by Robert Lopresti
am working like blazes on a piece of fiction I hope to finish before a
contest deadline, so don't expect a long, well-thought out masterpiece
this week (as opposed to every other week, of course). But the
work did bring a subject to mind.
see, I have run my piece past two of my fellow writers, and that has
been an interesting and useful experience. R.T. Lawton and I have been
swapping stories regularly for a few years, and I know my work has
benefited from it. (I hope he feels that his has too.) Last year James Lincoln
Warren asked me to preview his entry in the Black Orchid Novella
competition, and, since he won, I am prepared to take all the credit.
Sorry, I meant to say, that since he asked for my help I felt free to
Both of them offered helpful insights into my story, including:
* typos (no matter how many times Spellcheck and I have gone over the damned thing)
unclear sentences (one was so difficult to clarify I wound up having
my narrator address the reader directly: "now, hear me out...")
flashback confusion (this is the one point I am still struggling
with... telling the story chronologically will lead to a dull patch.
But REtelling it is complicated.)
* a great big honking plot hole that needed to be fixed.
and when this thing gets published I will bore you more detail about
this. But right now I am just interested in the coaching experience.
more than a decade I have been a member of a songwriting group. Every
month we get together, sing new or at least unfinished songs, and let
our fellow members have at them. We always warn newcomers not to make
the classic rookie mistake: "I'll bring my best song and wow them!"
Since we are in critical mode we WILL find something wrong with your
song. Otherwise, we aren't helping, are we? So, we emphasize the need
to bring something unfinished. And the songs do improve, sometimes
Of course, when I send a story to a coach it is
as close to finished as I can make it. I want them to be brutal.
(Hey, the editors won't by the story because of my charming
personality.) And both James and R.T. have been very helpful and
(But I do have a question for them: how is it that all three of them missed the fact that my character Andrew changed his name to Anthony twice with no explanation? And Victor, perhaps out of sympathy, decided to become Richard at one point. Ah well.)
Unfortunately, my dear friends have carried me as far as they can. Now, alas, my fate all in my hands. So, why am I wasting time talking to you guys?
But you have a moment to spare you can tell us about your experience with writing groups or partners. I will try not to critique you.