Friday, July 07, 2006

Writer’s Group

Here is a quick rundown of the writer’s group I joined some years ago:

The Leader (TL): white, mid-twenties, feminist pursuing a feminist literary PhD, teaches part time, refers to herself in the third person, has a subjugated Malaysian boyfriend, once read horror but now only reads assigned feminist works, writing a series of semi-autobiographical short stories about a woman in a bad relationship visiting Malaysia.

Jittery Whale (JW): white, thirties, writes for Delta airline’s in-flight magazine, morbidly obese and easily frightened, single, unknown what she reads, had written a children’s story.

Exuberant Woman (EW): white, fortyish, feminist (but not pursuing the degree), owns a catering company, touchy-feelie, single, only reads in theory (says she’s been to busy to read for several years), wrote a children’s story and a book about a woman with a bad job and a bad marriage.

Old Woman (OW): white, sixties, feminist (but not pursuing the degree), retired secretary, assumes she knows how all men think, married to a guy she doesn’t respect, doesn’t like to read, wrote a book to have something to do after retirement.

Hate Crime (HC): black, mid-twenties, feminist pursuing a feminist literary PhD, unemployed, lisps, soon to be single mother, only reads assigned feminist works, manuscript is about a woman with a bad job and a bad boyfriend.

Token Guy (Grant - me): white, mid-thirties, still in college pursuing an IT degree, neo Satanic cannibalistic Voodou sorcerer / writer / admin guy, excruciatingly single, reads everything from novels to girly magazine articles to cereal boxes, wrote a bad humor novel (thanks to stupidly following every bit of writing advice I could find) and various short stories.

We met, exchanged works, agreed to read and critique each other’s writings and to meet back next week. The president of the writer’s organization (not TL) noticed that JW was a person who joined the critique group without paying dues, something she had tried once a few years before. When asked if she wanted to join, JW abruptly ran and hid, which was too bad since her book showed promise.

TL delighted in forcing her boyfriend to read her stories before giving them to us. They were fictionalized tales of the trip they took to Malaysia. In her version, he was a horribly inattentive mate and she was supposed to be a sympathetic character, but I couldn’t get into it because she came across as the stereotypical ugly American. Like the others, she was very sensitive about criticism so I approached it delicately, but she still didn’t see it my way. She pointed out the way her character always dedicated half of a sentence to acknowledging her actions were considered inappropriate in Malaysia before plowing ahead. Sorry, but that is the basic definition of an ugly American. Her writing wasn’t without merit, although she forced too much silly simile into it and her opening sentences were extremely convoluted. WRITING RULE – always include as much information as possible in the opening sentence of a short story. Yes, there are different rules for short stories vs. novels.

Quick note to Leesa – I just reached my one page limit and I’m still writing. Take it, woman! Also, you’ll note I was considerate enough to include a link to your blog, so feck off again. =P

It’s only a minor exaggeration to say that her opening sentences sounded like “Gallant Rick Rawhide, marshal of galaxy sector twelve, stood on the observation platform of his battle cruiser while his wife and child played safely in their home on planet Freembula as the starlight danced majestically across BilBoBooHopper’s fighter, even though he’s not technically in this story”. Even worse, her convoluted and confusing opening sentence had been constructed by a lot of input from a writing class. Again, this is the ABSOLUTE RULE – the first sentence in a short story must always include as much information as possible. Technically, all short stories would be better written as one long run-on sentence.

Then we moved to EW, probably the best remaining writer in the group after JW’s disappearing act. Her children’s story was fairly inventive, although a bit hampered by the rules, but I liked her story of a bad job and bad relationship much less. She included too much detail about waitressing (WRITING RULE: always write about what you know, meaning write about nothing you haven’t experience first-hand, which would eliminate all sci-fi and fantasy), and she wrote men as bad stereotypes. Even the good guy, when mailed a picture of his married female friend, jerked off to the picture while reading her letter. I had to inform the shocked group that most decent men probably wouldn’t do that. Also, she started the story by telling what the guy was doing, even though he didn’t enter into the story until past the halfway point. WRITING RULE: always start your story with your most likeable character, whether he is part of the beginning of the tale or not.

OW’s story was competently written in plain English, although obviously by a person who doesn’t read and has no interest in the craft of writing. Her 1,200 page story was a fictionalized account of an incident in a friend’s life when her husband died in a plane crash. It was the story of the investigation that followed, which was inconclusive. That’s right – it’s an epic tale longer than Stephen King’s extended version of The Stand that details an investigation about a small plane crash that involves no foul play, mystery, or resolution. The bad male stereotypes didn’t help either. “But that’s how all men think,” OW protested, blissfully unaware that one of us in the room didn’t have to guess at how men think.

