Monday, September 20, 2010

The WIP-Whisperer

I may have mentioned that I belong to the tiniest RWA chapter.  I believe we have 17 members, although fewer than 10 attend anything, and never all 10 at once.  I've been to a chapter meeting with two board members and two general members.  Let's just say it's cozy.

We had another writing retreat on Saturday.  The chapter rents out a local B&B for the day: coffee/tea & a muffin in the morning, then writing followed by lunch & the monthly meeting, then more writing.  I'd done well at the April retreat; I wrote 5,000 words over the course of the day.  I was definitely looking forward to September's retreat.

One of the members I hadn't met yet is Tim.  Yes, a man.  He's published in science fiction and is working now in a couple of those blended genres that are currently popular: historical romance with fantasy elements in one case, and romantic suspense with paranormal elements in the other.

Tim responded to the group announcement about Saturday's retreat with a question: what actually happened at the retreat?  He was imagining that it would be more like a workshop, or at least a chance for members to share their concerns about their works-in-progress.  I guess Tim, like me, has enough time and quiet at home so there's no need to drive an hour plus for peace & quiet to write.

I offered to participate in a more collaborative session with Tim, so he said he would attend.  Which worked out great because we were the only two people who didn't want to retire, alone, to one of the bedrooms to write.  We got the parlor to ourselves and talked about our projects.

We started with Tim's romantic suspense.  I tried to share a female reader's perspective about the heroine; I didn't actually say to him, "She can't be too stupid to live or we'll be rooting for the bad guy to kill her," but I think he got my point that the heroine had to fix her own problems, thank you very much.  Having the hero do it was just not going to work.

I hope he found it helpful.  I could tell he was resistant.  He exudes self-confidence about his writing, so he was a bit resistant to my perspective.  Well, sure -- we all think our stuff is great.  Until someone shows that it isn't.

Which is where my WIP comes in.  Tim invited me to read the first page, then a bit more, then the whole first chapter.  And he's an awesome critique partner.  Seriously awesome.  With no insult intended to any one else who's read my WIP -- and either liked it or didn't -- Tim really helped improve it.  He's the WIP-whisperer.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer

I was most stunned by how blind I'd been to the little bumps and cracks he pointed out, but once he pointed them out I couldn't miss them.  That was almost spooky, like seeing the white-on-white trim on your sneakers under a black light.  What looks pretty uniform normally is suddenly glaringly obvious.  Only the first three pages changed a lot, but those three pages are either the most important or second most important in the book.  (I would vote for the ending being the most important, but I'll concede it's a close thing.)

And my opening is a challenge:  I have to convey my heroine, the fact that she looks, sounds & acts like her identical twin sister, how they are normally very different, and why she is doing this.  And all of it in show-not-tell.

It's still not perfect.  I doubt I'll ever get it perfect.  I'm still polishing things, and haven't even started to work with my writing coach yet, so nothing is final.  Those three pages could change subtly or dramatically . . . or disappear entirely!  For now, though, I can see they're much better.

I've updated the excerpt at -- click here to read it -- although it may seem unchanged to the casual reader.  If you want to know what it used to be, leave a comment and I'll post the old version for a compare and contrast.  And if you're very geeky, leave me a comment at and I will send you the first three pages as a redlined document so you can see precisely what was inserted and what was deleted.

Hmmm . . . Tim doesn't live too far from me.  Maybe we can meet up more often than twice a year.  I could use a WIP-whisperer in my back pocket.

1 comment:

  1. I've learned from years of workshopping that how well you work with someone for critiquing purposes is not necessarily related to whether you adore their stories, and vice versa. People tend to have strengths and weaknesses in critiquing, just as they do in writing.

    In a long-running workshop, like mine, sometimes you develop expectations about what sort of comments you will receive...but sometimes they'll surprise you, too.

    It sounds like you helped each other a lot!


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