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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The head of a writer

After 32 years in a writers’ critique group and nearly 20 years teaching creative writing at Waukesha County Technical College in Wisconsin, I’ve grown to appreciate the writer’s mind. The writer’s mind is different from the non-writer’s mind. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. We have to get it right. I mean just right. This leads to some pretty hilarious discussions.

Folks might assume that when we writers read our work to each other for critique, we concentrate on grammar, punctuation, spelling and word usage. That’s true. We do. We get very nitty and very gritty about what I call the nuts and bolts of writing. (We call one class member the “Would police;” she lets people know when they use the word “would” too many times. Woulds can be wooden.)

We also talk about what I call the soul of writing: the expression of self, the sharing of insights, blah blah blah.

And we do our share of commiserating about how hard it is to make time to write… and how hard it is to make money from our writing. We share marketing ideas like people who don’t understand the word “competition.”

But in a critiquing group, we probably spend the most time talking about getting it right. That means we have deep, long, heartfelt arguments, er, discussions about, for instance:
-          the look of an entrance bullet hole wound;
-          the look of an exit bullet hold wound;
-          the exact sound of rain hitting a car roof;
-          the exact make of a car, and how many doors it would have, in a given scene;
-          the proper description of moonlight on water;
-          the exact time that lilac blossoms appear in Wisconsin;
-          current airport security rules (a certain scene element might mean the story has to be rewritten to take place before 9/11);
-          the appropriate slang for an era (we always have anachronism police)(okay, I am one);
-          how to convey sadness without being maudlin (we also have maudlin police);
-          just how unlikeable an anti-hero can be before readers refuse to read the piece;
-          how much is too much (i.e. Can a love scene include a line like “The lion roars on the Serengeti”??)
-          if some action is completely implausible;
-          if there’s always someone in the human family who would do something, no matter how outrageous, so that no action is completely implausible for a character;
-          if it’s logical that she would get the gun from him that way;
-          if a woman would really say this, or if a man would really think that;
-          how to increase the suspense;
-          how to increase the number of laughs;
-          how to be psychologically logical whether we’re talking about humans, vampires, werewolves, zombies, or futuristic beings.

I could go on and on. But then someone in my critique group might call in the rambling police. Let’s just say I love the minds of my writing friends and students, and I’ve had some of my best laughs during our deep discussions about things that might seem to matter very little.

If you are a writer, I welcome any additions to my list above - what great writing controversies have you and your writing friends mulled over, worked over, and beat to, um, consciousness?

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