HC’s story about a wannabe hairdresser in a bad relationship with a bad job (medical office worker) could have been largely replaced with “Kill Whitey” written over and over. All white characters served to constantly remind the reader that white = evil and black = oppressed. The others thanked her for raising awareness of that issue (an issue I think gets more than adequate press time in the South), then grumbled about the overtly racist tone when she wasn’t around, bunch of fake liberals. I fought the urge to point out that she was the only one in the room getting a free education and who didn’t have to work to support herself, but I skipped the racist issues altogether (her feminist PhD only reinforced racial stereotypes – more on that later) and focused on her writing. For someone nearing the completion of an advanced literary degree, she lacked the spelling and grammar skills of a public high school student.

This is clearly getting too long, no matter how much detail I omit, so I’ll continue this later. Keep reading – more important WRITING RULES to follow.

21 comments:

patti_cake said...

I want to hear more about JW skipping out. Seriously Grant could have hand-picked a merrier band of misfits? :P

Angie said...

I'm still lmao at your descriptions of them...Jittery whale. Why did she skip out?
And don't you know that all women inherently know how guys think??! ;) (read: sarcasm)

Grant said...

patti_cake - there's no more to tell. She ran away and wouldn't answer phone calls or e-mails after she disappeared.

angie - unknown, except that she didn't want to join the organization (although she wanted to take advantage of its offers) and she got embarassed when she was called on it.

JohnB said...

That short story opening sentence rule should have been written on rolls of toilet paper...the result makes it sound like a great deal of that claptrap spam one gets in their overused Hotmail account. Consider the opening sentence from one of my favorite short stories by Hemingway called "The Undefeated", is starts off as:
Manuel Garcia climbed the stairs to Don Miguel Retana's office...a Nobel Prize winning author would be a complete failure to these self-important pretentious bitches. Of course, I'm sure they would abhor his content; just a feeling I get.

Liz said...

Wow, sounds like formula for a gang bang.

I am pretty impressed you didn't turn and run when you walked in the door.

SJ said...

You are a brave man!! Working with these characters sounds scary did your armed forces experience help?

Waiting to hear more I am liking this series.

fatty ~ said...

haha this is interestin, how do u get stuck with these people you seem to incompatible with?

anyway im back so lets partay on!

Mel said...

I wish there was a writing group somewhere in my neighborhood, instead of the elderly who pick 4am to die and have me wake up to the wail of ambulance sirens - highly inappropriate -
Anyways a buncha freaks sitting around discussing writing is probably better than no freaks sitting around discussing nothing. No?

Joe said...

And that's why I've never joined a writer's group.

Well, that and the fact that I have absolutely no talent.

Kira said...

...well, at least the writer's group characters WERE characters enough that it'd make an interesting story ;)

GirlGoyle said...

Sheesh...sounds more like a support group for detox patients on some odd addiction than anything positive and inspiring like book writing. Nice friends you got there.

Leesa said...

I seem to violate my one page limit once per week, perhaps twice in some weeks.

I think you are the most talented writer whose blog I read. Not much of a compliment, since I don't read much! But you are way more talented than me.

Grant said...

johnb - according to the rules, no best-selling author should have ever been published.

liz - I made the mistake of going into it believing them to be seasoned writers, and therefore experts on the craft.

sj - yes, I was able to use my camoflage ability to blend in with the furniture.

fatticus - welcome back. It still appears to me that Americans are worse than many others about accepting people who aren't the same as the whole. Since I'm too eclectic to completely fit in with any crowd, I have to find the rare ones that accept all people for who they are or it turns into a bad experience.

mel - I don't know - I think no advice is often better than bad advice.

joe - I don't agree with your assessment of your talent, but I approve of your low self esteem. I look just a little better in comparison. :p

kira - I'd probably get sued if I actually wrote a book based on their boobery.

girlgoyle - now that you mention it, the larger writer's group started each monthly meeting by having each writer stand and say "Hi, my name is (insert name), and I'm a writer." One really arrogant prick who once had a book published changed that to "...and I am an Author." He then told everyone that he would be available to tell them how to write a correct submissions letter after the meeting, but by that time I had learned there is no such thing as an expert on art.

leesa - thanks, but I prefer all compliments to be in the form of money and / or oral sex. :p

Spider Girl said...

Whenever I hear that writing rule about only writing about what you know firsthand, I think of Shakespeare.

He never actually went to Italy. :)

Party Girl said...

Oh, writing groups and writers, or anyone, who can't take constructive criticism. Ugh.

hellbunny said...

Those women sound like they have some issues especially with men.

Tony said...

a little late to chime in now...but I will. I liked your comment regarding OW. A story with no resolution. It made me laugh.

just to say, I came to your blog from Leesa's. She commented on your good writing ability and so I had to see it for myself. She was write.

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