Critique Group Verdict on the Rough Draft

I met with the critique group this past Monday and they did not fail in being their usual incisive, helpful, encouraging selves. As I had mentioned here earlier, I was concerned about the length. The word count makes for a rawboned novel and I wondered what could be done to beef it up.

They were not short of ideas.

Fundamentally, the reason the book was thin, was because I withheld too much from the reader. Essentially, in my attempt to avoid slowing the pace, I got into the opposite predicament. The novel read too fast, leaving the reader confused and perhaps unsatisfied.

They assured me that slowing down and taking the time to bring some important background information forward, would enhance the reading, not diminish it.

Particularly the supernatural elements. Though I have real settings (present-day Paris and Philadelphia), one in the group pointed out that I was still building my own world. Thus it was important to write more on its rules than I already have. They know this was a vampire novel that included both familiar tropes of the genre as well as new ones. Those need more detail.

Far from discouraged, I look forward to revising this draft. I hope to complete it by Oct 1.

Vegan Vampire Indigestion

I don’t know about you but I do not care for stories where vampires can get by on animal blood — sometimes termed vegetarian vampires. I believe it’s a conceit that undermines the nature of the vampire. Vampires are immortal, can heal from just about anything, have beguiling powers — there should be a price for all that. In my novel, vampires must feed on human blood, though they need not kill, in fact they seldom kill, their donors.

Now, it’s not to say stories with veggies don’t work, it’s just often the stories I have read (or watched) they comes across as a way to garner sympathy for the vampire protagonist. But doing so skirts something that intrigues me. If you have a sympathetic vampire character, how does he or she go about obtaining a donor? What are those moments like? Especially the first bite. It’s an intimate, sometimes violent, act – what is that like? He or she is drawing the victim’s essence into him/herself — how does that affect the character?

I don’t see keeping a half-dozen white mice in the house like a six-pack of blood as anywhere near interesting.

Harold and Maude

I had gone to Barnes & Noble to purchase Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush, the Criterion Collection edition. The sales clerk pleasantly upsold me on the Criterion Collection edition of Harold and Maude. I had seen this movie on basic cable and enjoyed it — it’s the right amount of absurdity for me and, bonus, stars Ruth Gordon. I like her voice. Not beautiful in a musical way, but nonetheless she speaks with this cadence, this resonance that just captivates. Maybe it’s just me. (ahem)

The basic story centers on Harold (Bud Cort), a young man living with his wealthy mother. When not being set up on dates by her, Harold fakes many theatrical suicides and attends strangers’ funerals. It is at one such funeral that he meets Maude (Gordon) — a woman 60 years his senior. They fall in love and steal cars while Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) music plays.

The Criterion Collection edition offers a lot material about the film. There are commentaries, interviews and a substantial booklet with more. I hadn’t known (or perhaps hadn’t remembered) that director Hal Ashby also directed another great movie, Being There, starring Peter Sellers.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Write with Meaning

This year I had gotten into listening to podcasts, though I don’t listen on a consistent basis. One of the shows I like is called Typecast, A Podcast About Writing, presented by Kevin Pang.

The particular podcast (episode 9) I’m mentioning here features Steve Padilla, a LA Times editor and writing coach. Editors of course are very important allies in your writing (though often I’m sure writers feel the relationship is more adversarial) and Mr. Padilla discusses his best tips for sharpening your writing.

One theme that he discusses throughout is the importance of meaning. In fact, Mr. Padilla argues that meaning is the most important element of writing.

“You should be obsessing about what you’re going to say, not how you’re going to say it.”

At one point in the podcast, Mr. Padilla reinforces a lesson that I have kept with me since college. I kick myself for not keeping the story the professor had us examine, so I can’t attribute it and I must paraphrase. It was a short story that opened with the female protagonist taking a bath and experiencing a heart attack. “It was my heart, it stopped.” Something like that. The professor called attention to how the sentence ended with the word “stopped.” Sentences can be structured in many ways, so choose the one that gives the most impact to your readers.

Mr. Padilla argues that simple rewording can transform a sentence from acceptable to extraordinary. “Put the best stuff at the end.”

This ties in with his point about meaning. Meaning will help shape your sentences so that you can determine what to emphasize. And a strong end will propel you into the next sentence. If you are stuck on a sentence, it’s because the previous sentence wasn’t strong enough.

What do you think? What writing podcasts do you recommend?