Posts Tagged ‘Critique’

Tuesdays with Story
April 19, 2022

The first word . . .

In selecting the starting point and ending point for your story, it will help “if you will remember the following facts about readers:

  1. They are fascinated and threatened by significant change;
  2. They want the story to start with such a change;
  3. They want to have a story question to worry about;
  4. They want the story question answered in the story ending;
  5. They will quickly lose patience with everything but material that relates to the story question.”

– Jack M. Bickham, Scene and Structure, p. 7 (1993).

Tuesday evening April 19, 2022

Six TWS writers came together over Zoom and in person this week to review the works-in-progress of four of their colleagues and offer insights and critiques. Here is a summary of what was said:

— Mike Austin (“Roger”) … “Roger” was very well received. I had concerns that it might be too depressing, but that didn’t seem to be a problem. Some areas that could use fleshing out were the things that have alienated his family from him, such as his affair and his mocking of his son’s religion. I also should clarify Angie’s comment about not being able to afford an emergency room. (And along those lines, it occurred to me that if Angie had a job at the university, she’d have insurance. So I might have to give her a different job.) There was a little brawling, though no bloodshed, thanks to Zoom, about whether the structure could be changed so that the story begins with Roger waking in the waiting room, contemplating the events leading up to his being there, or if it should remain linear. I did find the idea of beginning in the waiting room appealing. Hm. Thanks to everyone for your comments and suggestions.  

Dan Culhane (A Grand Thing To Be An Afternoon, Ch. 2) Dan submitted chapter 2 in which we are introduced to Nellie, Oren, and Jacob and start to see the world of MY026. Dan received some very helpful feedback on the mechanics of the chapter, including on the opening description of the scene and the purpose of certain section breaks. A universal agreement against the use of parenthesis was duly noted. The piece succeeds in introducing characters that are engaging and get people to care about their relationships. However, the narration needs some attention in places to avoid the voice of the narrator sneaking into Nellie’s internal dialogue. All very helpful feedback and much appreciated.


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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
April 5, 2022

The first word . . .

“Drama is the way of holding the reader’s attention. The basic formula for drama is setup, buildup, payoff—just like a joke. The setup tells us what the game is. The buildup is where you put in all the moves, the forward motion, where you get all the meat off the turkey. The payoff answers the question, Why are we here anyway? What is it that you’ve been trying to give? Drama must move forward and upward, or the seats on which the audience is sitting will become very hard and uncomfortable.” – Anne Lamott (bird by bird).

Tuesday evening April 5, 2022

Seven TWS writers came together over Zoom (mostly) this week to review the works-in-progress of four of their colleagues and offer insights and critiques. They also got a look at Larry’s freshly minted bookmarks! Here is a summary of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, 7-9) …Kashmira submitted chapters of Journey to Swaraj. Larry thought that the story has improved from the previous draft. Daniel liked what the description of the food evoked. John had some logistic concerns and Bob suggested places where the story can be deepened. Jaime pointed out places where the story could be tightened. Thank you all for reading and sharing your comments.  


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Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” — George Orwell

Tuesday evening. . .

Nine TWS writers attended March first meeting.  

Bob (Slow Dancing Under the Mirror Ball, part 1)

There were many comments that the small-town setting was believable and that the conversations sounded real. The homecoming parade needs work on two points. The first is showing a stronger connection between the temperature of a snowy day and how the townspeople are dressed. The second concerns making Bernie a stronger or more continuous presence.


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Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”

–Charles Dickens

Tuesday evening. . .

Nine TWS writers came together on Tuesday to talk shop. Here’s the conversation:

Jack Freiburger (poems, “LAL Moon,” “Skeets”) . . . Nothing to report as there was not much feedback.

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, ch. 1-2) . . . Kashmira submitted the first two chapters of Journey to Swaraj. Overall, the response was positive. There were suggestions to fine-tune some sections, less narration by Veena about her family’s situation/history, and a few tweaks to strengthen the story. There was also a suggestion that “telling” could be omitted and that the same trees were mentioned in the front and back of the house!

Thank you all for reading the revised version.

