Last week, I posted a preview of October’s newsletter exclusive fiction and announced the story had been sent off to my writing group for critique (wow that is a long link).
Well the results are in, and as with every first draft, Boutilier House needs some help. This part of the process for me always seems to be the most difficult, and usually I spend large swaths of time ignoring whatever feedback I receive (and the entire piece for that matter) to either work on new ideas that have crept into my head, or catch up on reading or learning craft.
This is a dangerous time for stories . . .
It’s so easy to let them linger in this purgatory indefinitely. But my October 31st deadline is approaching quickly so there’s no time for dawdling. In an effort to try and inspire myself to actually finish the piece, and to show my work, I thought it might be fun to post some of the feedback I received, and maybe talk a little bit about my approach to fixing some of the problems.
Wish me luck!
- Had a ‘The Shining’ feel to it.
- A little tough getting out of the gate. info dump on Page 2.
- Choppy language in the beginning. Smooth out the language in the beginning.
- Needed more grounding in the beginning.
- Was confusing who all the characters were?
- What’s the house’s motivation? Why serve Adam and then trap him. Why not trap him from the beginning?
- Was the house collecting souls to power it?
- Did Adam’s wife and kid die? (one reviewer thought yes; another thought no)
- A little more backstory on the scientist maybe.
- Ending was confusing. Vague endings are allowable but it needs to be on purpose.
- Middle was good at building tension.
- Shorten maybe?
- Reviewers knew what was going on by page 6 or so.
The Stuff I’m proud of and hopefully won’t change:
(Because it’s important to celebrate your wins as well as improve upon your losses)
The Shining feel to it – Woah! This is awesome feedback. I can’t say I’ve really tried to emulate Stephen King in any way when trying to write the piece, but I can see that perhaps my plot has a similar trajectory. My critique partners also mentioned that it was different too, so I don’t think I have to worry about being a knock-off. I think I can keep this element the same.
Middle was good at building tension – This is also great as (for me) the middle of the story is always the most difficult. It’s a) usually the longest section, and b) perhaps the most critical for keeping a reader’s attention. In the beginning, the reader is intrigued by the premise, and at the end they’re (hopefully) dying to see how it all ends up. But what do they have to hold on to in the middle? It’s a hard spot, and in my opinion, where most books suffer. It seams to have worked out this time, so I don’t want to change anything there.
(This is dually good because I haven’t read a lot of horror, or scary stories/books, and have never tried to study them much — which I think I’d like to do someday now I’ve tried this piece — so I was going completely on instinct)
Stuff I need to improve:
Choppy/confusing who characters were/info dumpy beginning – Yikes. Ya hate to hear this kind of feedback, but it’s better to hear it than to never hear it and have all these problems in your final draft. What’s interesting here, is that this reaction may have stemmed from the fact that I cut an entire scene from the beginning in which Mr. Cunningham and Adam have dinner, and discuss his happiness along with Helen’s and Lexy’s, and what Adam wants for the future. Then Adam hops in a carriage to go to the house and much of the eeriness I tried to show in Mathieu’s character actually happens on the carriage ride, not in the Fourier of the house.
It was like 2,000 words and put the piece way over my word budget (I always aim for 6,000ish words for short stories because that’s what the critiquing group will be able to read). I decided to cut it and allude to the scene when I felt I needed to. Apparently I did not allude to it enough?
Hopefully I can fix this in the final draft.
As for the info dump? I totally see it, and am a little sad because it was something I knew going in might be a problem but hoped I got away with it (if there is one thing I’ve learned so far from writing it is that if you’re nervous about something, the critique group WILL mention it. Spend the time to get it to your liking before submitting).
There are no less than four paragraphs devoted to the layout of the house on page two. There is probably only six paragraphs on that entire page. In hindsight, it seems especially egregious because, for the most part, these rooms are not the rooms which most of the action takes place in (with the exception perhaps of one scene in the dining room).
And finally, the choppiness . . . It’s a little hard to know. Usually I feel like I have a pretty good ear for this sort of thing, but I’ll admit that since I only finished my draft last Friday morning, it’s possible that I don’t have enough distance from the piece for it to stand out to me. However, I can already glean a little from the opening:
“The first thing about Boutilier House which set Adam on edge were the locks. There were none.
For a house — no a palace — such as this, Adam had suspected that every porcelain dish in the China cabinets, or any gilded vase along the entry table might somehow prove under lock and key. Perhaps even the guest book was bolted upon its wood and silver pedestal.
But it was simply not the case.
Adam might have nicked the polished gold nightjars roosting on the table runner as easy as removing candy from its wrapper. In his youth, perhaps he might have, just because he could.
But Mr. Cunningham had not sent him here for larks.https://alligatorsandaneurysms.wordpress.com/2021/10/15/october-newsletter-fiction-preview-draft-sent-our-for-critique/
There’s a kind of formula here that keeps repeating itself. Long sentence or paragraph followed by a short sentence which is its own paragraph or maybe just a single word. Repeat.
(see what I did there? I’m still doing it! haha)
Also, I use an em dash to interrupt a thought — which is a stylistic thing that I like and knowingly put in my work — then a second em dash to continue the original thought. I’ll admit that counting them in the opening section, there’s at least six (though not all paired like that). I don’t think there are any rules on how many em dashes one should use in a piece or how often, but six is probably excessive. Perhaps we can get rid of some of them for the final product.
Ending was too vague / confusing, more backstory, what were Adam’s and the House’s Motivations – Hearing your character’s (and villain’s) motivations are unclear is always a hard pill to swallow. In terms of the House itself, I think the critique has great insight and actually pointed out a spot I was blind to while writing. I didn’t really think through why the house was doing the things it was doing. Why serve them in the way that it does only to trap them later on? I’ll have to think on this and come up with something good.
I don’t want to go to far into this because SPOILERS and I want there to be some reason for y’all to read the story, but already the mind is working . . . this is the fun part 🙂
Well, there’s definitely work to do. I think the things I talked about above should give me a good start at least. The rest we’ll have to see about, but hopefully I’ll be able to think through it in the same manner.
Of course the primary objective of this post was for me to think through some of what I needed to fix in the story, but I must confess there was a second objective as well. Since this piece will be published through my newsletter, I was hoping that getting a look behind the scenes might entice you to sign up for said newsletter. Do so before October 31st (when it goes out this quarter), and you’ll get the completed version of this story in your inbox. As some added incentive, I’ll also email you the first story I ever wrote when you sign up.
Thank you in advance for any that do, and no worries for those that don’t. There will be plenty more opportunities I’m sure.
In the mean time, what did y’all think of this post? Was it interesting? Would you want to see more of this type of thing in the future? Any of solutions you can think of to the problems I’ve listed above? Please let me know in the comments.
Thanks and see you next time!