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View Full Version : Jane Austen Takes a Writing Workshop



Cyia
02-10-2016, 03:22 AM
... and gets some "constructive criticism" on how to improve Pride and Prejudice from "that guy." (who exists in every workshop, writing class, or crit group.)

http://www.buzzfeed.com/shannonreed/jane-austen-receives-feedback-from-tim-a-guy-in-her-mfa-work#.nepk1mLkm

Did you know that P&P had too many women with no motivation and a plethora of hair ribbons?

The whole thing is at the link, but here's the opening.


Dear Jane,


I donít usually read chick lit, but I didnít hate reading this draft of your novel, which youíre calling Pride and Prejudice. I really liked the part where Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle went on a road trip, which reminded me of Chaucerís Canterbury Tales (also about a road trip ó check it out!). Anyway, good job. I do have a couple of notes to share, in the spirit of constructive criticism.

mirandashell
02-10-2016, 03:28 AM
:ROFL:

Oh yeah, sounds familiar!

CassandraW
02-10-2016, 03:54 AM
that was fabulous.

and yes, I've seen way too much of that kind of crit...

Jamesaritchie
02-10-2016, 06:48 AM
..

Did you know that P&P had too many women with no motivation and a plethora of hair ribbons?

The whole thing is at the link, but here's the opening.

Were it written today, I suspect many women would have the same criticisms. I hear more women criticize romance fiction than I hear men criticize it, maybe because few men read it.

CassandraW
02-10-2016, 07:15 AM
I did not get the impression this article was making a dig at men (as opposed to women) in writing groups, nor at views on the romance genre in particular.

My impression was that it was playfully jabbing at that irritating person (male or female) you'll find in every writing workshop who picks apart something (whether it be a romance, a mystery or literary fiction) that might be perfectly splendid, and suggests completely rewriting it in his own style, thus turning it into a completely different work than the author intends.

Helix
02-10-2016, 07:18 AM
Were it written today, I suspect many women would have the same criticisms. I hear more women criticize romance fiction than I hear men criticize it, maybe because few men read it.


Yes, the gender of the non-existent critic is entirely the point of this piece.

Roxxsmom
02-10-2016, 07:20 AM
I laughed when I got to the "I noticed there aren't many men in it, only about as many as there are women." That may have been a dig at the way some men seem to think any story that isn't dominated by men is under-representing them. But yeah, women can do this kind of thing in crit groups too. Write it the way I would. I had someone who did that once, and he was a guy. Wanted me to add a whole new plot arc so there'd be a reason to include more military characters in the foreground and battle scenes.

Latina Bunny
02-10-2016, 07:21 AM
Were it written today, I suspect many women would have the same criticisms. I hear more women criticize romance fiction than I hear men criticize it, maybe because few men read it.

Um, excuse me? :Huh:

There are plenty of people of both genders who either criticize or even scorn romance fiction...

Whatever are you talking about?

CassandraW
02-10-2016, 07:25 AM
I laughed when I got to the "I noticed there aren't many men in it, only about as many as there are women."

Yeah, that was gold.

I also enjoyed his suggestion to get rid of a couple of sisters, make Wickham's war trauma into a central element, and use the ribbons as symbols. I rather want to try writing a novel (ok, perhaps a novella) on these lines.

Cyia
02-10-2016, 07:31 AM
Yeah, that was gold.

I also enjoyed his suggestion to get rid of a couple of sisters, make Wickham's war trauma into a central element, and use the ribbons as symbols. I rather want to try writing a novel (ok, perhaps a novella) on these lines.

At least he didn't suggest using the ribbons to turn it into 50 Shades of Wickham, starring him and Kitty, er Jim, er whatever.

Roxxsmom
02-10-2016, 07:54 AM
Yeah, that was gold.

I also enjoyed his suggestion to get rid of a couple of sisters, make Wickham's war trauma into a central element, and use the ribbons as symbols. I rather want to try writing a novel (ok, perhaps a novella) on these lines.

That would be funny. Sort of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, maybe, or something like a fairy tale retelling from the pov of a different protagonist.

But the have a war and focus on it thing was pretty much what a critting partner suggested for a manuscript I'd written that wasn't focused on the military at all (in fact, a big part of the plot was preventing a war). Those kinds of comments can be useful, though, because they sometimes lead you to examine whether or not something in the story hinted or suggested that it would be going in a direction it wouldn't.

But in this case, the guy just thought fantasy novel=military fantasy, when I was shooting more for a S&S crossed with fantasy of manners feel. With a genre as big as fantasy, critting partners can their own reading preferences with how the entire genre is supposed to be. I'm guessing this can happen in all-female crit groups with genres like romance too, with (say) someone assuming all romance=bodice rippers and suggesting another person put some sex scenes in their "sweet" novel.

