Toing and Froing Again, Part 3

This is the final post in this Toing and Froing arc. The genesis of this arc came from my fouling up The Alibi chapter 3 (my current work in progress.

Toing and Froing occurs when the writer/author has their characters move around or do things for no real story purpose; there’s no character development, no character revelation, the atmosphere doesn’t change, no plot elements are furthered or revealed, the movement is irrelevant to any established or impending plot points, the movement is unnecessary to the dialogue, et cetera.

I ended Toing and Froing Again, Part 2 talking about writing and reading rhythms (and I’ll return to those at some point). This post talks about recognizing the problem and coming up with a solution.

The Problem and a Solution
Here’s what I wrote:

The Boston Incident Center’s operations operator routed the call to every city service in a twenty block radius of AirCon’s building. Every mobile in the station went off simultaneously.
Marete came out of his office. “Who’s in the field?”
Senior Ops put a feed on the office’s main. “Looks like some kid’s streaming from his drone.”
Cranston plopped into his seat. “Yeah, I guess this is me.”
Marete pointed to the door. “Take Rhinehold with you.”
Rhinehold, seated next to Cranston’s desk to finish setting up the atricial, spun his chair to face Marete. “What did I do?”
Cranston gathered his notebook and pen. “You wanted fun. You got fun.”
Rhinehold frowned “You don’t use a tablet?”
Cranston paid no attention.
Rhinehold lifted his backpack over his shoulder. “No worries. I have mine.”

What follows would be my comments if the above material came to me in a critique group:

  • The Boston Incident Center’s operations operator routed the call to every city service in a twenty block radius of AirCon’s building. – acceptable but wordy. “operations operator” doesn’t need to be in that sentence. Unless there’s a need for this character to appear in the story again, it doesn’t even count as stage direction and you can get rid of it.
  • Every mobile in the station went off simultaneously. – again acceptable and weak. The chapter opening deals with a police station’s response to a bomb blast. You want the reader caught in the action and moving forward. The characters are pumping adrenaline so the reader should be, too. This sentence has no real action hence no forward momentum as written.
  • Marete came out of his office. – obvious Toing and Froing and necessary as it tells the reader who’s doing what, as in attribution via action. And yet with all that going for it, it’s static. It doesn’t move the reader forward.
  • “Who’s in the field?” – Nice, short dialogue and fitting with the action of the scene, and ditto.
  • Senior Ops put a feed on the office’s main. – Way over the top Toing and Froing. What’s the purpose of this sentence? What does it provide the reader? All it does it take the reader off the main and primary characters by introducing an irrelevant stage direction character. Get rid of it.
  • “Looks like some kid’s streaming from his drone.” – Expected and doesn’t move the reader forward.
  • Cranston plopped into his seat. – You can almost feel the oars moving in their locks as the boat to’s and fro’s, can’t you?
  • “Yeah, I guess this is me.” – ditto.
  • Marete pointed to the door. – ditto and, at this point, who friggen cares?
  • “Take Rhinehold with you.” – static and di-di-di-ditto.
  • Rhinehold, seated next to Cranston’s desk to finish setting up the atricial, spun his chair to face Marete. – does nothing except (literally) place him in the scene.
  • “What did I do?” – I think I was so bored writing at this point I attempted humor.
    I failed.
    PS) Another personal clue to me I’m Toing and Froing is when I attempt to put humor into an otherwise humorless scene or have it come out of the mouths of previously humorless characters.
  • Cranston gathered his notebook and pen. – Pure toing and froing because he gathers them. So what?
  • “You wanted fun. You got fun.” – more botched humor.
  • Rhinehold frowned. – Exactly what I talked about in the Attribution via Action post.
  • “You don’t use a tablet?” – Basically okay as exposition and character development via dialogue, and there’s no real need to bash the reader over the head with it.
  • Cranston paid no attention. – the reader’s not paying attention, why should Cranston?
  • Rhinehold lifted his backpack over his shoulder. – As with Cranston gathering his notebook and pen, so what?
  • “No worries. I have mine.” – Wasted unless it points to something coming later in the story (as in foreshadowing).

At this point remember that criticism without solution is worthless. Anybody can spot problems, not everybody can come up with workable solutions.

Here’s what I came up with as an alternative followed by the reasons this rewrite removes Toing and Froing, strengthens the story, and keeps the reader moving forward (and note, I offer this is better, not brilliant):

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Final thoughts
This kind of critique is what a good critique group will give you. If your critique group isn’t constantly working to improve your writing, find another. Does it need to be this thorough?

I’ll say yes, it does, and also appreciate not a lot of critique groups will go to this level. I also appreciate not everyone wants this level of analysis, and recognize this level of analysis can be devastating if not offered well. I wouldn’t offer this to a newbie unless it’s obvious they can separate themselves from their work and recognize I’m commenting on their work, not them (watch my interview for more on this).

Should you need it or want it, I do offer this level of critique and also writer/author mentoring.

First Rejections

I received a rejection on Meteor Man last week. The editor wrote

I can appreciate the attention to detail in your world, but without knowing about the world or characters or what’s going on, the terminology bogs me down a bit too much.

