Workshop Writing Critiques

thstory critiqueToday marks the completion of The University of Iowa’s 8 week “How Writers Write Fiction” class . The moderators of the class chooses a participant’s story to discuss and dissect in their workshops at the end of each assignment. I was astonished to get an email from one of the class Moderators, telling me that my story “Inside Bailey’s Department Store” was chosen for critique, along with that of another writer, from our last class assignment called “Revision and Rediscovery.”

 

thbekiniLet’s just say, this is not my first rodeo and prior experiences weren’t very comforting! I didn’t know how to take this news and I didn’t want to read what an oasis of established writers and authors had to say about my work. What if I never recovered from the sharp scrutiny?

The revised version of a story I wrote, called “Inside Bailey’s Department Store” was compared to the original story. The story’s protagonist is a ten-year old girl facing down her bullies in a dept store. All Sam wanted to do was buy a couple of mystery books by Ellery Queen.

Here are some of the critiques to my story:

In my opinion, Clara is particularly good at tying precise details to character.  Some examples from her original:

He was turning the page to a Popular Science magazine and muttering to himself.

She had waited a long time to buy  ‘City of Gold and Shadows’, the new mystery by Ellis Peters whose books were her favorites, next to the Ellery Queens mysteries.

Sam wasn’t afraid to fight, but, she was taught to avoid it if she could, so even though she just felt like the wind had been knocked out of her, Sam retreated from the school grounds and a quickly gathering crowd of animated kids.  (This might have worked better expressed with more action or dialog, but had it been in the revision, it would have made her telling on the kids at the end more believable.)

Your suggestion to focus on writing what we’re good at and not our failures is so helpful to me as I prepare to review exercises from this course for revision.  What a great parting gift Christa.  Thank you!

In the revised version, Clara has cut out all the little storytelling details that don’t directly address the main event and I think the piece is so much stronger because of this.  We don’t get sidetracked by secondary characters who have no real part in the story and instead can concentrate on the three girls.  We understand Sam, the reader, eagerly saving her pocket money and we understand the two bullies who are also budding thieves.  I love the neat ending where the bullied reacts in a clever way.  She may pay for this the next day but for now she can make a stand and enjoy the consequences.  What a great revision.

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Moira, it is a quite a satisfying ending, isn’t it? If the story were freed of the 400-word constraint, how would you feel about the extra characters and storytelling details? In other words, do you think the word limit makes them extraneous or do you think they are actually extraneous?Yes, what they all said. This is a highly effective revision. The first one has some lovely descriptions, but then puts me outside the scene hearing what’s happening between the girls. The revision brings the scene to life with an immediacy and a directness that puts me with the girls. I agree that the detail of the place is lost, which is not critical to me if this is a standalone piece but I’d be more interested if Bailey’s had relevance to a wider story. I also agree that all the measurement details are a bit distracting. It’s enough to know that the bullies are bigger, and intimidating. Oh, and the dialogue in the revision was far more powerful, believable and effective. I wasn’t particularly buying the line ​’You are plain and ugly and you have no friends!” Mary said . and the use of indirect speech had a distancing effect on me.

 I think it would be interesting to imagine this as a longer piece in which Bailey’s has some critical role in multiple storylines. Your comments are spot in about the immediacy and directness in the second version. I think that the emotional distances are greater in the first draft. I do love so many things about the first draft, however. Most particularly, I adore the setting that is established inside the store. I hope that Clara is able to meld the best of these two versions into one story later.

I agree with frostyfreya that the measurement details are distracting and unnecessary.

Also, most of the world outside of the U.S. uses the metric system, not our antiquated English system of measurement. To those folks, heights like 4’9″ don’t mean anything.

StoryOctober14P1I suppose from these and other professional writers opinions/critiques, I might have a “writing” chance! I enjoyed participating in this online class. It was a massive gathering of writers worldwide, who came to write and share with their colleagues. I highly recommend The IWP MOOC for newbies and seasoned writers.

How do you feel about having your work critiqued?

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4 thoughts on “Workshop Writing Critiques”

  1. Congratulations on completing your course, Clara, and embarking on a new adventure writing fiction. I have taken U of Iowa writing courses and highly recommend them too for the aspiring writers.

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  2. Thanks Pat. The classes were great and the writers, very accommodating in sharing their expertise in fiction writing. Those 8 weeks flew by, but I’m still taking a second class from a university in England.

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  3. Congratulations on completing the course Clara. I had to drop out after Week 6 due to crazy work commitments. The difference between your version 1 and version 2 of Bailey’s is the best demonstration of how much we can get out of feedback and a supportive writing community.
    I’m looking forward to writing together more frequently gal!

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    1. Hey gurl! I missed you. Thanks for your awesome input on the assignments. I value your advice. The classes were great learning tools and the writing community off the chain:)
      We will connect to write together again. I know you left to work some more writing magic!

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