WFMAD Days Seven & Eight

Morton Arboretum Autumn 2012

I didn’t write yesterday. :(

I’m not going to offer any excuses or reasons. I know I could skip over Day Seven and just go straight to Day Eight, but I really want to do all of the prompts in this series. So here goes.

First prompt:

Make a list of people you think could offer you good feedback. Freewrite about why those folks might work, and why it could turn into a disaster. How would you feel if they asked you to critique something they wrote?

Right now, I have one person who I feel could offer me objective feedback.: Julie Decker, better known as Ivy. She’s my go-to person, my friend, and someone I’ve worked with for years. Ivy is an editor and an aspiring author. Writing is her PASSION, her love, her dream. She is represented by two agents–one for fiction and one for non-fiction–and I’m really pulling for her.

Ivy has a way of giving thorough, objective feedback and delivering it in a gentle, yet firm way. I find that her opinions are almost always valid, and I trust and respect her 100%.

The only way a critique from her would turn into a disaster is if *I* wasn’t in the right state of mind to read her feedback. And I have been there. I’ve had to learn to grow that thick skin!

I have critiqued her work as well, and I love to do it when I have the time. I try to be honest, gentle, but firm with her as well. My problem is that I’m not overly critical about stories. If I like the story, I like it. I don’t dissect books or analyze them. Just look at my Goodreads “read” shelf. Most of my books are rated three stars or higher.

But I DO try to give “real time” reactions. Track changes is my friend. I tell exactly how something made me feel, if it confused me, or if it doesn’t fit in that moment.

Another person I love to get feedback from is Mandy Hubbard. I haven’t had anything for her in a while, and now that she is an agent, I probably can’t use her anymore. While Ivy’s words are firm and gentle and fairly positive, Mandy’s words are blunt, knee jerk reactions which really gave me insight on how my words were working in that particular scene.

Mandy was a great learning experience for me because she really helped thicken my skin. Her bluntness also helped me improve in my writing by leaps and bounds. Her instincts are dead on and almost always right. Proof of this: I’d gotten a manuscript back from her and was incorporating some comments I found valid (and let’s face it, I found 99% of her comments valid). While in the middle of revising, I got an email from an agent who’d read the entire manuscript and was interested in representing it, pending a few revisions. The revisions he’d requested WERE THE EXACT ONES I WAS WORKING ON per Mandy’s suggestions.

I hope that I am lucky enough to get another critique partner like Mandy, and I hope that *I* become a better partner. I read a LOT, so I know what works for me. I need to learn to be more critical (in a helpful way) if I want to help people achieve their dreams. As I said, I have a positive bias, and I don’t know if that’s helpful.

Prompt Two:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your writing? What comes to you naturally and what do you have to work on? Bonus points – take out one of your favorite books and reread it. Highlight or copy out the best passages in the book (setting, pacing, narrative, dialog) that exemplify what you are trying to improve in your own writing.

Strengths in my writing:
– strong characterization
– relateable characters
– realistic, believeable dialogue that moves the story along
– emotional impact
– draws people in

Weaknesses in my writing:
– lack of description, especially in settings
– i have no clue what to do with all the characters i create
– can be sappy and/or cheesy
– lack of direction
– hard to market topics

As I said on Day Three, making up characters and people comes easily to me. I love daydreaming and getting to know these characters in my mind, brainstorming them, searching on the internet for pictures of them, their features, their clothing, their homes, etc. I can make up people and build their worlds forever. But then, I don’t know what to do with them. Or HOW to explain their worlds, SHOW them, without being boring. See, when I read, I tend to skip over a lot of description in the books, preferring to focus on the dialogue and the action. So when I write, I tend to skip describing things except in a very basic and rudimentary way. And I get a lot of feedback regarding that from critique partners–I NEED to do more description. So I try to do it in a way that doesn’t bore ME but satisfies those who have no problem lingering a bit over what a room looks like or how the sunset looks.

One of my favorite books is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins. The pacing, the dialogue, the characters–everything in that book is what I emulate in my own writing. Here are some examples of my favorite passages in the book (although I really just love everything it).

The city is pearl gray.The overcast sky and the stone buildings emit the same cold elegance, but ahead of me,the Pantheon shimmers. Its massive dome and impressive columns rise up to crown the top of the neighborhood. Every time I see it, it’s difficult to pull away. It’s as if it were stolen from ancient Rome or, at the very least, Capitol Hill. Nothing I should be able to view from a classroom window.

Every sentence she says has a word that’s emphasized. I snort to keep from laughing, and Beautiful Hallway Boy gets a strange coughing fit.

“You have leaves in your hair.” Mer giggles and pulls one of the brown skeletons from St. Clair’s locks. He takes it from her, crunches it to dust, and blows it into her curls. They laugh, and my gut twinges.
“Maybe you should put on The Hat,” I say. He asked me to carry it before we left. I chuck my bag into his lap, perhaps a little too hard. St. Clair oofs and jerks forward.
“Watch it.” Josh bites into a pink apple and talks through a full mouth. “He has parts down there you don’t have.”
“Ooo, parts,” I say. “Intriguing. Tell me more.”
Josh smiles sadly. “Sorry. Privileged information. Only people with parts can know about said parts.”
St. Clair shakes the rest of the leaves from his hair and puts on The Hat.
Rashmi makes a face at him. “Really? Today? In public?” she asks.
“Every day,” he says. “As long as you’re with me.”

Those are just a few examples of the great writing that makes this my favorite epic love story ever.

Now, she makes the pacing immediate because of the first person present tense. I prefer first person past tense in my own writing, and I also prefer to read first person past… but when the story and writing is this good, I can and will overlook tenses. It’s not a deal breaker for me or anything.

So, basically, I want to be more like Stephanie Perkins, or Jennifer E. Smith, or Sarah Dessen, and other writers of the epic love story. I want to write a story with emotional impact, description, character development, pacing, and setting that resonates and haunts. I feel like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS is a perfect balance of all these ingredients, and I want that for my writing, with my stamp, with my mark.

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