Hibernation mode, off!
Spring has sprung (sorta – kinda) and with it comes con season. Here’s the best part: Nerding out with new friends and old as well as meeting readers. I’m heading to Lake Jackson, Louisiana this weekend for CyphaCon – a fan-run cornucopia of Anime, Scf-fi/Fantasy and Gaming fans – to serve as the Author Guest of Honor. There’s a great mix of panels and events planned and the guest celebrity is Kandyse McClure, best known as Dualla from 4 ½ seasons of the Peabody award-winning series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. I had no idea she was from South Africa so I’m looking forward to meeting her since I spent some time down there when producing the CBS series SWEATING BULLETS. While it was albeit a mixed experience (I was down there at the tail end of Apartheid), I had the opportunity to work with and visit so many people that I have fond memories of the country (combined with a few not-fond ones).
I’ll have an opportunity to share my search for the Antarctica Stargate while at CyphaCon. In addition to photos from my time down there, I’m hoping to share footage from some of the more recent real-world science efforts and share a few pages from THE DRIFT that explore what it’s like to be down at the bottom of the world. Speaking of science, I’ll also moderate a panel on the Science of Stargate, covering a variety of disciplines from astrophysics to archaeology. I’m also running a writing workshop on the benefits of learning screenwriting. Even if you’re a novelist or short story writer, there’s eight key aspects to the art of screenwriting that every author benefits from learning. One of the advantages of writing for different mediums (television, film, novels, short stories, stage, comics) has been the opportunity to “poach” the best techniques from each and use them in ways that can deepen the impact of yet another medium. So… if you’re interested in knowing those eight key aspects, join us at CyphaCon this weekend (April 4 – 7).
And if Louisiana is too far away, I’ll share more on the same topic when I attend other cons later this year including Timegate, In Your Write Mind, Shore Leave, and ContextSF. Of course, if you don’t come to CyphaCon, you’ll be missing out on some great food.
THE ART OF THE CRITIQUE
I’ve been wearing quite a few hats as of late: collaborating on a television pilot as well as a 6-book series, rewriting my own novel, outlining a short story for a media tie-in anthology, and last, but never least, I’m teaching one of my favorite writing courses: Writing the One-Hour Drama. We’ve had a long list of excellent new writers come out of this course, winning/placing year after year in national script competitions. I can always tell which student-writers have the best shot of crafting distinct, memorable scripts because of their ability to provide valuable critiques to their fellow classmates and because of how they react to receiving critiques.
Facts are facts – no one’s first draft is great. You know the old adage, “Writing is rewriting.” Heck, it took Hemingway fifty-five passes on each of his novels to get them to a point where they were ready for publication. As writers, we need feedback to make our good stories great. When my student-writers respond with “Keep the notes coming,” I know that they embrace that philosophy and it becomes evident in their next submissions. Receiving critiques helps the writer to look at their work objectively. Once you can do that — really step back and look at your work with a more critical eye, the process of making that good story great becomes much easier.
As a critiquer, there’s an art to giving a good critique as well. We all want to cut to the chase and show off our brilliance by pointing to ‘what’s wrong’ with someone else’s work, but if you want to be HEARD, then you need to work on how you deliver that brilliance. I lean toward the Oreo approach:
- THE COOKIE: Start positive. No matter what. There’s always something good to be found in someone’s writing. Every paragraph, every page has been written by an individual. They’ll have a distinct way of presenting their ideas or story. It might need work, sure — that’s why they’re offering it up for
slaughtercritique. By starting with a demonstration that you’ve seriously considered their work and understand what their objective was, then yes — you (as the critiquer) will be taken seriously. And don’t you want to be taken seriously? Otherwise, what’s the point in reading the work and writing up the critique?
- THE (ANTI) FLUFF: Recognize that the story belongs to that particular writer. Don’t tell them how to completely change it. Instead, determine what their objectives are in that scene or chapter or act, and provide them with comments on what will help them succeed. I like to think of these as ‘missed opportunities.’ Elements in a story that — with a bit more attention — will better hone the story to achieve what the writer wanted.
- ANOTHER COOKIE: End positive. You’ve gone to all this trouble to read the writer’s work. You’ve spent time drafting a critique. If you want your comments to be remembered, it won’t hurt for you to end with a note of encouragement. Positivity can go a long way in having your efforts be effective… And useful.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the critique partner department thanks to the tireless efforts over the years of Jen Brooks (In A World Just Right, 2015) and Rhonda Mason (Empress Games, 2015). We each write very different types of speculative fiction, but I’ve trust these two exceptional writers’ instincts for ten years now and they’ve never steered me wrong. They were my backbone and shoulders to lean on while writing the Stargate novels and have been equally supportive of all my current projects — even my teleplay pilot. As their critique partner, I’ve been blessed with having a court-side seat to their works (both in progress and their debut novels coming out next year).
Mind you, having critique partners doesn’t mean you give up captaining your ship. You’re still the navigator. It’s still your journey and in the end, only you can get that story to its destination. But having carefully considered critiques (3 C’s yet again!), you’ll have a better chance of weathering all the storms that go with writing first, second, third drafts and beyond.