My Story or Yours

It’s interesting to hear how a simple thought, phrase, title or sentence can trigger the creative juices in a group. Each person is born under the same sky (ie., gets the same prompt) but doesn’t have the same horizon. (ie.,writes a different story). Sounds prophetic, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t meant to be. Just a prompt from our weekly short story writing group.

I sat down at my desk to write a short story for this week’s writers’ group. However, I’ve noticed some disturbing changes in recent meetings and feel compelled to hop on my soapbox. Being an activist, I feel it my writer’s privilege to point out problems.

When someone is given carte blanche to voice an opinion or critique the work of another, human preference trots quickly out of the barn.

Critique or criticism. Two very similar words but delivered and experienced in totally different ways.

My Way or the Highway

Why so many roads on the map if they must all point to the same destination? Think about it.  Do all people indulge in the same hobbies, vacation in the same areas, drive the same cars, read the same magazines, eat the same food?  Of course not.  Diversity is alive and thriving.

One story cannot be liked, disliked, enjoyed or even bore every person in a group. And it should be that way. Otherwise, what would be the need for different genres, styles, or forms of expressing the writer’s thoughts?

I’ve noticed some critiques are little more than “I liked it” or “It didn’t do much for me”.  My question is, who cares?  What does that have to do with the writing?  Leave your personal preferences out of the discussion. Unless it truly affects the flow of the story, the writer doesn’t want to hear how you would end the story, name the character, or poison the victim. Use those preferences to create your own story. Critique, never criticize, the author’s story as it is written.

Read several reviews of the same book.  They all have a different perspective and view of the same material.  Some like it and some don’t.  That doesn’t make it a bad piece of literature.  Just the wrong audience some of the time.

The New Testament of the Bible tells the same stories by four different authors.  Aren’t they all considered inspired writing even though Matthew’s method of telling the story may be preferred over Luke’s, Mark’s verbiage different from John’s?

Many people don’t enjoy long epic or narrative poems; Shakespeare, in particular.  Think of the loss to the world if a critique of “Doesn’t do much for me” was given at his writing group.  He might have lost his self-confidence and never continued writing.

We should be listening, correcting problems, or giving suggestions dealing with proper tenses, grammar, punctuation, point of view usage, adequate construction of plots, development of characters. It’s not our job to like or dislike a story.  Leave that to the readers.  I feel sure that every ten readers who rave about a story, ten more would turn the page without finishing.  That’s why we have variety–everyone is different and enjoys different material.

Remember in your writing groups to concentrate on writing problems or successes. Critique the technique and construction. Offer suggestions where the piece could be submitted. Avoid spouting personal preferences of the story line, genre or style.  We don’t want to stifle what could be the future Hemingway, Whitman, Michener or Bombeck.

Profiling a Writer’s Voice

Another thorn under the fingernail has come to my attention. At these writing free-to-expect-sameness groups, I‘ve noticed that a writer, eventually, is encouraged to give up the right to be different.  If he’s been writing serious stuff, heaven help his reviews when he tries to write a comedic story or even a funny line.

Likewise, take the writer who’s a genius at penciling side-splitting humor. You might as well get out of the way of the flying tar and feathers if she attempts to author a serious piece. The reviewers want to chuckle at every line and will criticize until the morning sun rises again if her story line deviates from earlier works.

Hey folks. This is style-profiling. Isn’t it against the rules of good critique form? Should we really be working to ensure each person’s stories’ remain a carbon copy of the one before? Only the name changed to protect the author while appeasing those mouthing the critiques?

Stephen King successfully writes thrillers that are scary to the bone. However, his book “On Writing” is totally unlike his usual style and genre and a powerful resource for any struggling writer.  I’m glad his writing group didn’t restrict him to the one genre, just because that’s “what he always writes”.