My critiques at the Vermont College of Fine Arts workshop suggested that my novel
needs some major changes. To investigate the possible solutions, I made a
filing card outline. I used one 3x5 card for each scene. Across the top of each
card, I wrote a sentence or phrase describing the scene. At the bottom
right-hand corner I noted the chapter number and assigned a scene number.
study my novel, I lay the cards out in columns by chapter. Our kitchen table is
big enough to hold eleven chapters (approximately 1/3 of the novel) which is a
reasonable amount to study at one time. The cards allow me to see what will
happen if I move scenes around. I also added colored post-it notes. The yellow
ones relate to problems that I noticed while making the outline. The blue ones
suggest modifications that will be necessary if I leave the scenes in their original
order, but change a major premise in the plot.
especially in early drafts, are long, unwieldy things. The cards let me subdivide
the problem and compare possible solutions.
Vicky Lorencen does a fantastic job of explaining the importance of positive comments
in critiques. This post continues with that theme. In the critiquing guide for
this workshop, we were asked to name three positive things about each
manuscript and to be as specific as possible. Consider the following:
rock on voice.”
do a great job of expressing Southern dialect.”
use of colloquial expressions and the rhythm of the speech let me know that the
novel is placed in the South. For example, on page five, when you wrote ‘He’s
as handy as a button on a shirt,’ I was immediately transported to Texas.”
this imaginary writer is trying to recreate the world of a Southern teen living
in the fifties, the third comment is the only one that will help her.
use of specific compliments is something I can practice before next month’s
critique group. Instead of saying, “What a pretty sweater,” I could tell a
friend, “The turquoise in your sweater brings out the blue in your eyes.”
homework is done. Each participant in the critique track received twenty pages
from three other writers and a critique guide that I found quite helpful. I
also read one novel by each of the published conference organizers and three
novels edited by Andrea Tompa, the guest editor.
A couple weeks ago, I finished the rough draft of my current novel. (It’s very
rough and very drafty.) This novel was difficult to write, and I wanted to push on to the end, so when I came to something that needed more
research, a thread that needed to be tied in someplace else, or a scene that
lacked appropriate descriptions, I made a margin note with the editor function
in Microsoft Word and kept going.
rough draft needs to be improved, but setting out to “make the novel better” is
a non-specific and often gargantuan task. Before I jumped into the second draft, I
started addressing these little margin notes, working from the last chapter forward. Some are easily
remedied while others have required many hours of research. So far, I’ve added
about 2500 words. Next, I analyze structure.