The comment intrigued me because no first reader commented anything similar. Even first first readers – those unfamiliar with my work – didn’t make similar comments. I often gets comments about my world-building but they tend to be more like “Amazing!”, “Rich!”, “Vividly detailed!”, and “Immersive!” (one of my personal favorites).

When I do live readings of works-in-progress, I sometimes get a comment along the lines of “You do more world-building in ten pages than most authors do in the first hundred” and I should spread things out.

I ask in return, “Would you continue reading? Do you want to find out more?”

Unanimous yeses often accompanied by listeners leaning forward in their seats and sometimes by outstretched hands seeking a copy.

All of which tells me I did an excellent job world-building. If people were overwhelmed to the point of being numb, they’d back away rather than continue forward.

Two Recent Classes…
I’ve long suspected that storycrafting and storytelling aren’t the paramount reasons work is accepted or rejected.

Sadly, this was confirmed by two different classes I took over the past few weeks. The classes were from different sources and a little over a week apart. One class had an agent and a publisher, the other had two magazine editors.

I take such classes because I want to understand what got Story A accepted and Story B rejected. A con panel with editors explaining what stood out pro and con in stories from their slushpiles would be gold to me. I’d pay serious dollars to attend such a panel session.

Me, I look for common threads in everything from character to theme, action to plot, … Sometimes the common thread is obvious, other times…?

And always it comes down to “How come this and not that? Give me a list of what works and what doesn’t so I’ll have a better idea how to perfect my own work for publication.” (by the way, two books that do a great job of this are Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics” and On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back).

Want to know what I found out?


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A Tale of Three Critique Groups

Be so confident in knowing what you bring to the table you’re willing to eat alone until you find the right table.

 
Warning: This is not going to be a happy post.

I’ve been in three critique groups from the end of 2020 to now. One I formed, two I was invited to join. There were two more I helped form and turned over to others (both are non-US based and there were timezone and language issues which made regular exchanges with them challenging).

Let me be blunt.

  • Most people calling themselves writers have no hope of becoming international bestselling authors.
  • Most people calling themselves authors have no hope of becoming anything more than self-published wannabes.
  • Most people in critique groups want a pat on the head, a hug, and a rousing cheer of “Good for you! You put words together!” and not a serious critique of their work with the goal of improving their craft.

Some people proudly tell me they never pay for online courses and only take the free ones.

“How long you been doing that?”

A few years now.

“You been taking courses for a few years and your work still sucks this much? Put your money on the table now, honey, otherwise your work ain’t going nowhere.”

(you may enjoy the complete “Can I Be Honest About Your Writing?” series starting with Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all!). I also talk about what makes a good critique in my interview starting at about 1:35m in)

What Makes Writing Worth Reading? Continue reading “A Tale of Three Critique Groups”

Professional Authors’ Groups

I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member
– Groucho Marx

 
Anybody know if there’s a 12-Step meeting for researchers? I need to get to one. “Hello, my name is Joseph. I’m a researcher.” “Hello, Joseph.”

A few weeks back I polled five-hundred authors with:

I’m looking into authors’ groups and organizations. Do you belong to any? If yes, your thoughts and opinions of it/them? And could you provide a link if you think them worthy?

Two-hundred-eighteen responded (just under half. I can provide percentages/numbers for other Researchers Anonymous members).

    General

  • Most people aren’t part of any author groups. The reasons varied from 1) cost to 2) unclear usefulness to 3) Covid followed by various scatterings. The “cost v usefulness” quadrant was most heavily populated. Most professional groups had upfront costs and that’s where “usefulness” dominated, a “what do I get for my money?” mood. I suspect (no substantial evidence, more based on conversations and email exchanges) as the industry matures (ie, as the gulf between serious authors and “Hey! I got a book published!” writers widens) a similar gulf between “Let’s get work done” and “Let’s have a party!” authors groups will occur.
  • Online groups dominated the responses and most people prefer online groups because nothing is required to participate. Also, few find online groups helpful with Goodreads groups standing out as least helpful (one person offered the discussions were painful). Most people offered they directed messages from these groups are directed to spammish buckets and rarely read them. I asked “What do you use the group for?” The answer usually came down to “To promote my books.” When asked, “Why don’t you do more with the groups?” the answers often came down to “It’s just people promoting their own books.” Budda-boom!
  • The following responses are based on 1) clustered responses (a significant number of responses clustered around a definable (binary) result and/or 2) the results were interesting although not statistically significant. My tendency to go for a binary (YES/NO) is because I can measure neither expectations nor satisfaction level while I can codify positive/negative response regardless of where they are on the positive/negative scale.

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Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Ruled to Death

Beware the Sayer of the Law

This is the last installment of a thread covering critiquing methods I’ve encountered in my writing career. This post is a catch-all for any workshop/critiquing group that hands you a list of rules you have to follow. I highlight three distinct types I’ve encountered.

Review
Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:

What is your goal/reason for being in a critique group?

 
My goal is simple and direct; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.

Rules
Any time or place a group of people get together for a single purpose, rules will apply. The best rules are those shaped by consensus and accepted democratically. They may be spoken, unspoken, written, tacked on a wall, handed out, understood, …
Continue reading “Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Ruled to Death”