Periscope Depth

it’s a dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife who doesn’t understand

The Kill Zone is one of my favorite writing blogs. It’s a group blog, with each day of the week covered by an author in the thriller/mystery/horror genre. The authors are all big enough to have years of publishing experience, but not so big that they don’t have time to field questions in the comment threads.

Every once in a while, they offer “first page critiques.” Readers can submit the first 400 words of a manuscript to the site and get feedback from one of the writers. Since writing a killer opening is essential in making a book saleable for a new author, this is an amazing service. Slots fill up quickly and the feedback can be harsh.

So, if you wonder why I’m grinning like an idiot this week, now you know.

If you don’t give (or receive) a lot of writing criticism, you might wonder what I’m so psyched about. Most of Jordan’s response is critique, after all. Things I need to work on. How to structure the scene, where to start it, etc. And everyone prefers praise to prodding.

Part of growing as a writer, however, means knowing that what you write is imperfect. It’s acknowledging how much work a draft needs – a lot, a little, minor polishes – even if you don’t know where it needs work. There’s a big difference between a story that needs to focus on different elements in order to work and a story that just doesn’t work.

You can teach craft. But it’s much harder to teach the fundamentals. And what’s got me laughing behind my hand with surprise is reading the following:

Generally I like the voice of this woman character. She comes across as a no nonsense person who could sustain a reader’s interest with the uniqueness of her character’s attitude and her low key fashion sense. And her attachment to alcohol could prove to be interesting as baggage.

[...]

Even though this scene could be written better, it shows promise with a compelling character voice.

[this from James Scott Bell, another TKZ author] I like where this scene begins, late night phone call, as mentioned. That’s what I call a “disturbance” and is where all novels should begin–something out of the ordinary rippling the character’s ordinary world. “Your story begins when you light the match, not when you lay the wood.”

I can do this. Craft I can polish; structure I can rebuild. But I can tell a story that gets experienced authors in the genre wanting to read more.

All right, enough basking. Back to the keyboard.

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