Michele Regenold, Writing for Kids from the Boondocks

A blog about writing for children and the quest for publication.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Having my piece workshopped

Today my piece was critiqued during out workshop. I'd submitted the first two chapters of my YA mystery novel, which is set in rural Iowa. A couple of weeks after I sent it in to be photocopied and put into the workshop booklet I realized where the novel really starts, but oh well.

Some of my classmates asked me if I was nervous about it. I wasn't. My heart speeds up a lot when I'm nervous. I can feel it stuttering away. Today I didn't detect any excess fluttering. I suppose I've had enough pieces critiqued by enough different people (including a book editor at an SCBWI conference--that was nervewracking) that it doesn't feel personal any more. Plus these workshops are so gentle that even the so-called "critical" comments feel like swats with a feather. It was really painless for me, but I know for other people in my class who've never experienced this kind of feedback before that it can be tough.

The positive feedback was first, as usual. One woman said she has a crush on Jake, the secondary character who has the hots for my main character. Several people commented on the characters being well developed. The setting seemed vivid. Hog farming is part of the plot, and several people commented on the hogs. I think it was Rita, my advisor, who said this is a big story, that it's really about community. That was a surprise to me.

The criticism touched on things like making the main character more emotionally open (my fatal writerly flaw) and being true to first person and letting the narrator notice only things that she would really notice in that moment, feeling the way she does. I thought that was an excellent point. When I revise I'll have to watch for those moments when I sort of trade places with my main character and make sure I put in her observations rather than my own.

I took about two and a half pages of notes as people talked, and several people gave me their written comments as well.

At the end it was my turn to talk and answer a couple of questions people had. One was about the family relationships and why the characters aren't more huggy. I explained about stoic farm families and that I deliberately wanted one character to be more stoic and another to be more demonstrative. I told them that I use my little sister as a model for the demonstrative stuff.

They also wondered about the source for the old lady farmer character who drives an all-terrain vehicle. I told them about this wacky old woman my sister, Stef, and I met when we were carpenter's helpers years ago. She lived by herself in an old farmhouse and tended her goats by driving around her farm on her ATV. The carpenter we worked for was installing a new cellar door that opened directly outside.

Stef and I were patching the concrete walls in the basement. It was an old stone foundation, damp rooms, very creepy. The two of us speculated on how many people she may have buried in that basement. Then I realized the old lady was standing in the doorway watching us. I'm pretty sure she overheard us because she had this funny smile on her face.


At 2:37 PM, Blogger Carol Collett said...

I love your story about the old farm woman riding around her farm on the ATV! I have a story starting already about her! And she's not even mine....
So, after the workshop, you still feel like the crit was okay? I've heard horror stories about some programs that encourage ripping each other to shreds.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Michele Regenold said...

Yeah, the critique was excellent, very positive. I don't think there's much ripping going on here.

Today Norma Fox Mazer, one of the workshop leaders, said she wanted to make sure I understood that she really liked the setting, that it was unique, that she really liked the hogs. That was very nice of her because I had the feeling that she didn't like something about the piece, though she certainly never said that.

At the end of the workshop a couple of the more advanced students said what a great experience this was, how they appreciated the way both Norma and Rita took "teachable" moments, and how they focused on the piece's strengths while also pointing out its weaknesses.


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