Epiphanies at 63 Miles per Hour

The Great Courses are now on Audible. Actually, I think they've been there for a while, but it took me some time to recognize it as I am a sporadic audiobook listener. The problem isn't with the medium - the quality is great. It's me - my mind drifts when an interesting concept comes up. Also, driving time, especially with music leads to pretty vivid daydreaming, a major source of story ideas.

I gave my brain a vacation from creating last Friday and listened to Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques. The discussion turned to the differences between flat and round characters, as first proposed by E. M. Forster. You're right, it's nerdy inside-writing stuff. Except, I thought it was interesting, with a dozen different lessons embedded into the concept. I turned off the audio so I could think while I drove and spent the next fifteen miles, rolling over implications, though not other motorists, pedestrians, or squirrels. With my brain, I get plenty of practice at driving, quite successfully, while distracted.

So, there I was, bubbling over with ideas, alone on the road. When my daughter or her future husband worked with me, I had some one to lob ideas at, to get reactions, objections, a sounding board to riff off. (My daughter hated the fact I would constantly stop the book to talk it over. Her brain works . . . differently.)

Friday I had no one, just the inside of my own head. Most of the time, that's plenty good enough. At the top of the Lewiston grade, with home nearly in sight, I came to what, for me, is a startling conclusion.

I needed a group to work with, study with. A writer's group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say, people are social creatures, everybody needs their own gang.

Not me, not exactly. My gang is family and a couple of close friends, but most of my activities are solitary. I work alone, run alone, write alone, read/learn alone, so when I decide I need to join a group, it is atypical behavior.

Having reached the conclusion that I needed like-minded people around, I went looking for writing groups. The internet possesses a metric buttload (I'm using European measurements today) of information on writing groups. Most of them are established, some online, many in person. I checked for the Lewiston area. Right town, wrong state though, as they met in New York. A bit far, plus one other big problem.

They critique each other.

As a matter of fact, every group I found critiqued. Some set up rules on doing it nicely, some seem to be a bit more Genghis Kahn in their attitudes. They also had rules on what to do with people who didn't get any writing done - boot them from the group, set them up on a 12-step writing programs, verbally flail them at the next meeting.

Oh, and they focus on craft, too. Many online groups focus the how-to bits of writing. The majority preach the same hoary aphorisms. Occasionally, you'll find a James Scott Bell or Orson Scott Card (must be something about that middle name) who explain in more depth, but that doesn't seem to trickle down to the local level. I see an awful lot to thou shalt not's offered as precepts rather than guidelines. 

What I didn't see was a group that looked at the why, that was devoted to studying writing by looking at the underpinnings of art, not from the viewpoint of pure craft but a more philosophical level before applying it to the actual work. Techniques are very nice, but understanding why the techniques work as they do strikes me as much more interesting. Going back to Forster, the concept of flat and round for characters is not fully developed as (per the professor) Forster never had a working definition of a round character. Likewise, the adages "show, don't tell" or "never use an adverb" which are used to beat new writers into compliance with their elder's or editor's diktats begs investigation at a deep level. Fiction writing is, after all, also called storyTELLING and, last I looked, adverbs were still parts of speech in the English language, suggesting some degree of utility.

The second problem with a critique group is that I don't play nicely with others. If you have a critique, it better be based on something more than "I would have done it like . . ." In my experience, that's the way most critiques play out, even if they choose their words differently. Worse are the fools who believe that there are infallible rules to writing, the precepts I mentioned above. With one exception, there are no absolute rules though you better be darned sure of your skill if you violate normal tenets of writing craft, and know exactly what effect you seek in doing so.

So, not seeing the types of groups I wanted to hang out with, I'm going to have to start my own. Since it will be different from the others, I'll have to spend some brain power on figuring out exactly how it should run, how often it should meet, how many people should belong, etc.

That parts easy. Finding the like-minded people? That might be a little tougher. 

Best get started, hey.

PS. The one rule that really is inviolate? Don't bore the reader. Ever.