Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers -- Week #4

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In the week between meetings, I catch some flack from a few of you. In e-mail and a newsgroup where I announced this blog, a few readers express the opinion that I am breaking a trust by writing these chronicles. Members of writing groups like the GVW don't expect to have their dirty laundry aired in public and would be unhappy to discover these entries here in full view, even with their names changed to ensure anonymity. Comments like this make me somewhat uneasy, perhaps because I agree with them to some extent. If the members of the GVW discover this blog (very much a possibility) then some will certainly be unhappy about how they are portrayed. They come off badly because (in my eyes anyway) they perform badly in the group. I suppose I could sanitize things and only write about the good things that happen at the GVW meetings, but that wouldn't give an accurate picture of how things run in a group like this. And what would be the use of that?

If you are one of the GVW members and you find your way here, you probably won't have much trouble figuring out which of the characters is you. To keep things civil, and make it less likely that one of you will come after me with a gun somewhere down the road, I'll be a bit more nebulous about some of the poorer performances I observe. I'll try not to lose the experience about what really goes on, but I'll make it easier for any visiting GVW member to deny that he is the one I'm skewering. At least I'll try.

Also during the intervening week, Pamela e-mails me the GVW's "charter" as promised. It's a fairly short, straightforward document with a dozen or so rules. Nothing too surprising here: Members will attend the meetings, and can be voted out for missing too many. Members will attempt to critique all stories submitted, will make up missed crits the following week if they are absent or cannot get to it in time, and can be voted out for missing too many. Members should submit their own work for critique, and may be voted out for failing to do so. (I begin to notice a pattern at this point.) Critiques should be helpful, not hurtful. Members may not steal story ideas from other members' works. Critiques are limited to two a week, and the secretary will space them out as needed so everyone gets a chance. Crits will be delivered orally, in no more than five minutes for each speaker, but additional written comments are welcome. The author will not argue about any of the critiques as they are delivered, although he may ask questions after all speakers have had an opportunity to voice their opinion. All manuscripts will be returned to the author, with or without written comments. Members may not show other members' stories to anyone outside the group.

The rules strike me as reasonable. Most of the other groups I've belonged to operated implicitly under many of these same rules, although they were not always formally written out. Someone's put a bit of thought into how the GVWs should operate. Bravo.

The group convenes for week #4. There is some discussion of places to find out about markets. Many of the members use print sources such as Writer's Digest,Writer's Market, Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, and Gila Queen. A few members use online sources The Market List, The Write Market, and some others I'm not familiar with. Nobody mentions Speculations, which is a good thing for me, since I post on the newsgroups there occasionally, and have mentioned these chronicles there. I suggest to the group the SFWA Bulletin as another print source for markets, although it's hard to find locally, and Ralan and Spicy Green Iguana for online market sources.

The crits begin with discussion of Kasim's story from last week. This one is your basic SF puzzle story where the hero must put together some pieces presented earlier in the story to find the solution to a problem. It's a bit formulaic, but not really too bad an effort. I suggest the hero is a touch too stock and needs to be given some more depth so the reader will have a reason to care whether the guy lives or dies. Other crits are generally favorable, and some members think the solution is clever. Several of the crits are utterly useless. Wake up, tourists -- hey look, there on the left is the Grand Canyon!

Peter's story is next. It is a horror/dark fantasy piece, and the best thing I've read from the group thus far. The story concerns the ghost of a dead son, who returns in a surprising and touching way. Wish I could say more, since it's nifty, but it would be unfair to give away this story's idea. I think Peter could very well sell this piece without too much more polishing -- it seems nearly ready to go. The other members' crits are all positive on this story, and it seems to have connected with all readers (although one member's comments lead me to believe that he/she didn't quite understand the ending). That's a very good sign.

For this story, I join the ranks of the cheering squad. I apologize for my crit, saying that I can find nothing major amiss, but since we are here to critique, my comments are more on the order of nits, and not serious faults. The title is a bit plain and doesn't live up to the quality of the rest of the story. The tale continues a bit long after the climax is over. A sentence here, a word choice there, all minor things that can easily be corrected. Or not. The story is probably good enough as it is. I suggest a couple of markets that seem appropriate for the story. Good luck to it and its author.

I get another crit for my crappy story from last week, from Hachi, who was absent. She does not have the benefit of hearing how the other members critiqued my story, so I expect her to be cautious, but I am surprised when the crit is a fairly honest indictment of the story's faults. I mentally put Hachi on my "dependable" list of critiquers. She also gives a reasonable crit of Pamela's story from last week.

Pamela asks if anyone has any new stories to distribute this week, and I am the only one who does (although we still have Fabian's story from last week to do). This story is a lot better than the one I gave out a couple of weeks ago. It's not the best thing I've ever written, but it could be good enough. I probably need to do a bit of rewriting, add some more elements to give it depth, and generally spruce it up. Let's see what the group thinks.

We briefly discuss whether the group will meet next week, as it is a holiday week here in the USA (Independence Day on Thursday). Six of the attendees are pretty sure they will be available, a quorum, so next week's meeting is on. I'm actually looking forward to it.

Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante Count=7056

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