Amit Trivedi (poem, “Nursing Home”) … Jack felt it was thought-provoking and liked the references to Van Gogh paintings. Jack also felt that western readers will not recognize the gods/angles of death in the last line. Larry thought it was an interesting tour of a typical end-of-live situation. Bob felt the situation in the poem seems real and intimae. When I thanked Jack for his comments/advice he said, “Semper laetus erit adiutori poetae!” I’ll let you figure it out using google translate.


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Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

“One time, while I was at my day job of computer programming, I was working through a conversation two characters were going to have in my story. I mumbled both parts to myself as I walked. When I got to the door, I walked through and held it open for a moment. I realized I was holding it open for the ‘other character’ that I was talking to.”

―Andy Weir, author of The Martian, Artemis, and Hail Mary


Tuesday evening. . .

Nine TWS writers—including newcomer Dan—filled our screens this week for a lively critique session, which included an in-depth discussion on how and why crop fields are plowed, proving that this is a very Wisconsin writers group. Here is some of what was said:

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter, New York After All) . . . John and Amber want Nathan to have stronger dialogue. Kashmira thought Nathan could have an inkling of memory of Charlie as being some kind of fisherman, and that we should see an example of Charlie’s resistance to letting other people hold her baby. Jack added some new jokes. Bob wondered if there is something else Charlie can notice about Nathan’s hand, other than no wedding ring. And where did that escaped Lifesaver end up anyway? Thanks, all!

Bob Kralapp (“Street Fair” and “Driving to Town”) . . . Larry felt that Street Fair had some interesting images, but lacked context. Jack commented on its conciseness, that it was almost a haiku. In Driving to Town, Jaime felt that there was a problem in not showing what the narrator sees in the field before going into the interpretation of what he sees. Helpful comments, all. Thanks.

John Schneller (chapter 29, Precious Daughter) … Kashmira was hoping to see Nia in this chapter. (Sorry, Kotel needs to keep moving for a chapter or two.) Jack and Larry picked up on a few word clarifications. Jaime noted Kotel used the horse character names before he was privy to that. A short discussion on what words/wording are appropriate for middle-grade readers. The dialogue of Guardian raised questions in some readers but was accepted as a part of his distinctive character. Many good suggestions tonight.

Larry F. Sommers (chapter 1-2, Untitled Memoir) . . . It was unanimous that the new Chapter 2, going from the recon flight to the Freedom Bird flight with memories of the Knox College failure experience, was more effective than the previous Chapter 2, which went back to infancy. More is needed on the return to Kenosha and on Joelle. Jack suggested that “Reconnaissance” could be a title for the whole memoir, not just Ch. 1, and pointed out that movements from one place to another are natural opportunities for flashbacks. Thanks, all, for your insights.

February 15, here’s who’s on deck

Jack Freiburger (poems)

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj)

Amit Trivedi (???)

Larry F. Sommers (chapter, Untitled Memoir)

John Schneller (chapter 30, Precious Daughter)

Mike Austin (???)

Our editor

Jaime Nelson Noven is editing the February issues of Writer’s Mail. She’s always looking for good things to include. If you have something, do email it to Jaime.

Happy Pub Week, Amber!

TWS member Amber Boudreau celebrates the publication of her novel Second Nature, which the group helped critique not so long ago. Happy pub week, Amber! Second Nature is now available for purchase from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1952919800/), and watch for a bookstore event with Mystery to Me Bookstore this May.

What goes into your Character Bible?

A Character Bible is a tool used by writers to keep their characters straight. It can be an outline of the primary characters in a novel that the author creates before beginning to write, or it can be a place to track details about a character as the story is being written, to prevent continuity errors down the line. So what should be included in your Character Bible?

In an article by The Writing Cooperative (https://writingcooperative.com/why-a-character-bible-might-be-the-key-to-your-character-creation-24650823ae99), they break it down into three sections: SKIN (physical appearance), FLESH (backstory), and CORE (psychology). If you’re missing any one of these three, your character is not well-rounded enough.