Or maybe someone who hates romance stories would end up in a group where someone has a romance manuscript and he/she suggests to rewrite it so the ending isn't a HEA, or so the love story isn't even there. Or suggests that a fantasy writer omit the fantasy elements and makes it another genre.

CassandraW
02-10-2016, 07:58 AM
I had a beta for a middle-grade novel make edits to my first chapter with the idea of making it sound more like literary fiction (his preferred genre). That was when I learned the importance of having beta readers who enjoy and read your manuscript's genre.

Lillith1991
02-10-2016, 08:09 AM
I had a beta for a middle-grade novel make edits to my first chapter with the idea of making it sound more like literary fiction (his preferred genre). That was when I learned the importance of having beta readers who enjoy and read your manuscript's genre.

I think concept may be even more important than genre. If you find someone who reads the same subgenre as your story but avoids the concept your story is based off of, well, then they're going to try to take your story in a different direction than you want. Someone who loves SF may be want your Literary SF story have the external plot be the main thrust of the story rather than the internal thrust so common in Literary fiction of every type.

Roxxsmom
02-10-2016, 08:13 AM
One nice touch with this little article was the expression on Jane Austin's face. It's exactly the look writers get in workshops when someone is ripping their manuscript a new one--listening politely while seething inside.

CassandraW
02-10-2016, 08:13 AM
I think concept may be even more important than genre. If you find someone who reads the same subgenre as your story but avoids the concept your story is based off of, well, then they're going to try to take your story in a different direction than you want. Someone who loves SF may be want your Literary SF story have the external plot be the main thrust of the story rather than the internal thrust so common in Literary fiction of every type.

derail/ I think both are important, but if we're talking middle-grade, voice is really essential. A middle-grade time-traveling fantasy is not going to sound the same as an adult time-traveling fantasy. If I ever finish my edits on my middle grade novel, I will specifically look for betas who are fans of middle-grade -- or at least read enough so they have a notion of what a middle-grade voice should sound like. /end derail

CassandraW
02-10-2016, 08:15 AM
One nice touch with this little article was the expression on Jane Austin's face. It's exactly the look writers get in workshops when someone is ripping their manuscript a new one--listening politely while seething inside.

Yes, I've worn that look...

kuwisdelu
02-10-2016, 08:28 AM
I remember writing a meditative post-apocalyptic "3rd-act-of-Until the End of the World"-type piece that everyone wanted to turn into Mad Max just because it was post-apocalyptic.

VeryBigBeard
02-10-2016, 08:33 AM
I think I've been that guy? Maybe?

I mean, I try to crit as helpfully as I can. I tend towards the technical analysis because I've been taught close reading by some very smart people. I will dig into stories and pull apart what I see. When I do that, I kind of have to trust that the writer is thinking critically about my crits because of course I'm biased. I know that I bias to voice-y writing and I bias a little more literary than some--I'll push for thematic development in a piece and maybe that's not what it needs. I don't necessarily know what the writer is targeting with the work, and often I'm critting at a point of development where the writer doesn't know either. This is especially true in college writing classes. So I try to give some ideas, some encouragement, some technical advice, and so on. I get passionate about stories and their crafting, so sometimes I overstate my case. Some of it probably isn't appropriate but the intent is that it's useful.

It's a very, very fine balance. I've definitely had nights where I rant like this article, but I tend to think those aren't my strongest nights as a writer. They're just a coping mechanism for that initial frustration. I'm also sure I've caused some people to rant like this, but I think that's still for the best, though I suppose if they want to ignore my entire effort that's their prerogative, too.

When these kinds are crits given to me I usually end up throwing most of them away. I do try to think about them, and often there are some underlying things that weren't working. I don't write as clearly on first or second draft as I'd like--I go for something and just catch the edge of it. So people get confused, and sometimes they suggest characters or whole new plot lines that drive me nuts with how inappropriate they'd be, but what I can take from that is that something didn't click, so I have to rethink my execution.

The crits that reveal racial or misogynistic bias (and I've had both) are especially frustrating but there's still no accounting for readers. Some readers are bigots. I don't write to stoke those beliefs, but some of them are going to read the story and it can still be interesting to see how those responses come out.

Anyway, I read this article the other day and my first thought was that I know the feeling and can empathize and my second thought was "ugh" because writers ranting about critters who donated their time is never really cool.

Roxxsmom
02-10-2016, 08:57 AM
Yes, I've worn that look...

I think we all have. Who in the heck [I]is this person? Doesn't he know this is a/an novel? Must not speak or ask questions until every critique is done. He only has one more minute left to talk. Must not stab him in the throat with my pen before he's done.

Laer Carroll
02-11-2016, 06:15 AM
Writers' workshops are as individual as the people in them. Some are useful, some not. And some are useful for other participants but not useful for you. In that last case, drop out and find one which does help you.

