Saturday, October 04, 2008

Story Revision

Small Town's writers' guild has critiqued a short story of mine. You can read it here, if you want. They follow a prescribed workshop format where someone reads the contributor's story aloud while the rest of the group follows along with their own hard copy, jotting down notes as they go along.

After the reading, the moderator has the group list the strong points of the story. The group was fairly generous with what they thought I had done well. Then the moderator has the group list the weak points. This sort of thing is never easy to sit through, especially for someone like me who doesn't like to be told what to do. But given the casual and friendly environment of this group, they weren't harsh or pretentious or competitive.

They did have a few points to make though—one woman thought the point of view was confusing because she wanted to see something very clear cut. I got the impression she had been to a clinic and had learned creative story telling must be done in a very precise way. A few other people wanted to see some back story about the main character, Kathryn, and they wanted to know why she wanted to cling to something and claim it as permanent.

Because I had originally written the thing for a competition with a 2,000 word limit, I cut out some of the back story in order to make room for the current setting.

I also have an idea about coffee shops and the friends you can make there. These aren't necessarily close friends but more like close acquaintances. You rarely see these people outside of the shop, and if you do by chance, you don't often have anything more to say other than "hey" because they're out of their context. It's an odd phenomenon, I think.

With this story, my purpose was to show a few moments in a communal setting where everyone has a story to tell, but you don't usually get a chance to hear most of it, and you don't pry. You usually just get snippets here and there, and you move on. So, to delve too deeply into Kathryn's back story seems inappropriate given this setting.

I also should admit that after this workshop, when I had a chance to think about what I had experienced, I decided I have no reason to believe the people in this writers' guild know what they're talking about. The meetings are open to the public, and any Joe Schmo can walk in and contribute. Until I get to know these people and learn why they do or don't have qualifications for critiquing anything in print, I'll take what they say with a grain of salt. Honestly, I may actually just smile and ignore them.

In the mean time, I have played around with this story and made some revisions with a hint of back story and slightly less sentimentalism. Here you go.


dive said...

Ooh, I LOVE that story, Robyn; it's one of my favourites; especially the little girl with the bottles.
I disagree (naturally) with the "clear cut" woman. I particularly liked the ambiguity and the sense of the action in the coffee shop being incidental; taking place away from the focal point of the story: the time capsule ceremony.
As for back story; that's fine in a longer piece but a short story is a snapshot of images, feelings and partial events that should be concise and somewhat mysterious and leave those things up to the reader's imagination.

Your point about place-specific acquaintances is excellent and very true.
As is the fact that most people who have attended creative writing courses only do so because they cannot create naturally and need to follow a set of guidelines.
If all writers followed "the rules" the world of literature would be a pretty dull place.
You - as I've often said - are "the real thing". A real writer who needs no rules.

I must say I much prefer the un-revised piece; the backstory elements are not necessary to the events taking place and make the narrative kind of jerky.
And the fact that the girl under the counter is not given a name is wonderful.

Lots more of this kind of storytelling, please!

lynn said...

I am wary of creative writing workshops. How to pigeon-hole and cage imagination in three easy lessons. I'd steer clear.