In a new interview, #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner, who uses repeat protagonists in many of her books, says that she includes in her Character Bibles details of the characters’ lives from the “resting” moments. If she has a detective protagonist, she thinks about who that person is when they’re not working. Family tree. Professional resume. What does their apartment look like? How do they dress? “Sometimes you can go on Pinterest to look at things. I have friends who are big on astrological signs for their characters. I have one writing friend who can define [their characters] by a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.”


The last word . . .

“There is some confusion as to what magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up if you just look at the very earliest descriptions of magic. Magic in its earliest form is often referred to as ‘the art.’ I believe this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic.”Alan Moore, author of Jerusalem, V for Vendetta, and Watchmen

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Tuesdays with Story


January 18th, 2022

Flannery O’Connor

“I write to discover what I know.”
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

Here’s who presented on Tuesday evening:

Kashmira Sheth (Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess, chapters 10, 11)

Kashmira submitted the last few chapters of Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess. Most of the comments were positive, including the ending. Mike wanted a scene when they drove back after dropping Nina’s grandma and cousin. John had a comment about popcorns vs popcorn. Amber had few small suggestions. 

John Schneller (Blessed Daughter, chapter 28)

We discussed the dynamics of using two story lines. While it is difficult to know the full impressions of a reader who is reading it straight through versus our biweekly breaks between chapters, there is a significant contrast between the two storylines. A larger volume of story is attached to Kotel while the more intense with Nia. Her segments would benefit from development of Nia‘s thoughts and emotions.

Amber Boudreau (Dragoneer 2, final)

Amber read from her final chapters of The Dragoneer 2, the first chapters of which she submitted to the group a year ago in January of 2021. John suggested getting right into the action and not even show Moira arriving at the room. Jamie had questions about Cal and the Librarian but applauded the book ending with such a solid mix of emotions. Also, he may not have liked the first lines of the submission, but John thought the last lines could stand.

Bob Kralapp (What Did You Think I Meant?, short story)

Both Amber and Kashmira made comments about the children at the pool and just how they fit into the story. Jaime suggested having more of Warren’s observations about the other characters and how their lives might continue after college. Mike felt that the characters were well done although Warren needed background. Great suggestions all.

Next Meeting

On February 1st, the meeting will be at Larry Sommer’s house. The meeting link is:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82771394742?pwd=QXlKWUNjTDVnYlVjUk83Vk1lVVNMdz09

For February 1st, the presenters will be:

Jaime Nelson-Noven (chapter, New York After All)

Bob Kralapp (?)

John Schneller (chapters, Blessed Daughter)

Larry F. Sommers (?)

Our Editor

Jaime Nelson-Noven will edit the February Writer’s Mail. If you have something good you’d like her to include in the next issue, email it to her.

A few thoughts from Ann Lamott on what it means to be a writer:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
―from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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Tuesdays with Story


January 4th, 2022

Geraldine Brooks
“Write what you know. Every guide for the aspiring author advises this. Because I live in a long-settled rural place, I know certain things. I know the feel of a newborn lamb’s damp, tight-curled fleece and the sharp sound a well-bucket chain makes as it scrapes on stone. But more than these material things, I know the feelings that flourish in small communities. And I know other kinds of emotional truths that I believe apply across the centuries.” (Writers on Writing, New York Times, July 2001)

Here’s who presented on Tuesday evening:

Kashmira Sheth (Nina Soni, Best Hostess) Kashmira submitted Chapters 7-9 of Nina Soni, Best Hostess. Overall comments were positive. Some felt that a little more clarification about the kid flying day and the Holi Festival would be good. There was also a comment about earlier interaction between Jay and Nina that I had not addressed. Thanks for all the feedback.

Mike Austin (Dumpster Fire, revision) I received a lot of great comments and conversation for DF. The picture of Dave is stronger, but still needs fleshing out, and read more like a novel, especially the beginning. There needs to be more reason for Grady to not like or trust Dave. And who the heck is Rachel? Why does Grady suddenly decide to side with her? Just because she’s angry at Dave? There needs to be more information about Dave’s father, and Grady’s relationship, or lack of one, with his own father. And do we know for certain that Dave is fired? Why is “Dumpster Fire” a relevant title? Is Grady’s life also a dumpster fire? Or everyone’s life? How? Everyone felt that the ending works but needs more of a change in Grady to back it up. Thanks so much!

