Robust Discussions at February Critique Circle

By Steve Oetting

Each Critique Circle is a unique opportunity to experience other members’ writing and respond to questions they have about their work. This Critique Circle session was no different. It provided a varied collection of material and a robust discussion of each piece that was presented.

Our hosts for the Feb. 13 event were Danie Botha and Bobbi-Jo Grant. Seven participants presented material that included three short stories, as well as excerpts from three books and one screenplay. Danie managed the session, capably introducing each participant and monitoring their time limit. As I was the first participant to join the Zoom session, my name was at the top of his list. I presented a piece from my book The Racing Birds that I felt was creative but had nothing to do with the story. I had two questions. Would the unrelated piece detract from the story? Did other writers do this sort of thing with their own writing?

The responses were mixed, with some participants feeling it was fine to go off on a tangent as long as there was some relevant connection to the story, while others felt it was not uncommon for writers to include such diversions even if they were completely unrelated. I often wondered if I should remove the piece from the book, but being as there were no strong opinions against it, I decided I would retain it, resolving an issue that had been haunting me for some time.

A short story was presented in which the main character awoke with a serious migraine followed by visions of a vivid dream. The questions posed were whether the readers got a good sense of the characters’ feelings and what might improve it. A couple of participants felt the character’s migraine was effectively described and that the author might want to connect it more to the dream sequence that followed. Another comment was that the dream was well portrayed and that perhaps adding some dialogue might help to better express how it was affecting the character.

Another short story took us back to a time in our youth when many of us struggled with physical and social changes. The writer asked whether we could relate and empathize with the main character and whether the piece was well-crafted enough to enter into a competition. The responses were very positive, with one suggestion that the author might want to expand on how the mother tried to assist the teen through her challenges. Several participants felt they could relate well to the main character and that the story was definitely worthy of submitting.

The third and final short story was about a young person whose parents split up over a fence that was left unfinished, creating an emotional situation over a seemingly simple problem, much as what often occurs in life. The writer was looking for general feedback about what to keep or what might be strengthened in the final edit. A few participants commented that the writer’s extraordinary use of imagery and analogies contributed well to making it an enjoyable read. One participant said that the ending was very touching and wished that it had been drawn out more to extend the emotional feeling.

Up next was a portion of a screenplay that was to be presented to a forum that permitted only eight minutes to convince them to read the rest of the script. The question posed was whether our participants would want to read more of the piece based on that eight-minute reading. The story involved an interesting set of characters with a well-defined plot that all the participants enjoyed. One comment was that if the writer had only eight minutes to pitch the script it might be important to create a twist at the end to leave the readers wanting to know more, which the presenter felt was a good suggestion. One participant recommended reviewing some of the movie teasers on Netflix might help the author see different ways to achieve that.

The beginning of a novel about folks conversing in a care home took us on a journey into the minds of some elderly residents and their caregiver. The writer wished to know if we acquired a good sense of the place and if it created any intrigue into the mental conditions and past lives of the characters. The consensus was that the characters were portrayed very well, particularly one gentleman who would fade in and out of the past and present. A couple of participants recently had similar experiences and felt the piece did an excellent job of depicting dementia in older folks as well as the insecurities of a caregiver trying hard to assist them.

The final presentation was Christopher Parker providing a reading of chapters seven to eleven of his book Bang: Book 1 – The Hero’s Journey Begins. He describes his book as a fast-paced journey based loosely off the story of Liu Bang driven by the rough, textured, realness of character amidst an ethereal setting of cyber spiritualism.

Christopher was looking for comments regarding the naturalness and believability of the characters and his world-building in a futuristic setting. Participants found his writing style unique and engaging but a bit hard to follow without having read chapters one through six. Suggestions included adding more dialogue to hook the reader, more imagery in his world-building, and explaining futuristic terms. Overall, the group found the piece very engaging with a strong and enjoyable “realness” in his development of characters, and expressed they would like to read more of the book as it progresses.

Having now attended only two Critique Circles I felt this was a diverse selection of readings, all quite different from each other and covering a broad range of writing topics and styles. The group was highly engaged with each piece, offering both valuable suggestions and supportive comments, exactly as a Critique Circle is designed to do.

The bi-monthly, free-for-members Critique Circles allow participants to share a piece of writing to be critiqued by facilitators and other participants. Find out more.

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