog post dealt in part with deciding what would benefit each student most from a writing group.  Cathy Day asked the class to “Write an ad for yourself as a reader and writer, for the kind of writing group you'd like to be in.”  The students were to include the details of their own novel projects, such as genre and style, as well as what type of stories they’d be interested in reading and what they are looking for from other readers.  She then included a sample ad she had made:

“I'm working on a historical novel where plot is a given--based on someone's biography. It's realism (nothing surreal or irreal going on) and I'm using a lot of faux artifacts, such as newspaper clippings to help tell the story.  I just need someone to respond to how the book reads generally and what plot holes I need to fill. I'm particularly interested in working with others who are working on books that are "nonfictional" somehow, where you're trying to work with too much plot and with a lot of REAL things, trying to decide what to include and what not to, trying to decide what makes a good story and what's just superfluous facts interesting only to me. I'm also interested in people who are writing a novel about a character who may not be all that likeable, or whom the writer doesn't really know or is very unlike them. I've found this to be a huge challenge for me and I'd love to talk to others facing that same challenge.”
The students’ own ads covered a variety of genres, from fantasy to young adult to historical fiction.  Some writers included warnings for potential controversial subject matter they would be covering, such as homosexuality and suicide.  The students also discussed the POV they would use.  Above all, the ads were clear in articulating what the writer was looking for in a reader:

The piece is also heavy on plot and character, so I'm looking for someone who can help me pay close attention to my protagonist and make sure his story is told. I don't care about anything else right now besides knowing my main character and telling his story the way it should be told.” – Spencer McNelly

I’m not looking for something overly critical I just want to know if the story makes sense and captivates you to read more and if not what do I need to make that happen.  Also I’m still not entirely certain what point of view works best for this story yet so if you’re someone who can help me figure that out great.” – Anne Haben 

“I'd like readers that will look at my work with seeing it in mind, friendly readers are better, but I'm not looking for people who will just read it and say "It's good." I want people that will point out plot holes, question things that aren't clear, and make sure I'm tying up all my loose ends in my story. (There are quite a few of them.)” – Christopher Smith

When looking for feedback, the type of reader who examines one’s work is crucial.  A group of writers may all have stories in the first person, or may all be working on mystery novels, but if your readers cannot provide the feedback you need to improve, the group will not help your growth as a writer.  When looking for critiques or suggestions, it’s important to know what you need before looking for a reader.  And if you want to join a writing group, it’s also good to know what sort of a reader you will be.

Hat tip to Spencer McNelly for the post title!

- Lauren Burch

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