Amber Boudreau (Dragoneer 2) Amber shared the next three chapters of her sequel to The Dragoneer. Kashmira thought she did a good job of describing the main character’s sense of grief upon waking but thought she could have let her stew a bit longer in her thoughts. Larry and John agreed on removing a few spots of too much telling. Jamie was confused by the handkerchief and hopes the character didn’t end up eating it. Mike thought the women in the story would have been more traumatized by their experiences and wanted to read more of that.

Next Meeting

On January 18th, Larry will be out of town, so TWS will gather on Google Meet instead of Zoom. The meeting link for the 18th is: meet.google.com/jjb-htiu-vnm

For January 18th, the presenters will be:

John Schneller (chapters, Blessed Daughter)

Kashmira Sheth (chapters, Nina Soni, Bestest Hostess)

Amber Boudreau (chapters, Dragoneer 2)

Bob Kralapp (short story)

Amit Trivedi (?)

Our editor

Bob Kralapp will edit the January issues of Writer’s Mail. If you have something good you’d like him to include, email it to Bob.

I keep coming across different opinions about this advice: write what you know. Some believe this is the worst possible instruction, and that the writer should write about what is not known. That is, I guess, what is not known but can be discovered by way of applying research to imagination (or the other way around). Or maybe just relying on flat-out imagination to render up a story into daylight. Many have had great success going this route. And I’m in favor of curiosity. And imagination. Especially imagination, because without that, what’ve you got? But on the other hand…

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Tuesdays with Story

December 21st, 2021

Joan Didion, December 5, 1934-December 23, 2021

“You get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something.” – The Paris Review interview (2006).

Here’s who presented on Tuesday evening

Larry Sommers (Untitled Memoir, chapters 2-3)

Bob noted that I provided artists with all the records mentioned except “Yes! We Have No Bananas.” Amber questioned whether the narrative was well served by using bullet points in a couple of places to list particular memories. Kashmira thought the chapters following Chapter 1 could proceed in a time frame more appropriate to the Air Force narrative of Chapter 1, weaving in flashbacks to earlier times later on. All good thoughts. Thanks, everyone.

John Schneller (Precious Daughter, chapter 27)

Most readers wanted a bit more out of the scene at the mountain precipice. Kotel’s emotional response to his near death moment could match up with a the tempestuous weather. I recognize it is a common weakness in my writing to leave emotions untouched. Kashmira enjoyed the introduction to snow. The grizzlies were popular with all but Jack wanted more taunting. 


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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays With Story

November 16, 2021

A mistake for authors is defining their author platform as a list of people to market their next book on social media.

If you view your author platform as nothing more than transactional relationships, it will fail. If you view it primarily as sharing your heart and caring for a group of people, it will have far more value and possibly be responsive when you have a book. 

Dan Balow, Steve Laube Literary Agency

Here’s who presented Tuesday evening

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 1-2 rewrite, Nina Soni, Best Hostess) – Kashmira submitted two chapters of Nina Soni, Best Hostess. Most of the comments were positive. There were some questions about how to make the flow of a story better. This was a revised submission and overall the revision worked well. Everyone preferred the title Nina Soni, Best Hostess over Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess. 


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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 2nd 2021

The first word . . .

Be polite. The editor you email today may be the CEO of  your publisher next year.

Here’s who presented this week

Larry Sommers (MemoirDebriefing) . . . My introductory chapter to a projected memoir, titled “Debriefing,” was generally well-received as a tentative start of something as yet indefinite. John felt the material between the initial aerial reconnaissance scenes and the final paragraph, looping back to the concept of debriefing, could be omitted. Jack felt the passage from Yeats’ “The Second Coming” may have been misplaced. Jack and Jerry suggested that the idea of having been born in a golden age could be expanded. Thanks everybody. Onward and upward.


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