We took a story to our Cleveland writer’s workshop (Cajun Sushi Hamsters) yesterday that we had been working on for a year on and off. We thought it was close to finished, but were quickly disabused of that notion. Surprisingly it wasn’t so much the final scene, the one we had been working so hard to “fix”, that caused problems, but the lack of setup FOR the final scene. As I listened to one person after another shoot down various aspects of character, action, and emotional payoff, I began to see possible scene changes that would address most of these issues, and hear snippets of dialogue to head off some of the complaints. It was then that I realized I’d come a long ways in this business of making up stuff. There was no sense of defensiveness or shame or even disappointment, only a desire to understand what we’d done poorly (and well in a few instances). Not every criticism is worth following, but as one of our workshoppers likes to advise: before you dismiss a criticism, force yourself to come up with three reasons why it is wrong. More often than not, you’ll see there is some basis to it and the story can be strengthened by dealing with the problem.
The aha moment here is not that we missed the boat on this particular story, but that it’s damnably difficult to be objective about one’s own fiction. We’re published writers with solid writing skills and lots of experience, yet we missed very basic gaffes in this story. Never underestimate the value of another set of eyes, particularly if that set of eyes is attached to someone who cares enough to tell you true.