In one of the better workshops usually a second critic will say something like: "Thanks MilFicFan. But Jane is writing a different story than the one you suggest she write. She's writing a romance, which is also a satire on upper-class values. More men and more military content would make it a different story. Now, Jane, I see several places where you might ...."

Critics in a workshop sometimes take a while to learn how to criticize. Recognizing the general kind of story the writer is trying to write, and criticizing WITHIN that framework, is one of the learning experiences.

Sometime MilFicFan will not learn that lesson, and will continue his annoying and off-topic criticisms. But I've also seen the opposite happen: learn that lesson and become a valuable critic.

Roxxsmom
02-11-2016, 07:24 AM
The workshops I've attended have had good group leaders who established some ground rules going in and met with each participant individually after the process was over. This helped a lot with putting different comments in perspective.

And of course, even off topic critiques can be a learning experience, but I think there is a kind that can be very damaging to a newer writer, or one who lacks self confidence. Aside from the obvious nuts and bolts of basic grammar and punctuation (and even those can be varied because of stylistic and voice considerations), quality of writing and story can be very subjective. There are some popular books I probably would have picked apart myself, yet I'd have been wrong.

Sunflowerrei
02-13-2016, 09:20 AM
Oh, boy--I've definitely been in that workshop in college. "But, like, is there a reason why she's Asian? Is there a reason why she's still hung up on a stillborn baby so many months later?"

But actually, last year I read a novel called Longbourn by Jo Baker, which is Jane Austen-esque (it's about the servants of the Bennet family) with some military history of the time (one of the characters is in the Peninsular Wars).

Roxxsmom
02-13-2016, 02:06 PM
Is there a reason she's Asian? :Headbang:

Answer: Well, her parents were Asian, and they loved each other very, very much, so...

Brian G Turner
02-13-2016, 02:29 PM
I learned the importance of having beta readers who enjoy and read your manuscript's genre.

Absolutely true - but I still like to get feedback from people who wouldn't ordinarily read my genre precisely to see if anything really trips them up, that genre readers might take for granted.

However, I find feedback tends to fall into either Technical or Creative - the former being issues you really need to attend to, such as structure or character development; and the latter being "I would have written it differently" which can be put to one side, but still looked at for inspiration to any existing problems.

2c.

Sunflowerrei
02-17-2016, 04:44 AM
Is there a reason she's Asian? :Headbang:

Answer: Well, her parents were Asian, and they loved each other very, very much, so...

Ha. Yeah. I went to a SUPER white college.

Also, if I never get told that something I wrote is "saccharine," I'll be thrilled. It was a buzzword among certain participants of some of the workshops I was in.

Lillith1991
02-17-2016, 12:57 PM
Absolutely true - but I still like to get feedback from people who wouldn't ordinarily read my genre precisely to see if anything really trips them up, that genre readers might take for granted.

However, I find feedback tends to fall into either Technical or Creative - the former being issues you really need to attend to, such as structure or character development; and the latter being "I would have written it differently" which can be put to one side, but still looked at for inspiration to any existing problems.

2c.

There's only so far you can take this, however. Sometimes its really simple concepts within the genre doing the tripping and there's not much that can be done about that unless you're specifically looking for your story to be one that will act as a gateway for such readers into the genre.

noirdood
02-25-2016, 05:45 AM
I put the opening sentences of one of Jane's novels through the Hemingway app (grammar, etc.) and it seemed to think it needed a lot of work. To be fair I put Laurence Oliver's Oscar winner speech through the App too, and it said Oliver's writing was a mess.

AnneMarble
03-15-2016, 12:16 AM
But the have a war and focus on it thing was pretty much what a critting partner suggested for a manuscript I'd written that wasn't focused on the military at all (in fact, a big part of the plot was preventing a war). Those kinds of comments can be useful, though, because they sometimes lead you to examine whether or not something in the story hinted or suggested that it would be going in a direction it wouldn't.
In an on-line crit group, I submitted a short story about an aging former warrior on his death bed. Where he once had to worry about being attacked by enemies in the nearby forest, now he had a figurehead position and had to worry about being poisoned and plotted against. One critter told me I should just go back and write a novel about his experiences in the war. But... that sort of defeats the purpose of writing about an aging former warrior on his death bed? (On the other hand, he had some good points in his critique. Other than changing the entire plot. :) And I never did figure out where I was going with that dying warrior story.)


Or maybe someone who hates romance stories would end up in a group where someone has a romance manuscript and he/she suggests to rewrite it so the ending isn't a HEA, or so the love story isn't even there. Or suggests that a fantasy writer omit the fantasy elements and makes it another genre.
This hasn't happened to me in a critique group, but in a brainstorming session, someone did suggest that I "be daring" or "be different" (or whatever) and give my story a sad ending. It wasn't even a romance, more like a fantasy story with romantic elements. And he or she thought it would be helped by killing off the main character. Uhm, no.