I wanted to post an article sooner, but I came down with “Con Crud” at GenCon this year. Con crud is a really nasty upper respiratory infection that spreads around some of these larger conventions. My guess is that when you put tens of thousands of people together from around the world, they share germs. They get so excited about the convention and they don’t sleep for days, and they eat junk food all weekend. It’s a nightmare for the immune system. I’ve only had it once before in ten years, so I was due for it. It’s been a week and a half, and I’m mostly back to health.
I had my first critique before a panel of professional writers at this year’s GenCon. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but GenCon’s Writers Symposium has a fairly solid reputation, and it was a mere ten dollars to sign up. How could I refuse the opportunity? Here’s a quick rundown of how it played out.
I was told to sign up and prepare a piece of my writing. I’d be given seven to ten minutes to read from it and have it appraised by a panel of three professional writers. This was our promise, it wasn’t delivered exactly this way. We were given only two minutes to read. Apparently the entire critique was to last seven to ten minutes. I was not the only panelist who had this mistaken notion. And when I re-read the description, it seemed clear that we were to read for at least seven minutes.
I had no problem with the time limit itself. Two minutes turned out to be plenty. However, I would have preferred knowing the correct time limit when I signed up. I had my own piece timed down to the minute. I selected my piece specifically because it could be read in seven to five minutes. If I knew that I’d only have two minutes, I would have selected something completely different –most likely a piece of my flash fiction. All three of of us being critiqued managed to hustle our butts and get something prepared. So in the end this was only a hiccup.
The three panelists had respectable backgrounds and were well qualified to give us valuable feedback. Unfortunately, I’m missing the name of one of the panelists as we speak. I will come back with their names when I can dig through my notes or check my email from one of the other writers I met. They were very thorough. They didn’t pull any punches, yet they were very diplomatic about what our strengths and weaknesses were. I got quite a bit out of it. I’m glad I attended.
I loved my critique. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of praise. My writing style is a bit off the path of standard fantasy writing. I love writers like David Sedaris, for instance. I have a background in absurdist comedy and performance art. My narrative voice isn’t unique, but it’s not generally found in fantasy writing. And I thought that would hurt me in a critique.
It didn’t. All three of the panelists liked my style. Two said it was “awesome” and a third said that it was “phenomenal.” Wow. I’m still blown away. I was hoping for, “original, but missed the mark..” at best. So I was floored. I still am. In my opinion, my narrative voice is the one thing I had a sensitive ego about. So I’m very pleased and relieved that they liked it.
As for my “deltas” — aka needs work: I agree with them. My piece was overall too chaotic, fast paced and confusing. I agree with this. My problem was that I’ve spent years acting out and performing my writing. I rely too much on using my own body and voice to convey unwritten information to an audience. I don’t have this luxury available to me as a novelist. I need to give the reader everything they need to build a mood and scene in their heads. They will only have my words. They won’t have me dancing around and acting out the book.
In my opinion, this is a very good weak spot to have. In my experience, toning down energy is much easier than bringing energy into a piece that hasn’t any. It’s hard to work up enthusiasm and excitement onstage and it’s even harder to do it on paper. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s stuff I’m confident in my ability to do it.
Overall, this was a very validating experience. I’m not close to where I want to be, but I’m headed in the right direction.