We met Monday morning at 9am and broke into critique groups. I met with six other students and two of the instructors, Jim Macdonald and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. The students went first, giving me their feedback on the story I wrote, Sole Sacrifice. As the critiquee I was not permitted to say anything, just to listen (and take copious notes). A few students thought the pacing was too slow, some thought it was just right and they ripped through the story. Some thought the story was too long for what went on, but the psychological aspects of the character’s transformation were important. Then, Teresa had her say, and she had a lot to say! She started out by saying she didn’t hate it. I guess that’s a good thing! When she was done, Jim added his comments, many seconding what Teresa said, but adding some other observations, too. He was the only one who commented on who the real villain of the story is and why. He also, in a round about way, pointed out that the coolest parts of the story (the woman captain and the sea snakes) could have been cut.
What struck me about the instructors’ feedback was how deep it was. Teresa went into detail about the social and religious foundations of my story and what didn’t work and why. She pointed out so many plot and structure (societal) holes, I was astounded. In a good way – if I had this kind of feedback about all my writing, I’d be in heaven!
Next, I sat and listened to everyone critique a fellow student’s story. I’d misunderstood the instructions and so I didn’t read it, so I needed to read later and get with her to give her my comments. Jim and Teresa, again, gave a ton of detailed, deep comments about the story’s weaknesses and holes. Jim’s an EMT in his community, and told us some interesting things, such as that the skin stretches a lot after death. For instance, a man who dies in his easy chair and is found a month later will have his jaw in his lap, and his fingers stretched so far that his fingertips reach the floor. Anyway, comments like that showed how some scenes wouldn’t work because of the physics or what have you. All in all, I thought the feedback was immeasurably helpful, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
We all met again in the main meeting room for a lecture by Jim on plotting. He used the chess metaphor, which I dearly love, but I’m still not 100% certain how to translate it into writing a story. I get the gist of it, the point about dominating the center squares and putting your main pieces into motion early in the game, but what threw me was that the minor characters are the pawns, and the major characters are the back rank pieces.
After lunch, we met for some fun writing exercises, and got our first real assignment: a 5000 word short story due Thursday. Some students met for one-on-ones with an instructor. Mine will be Tuesday and Wednesday with Laura Mixon and Steve Gould.
After dinner (turkey and dressing), I have two stories to read and critique for Tuesday, plus start on my short story.