When we bring a piece to writer’s group to be critiqued, we can only bring 5 double spaced pages. That’s roughly 2 to 3 book pages.
When I first started bringing pieces, it was difficult to find scenes that broke neatly at the five page mark. If you cut a scene off before a natural break, then people will spend time commenting on how the scene is unresolved and doesn’t feel finished rather than focusing on what’s in the piece itself. You get a similar problem if you don’t start the seen at the natural beginning. Critiques can get lost up in how people and place are introduced rather than discussing the meat of the scene.
If I’m a reader, I’ll get caught up in the glaring problems and think less about smaller problems with the story or worse, I won’t care about any of it, so it makes sense for critiques to focus on those glaring bits. And this made (makes) me wish that we could bring longer pieces. Sure, you can push the page count to 6 or 7, or fudge the double space by using 1.5. Everyone knows when you’re doing it. And everyone is doing it themselves. That’s part of the problem with a large group meeting so infrequently…everyone wants their piece read and they want to make the most of their time. Like I said, I can’t blame them because, well, I’ve done it too.
As group has gone on, 5 page scenes have been easier and easier to find. After I’ve completed a scene I want I want to bring in, I’ll do a page count from natural open to natural close and, miraculously, it’s almost always 5 pages. For a while, I worried that I had started writing for the group rather than for the story. I envisioned my future book being a 100 page, 50 chapter novella. Perhaps it could be marketed to the commuter: 5 harrowing cliffhanger endings all before work!
And it’s not just writer’s group that’s giving my prose ADD. A while ago, I mentioned challenging myself to write a TV script. Well, that helped, too. As any TV viewer knows, the commercials break in right after some dun-dun-duuuh moment: discovery of a body, a clue, a compromising situation. It may be obvious, but scripts are written that way on purpose. The commercials aren’t fit in haphazardly. They are written for, used even. Essentially, there are 5 acts, including the opening. That means 4 mini-climaxes and one big reveal for an hour drama (roughly 45 minutes of script time).
Actually outlining and strategically planning the ah-ha moments was difficult but, I thought, helped my writing. Instead of meandering scenes that ended in what I indulgently believed to be feelings, I was forced to give the reader/viewer actual substance, i.e. plot movement. When I went back to prose, I believed my scenes were tighter and had more guts.
So, learning that from a TV script is good, but learning that from writer’s group was bad…at least that how it seems I’m thinking of it.
Am I really writing tighter scenes that will be better for the book or will they just be better for the short time I’m allotted in group?
And while I’m at it, what does all this mean for the future of literature?
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