Justine: Writing in a Vacuum Sucks

59612318 - woman with vacuum cleaner isolated on whiteI’m very fortunate to have two fantastic critique partners, Jenn and Lisa, that I meet with once a week. Every Tuesday, we hit the Red Robin in Scottsdale, AZ for lunch (because it’s close to Lisa’s office) and we talk about writing, swap critiqued pages, discuss story problems, or vent about our husbands and kids.

Jenn, Lisa, and I have all have a somewhat similar writing background. We’ve done multiple Immersions with Margie Lawson, so we all look for the same sort of rhetorical devices in our writing based on the lessons we’ve learned from Margie. We’ve also all taken similar plotting classes and while we none of us write in the same genre, we know each other’s stories well and we have a pretty good understanding of our respective writing styles so as not to suggest fixes that change each other’s stories into our own.

As good as that all is – and it’s really good – I think every writer needs an SME critique partner, too. A Subject Matter Expert. In my case, it’s someone who really knows the Regency/Georgian period, who can catch when I’m using anachronisms, and in some cases, can tell me when language isn’t quite right (for example, a “special licence” is required to marry without calling the banns in Georgian England. Not a “special license”).

I have been working on The Protector (formerly Three Proposals, for those of you who’ve been with the blog for awhile) diligently since August and am at the point where I’m ready to submit the first few chapters to an agent who requested it back in September. Jenn and Lisa had both given everything their sign-off, but my gut told me it would be a good idea to have someone familiar with the Regency read it as well. So I asked fellow Eight Lady Jilly (who, aside from being a Regency fan, also lives in England) to give it a read and BOY am I glad she did.

It turns out I had some pretty serious plot problems based on some incorrect thinking about how people/society would act during that time period. Not only did Jilly point out to me those egregious errors, but she helped me brainstorm how to fix them (turns out it was a pretty easy fix that actually makes the story stronger, I think, so YAY for that).

Lisa, my critique partner, is writing a contemporary romantic suspense involving ex-Army folks who are now in the FBI. She’s already reaching out to her contacts to see who can help her with everything from Army ranks to special ops to the transition from military to civilian life. And that’s a GOOD thing.

Look – we’re writers. Even when we’re writing about fantasy worlds that we build, we want to make sure that world makes sense. That it’s accurate. That it doesn’t break rules (and if it does, that our reason is compelling enough and it’s explained so the reader understands). Having a critique partner who reads lots of fantasy and knows the lore about werewolves, vamps, and faeries will make your story stronger, more believable, and will make you as a writer more credible.

So, writer friend…make your writing better. if you don’t have a critique partner, find one. If you don’t have an SME, find one (they don’t have to be writers, either…they just have to know their stuff). Reach out to people you know, to fellow writers, to Facebook groups, to professional groups. But surround yourself with people who will help you improve your writing. Because writing in a vacuum?

It sucks.

3 thoughts on “Justine: Writing in a Vacuum Sucks

  1. Wise suggestion, Justine. I just finished the first (okay, second–no one wants to read my first drafts) of The Demon’s in the Details. In it, my heroine is a practicing Catholic, so I just handed it off to my next door neighbor, Gina, to review for inconsistencies around Catholicism.

    I’ve read various articles advising authors not to share their manuscripts with friends and neighbors, saying its a waste of time to get feedback from non-authors, but I agree that a SME for a world that’s unfamiliar to you is esseniital.

    • I think it totally depends on the friend/neighbor. My mom and sis are both voracious historical readers, plus they don’t sugarcoat things with me, so why wouldn’t I want them to read it? They’re my target audience! I would agree that giving it to a friend/family member who can’t say anything bad for fear of hurting your feelings isn’t a good thing (and we all have family members who do that, ahem *dad*). But to make it a blanket policy is a bit ridiculous.

      Glad you got TDD done and off to a good SME! I was baptized Catholic, but never practiced, so I’d be in the same boat as you. Glad you have your neighbor to give you feedback!

  2. (-: Vacuum: sucks!

    I think it’s really true that we don’t know what’s going to throw readers out of the story. Even something silly like moon phases — it’s actually kind of remarkable (to me) about how many people who read SF know all about moon phases, and won’t put up with two moons acting like erratic satellites.

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