LIBERTY STREET: A NOVEL OF LATE CIVIL WAR SAVANNAH

This is a guest post by author Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin, a retired physician, has written 21 books, including medical textbooks, non-fiction for the general public, contemporary and historical fiction, a children's picture book and a middle-grade fiction. He lives with his wife in The Villages, Florida, and is a member of several critique groups.

“Get rid of the prologue. It’s nothing but back story and belongs inside the novel.”

“Your kid talks like an adult. Sounds like you speaking, not the kid.”

“You changed point of view in the same scene. That’s a no-no.”

“Jimmy sounds too meek for a war hero.”

“I don’t believe Sherman would take a mistress.”

All are comments about my work, from writers’ critique groups. Such groups are ubiquitous around the country, and unless you live in a rural area there is likely one near you. If not already a member I recommend joining, at least on a trial basis. There you will have opportunity to read your work and receive feedback. In some groups, work is emailed ahead of time so it can be critiqued with written comments. Whether or not fellow writers are published themselves, they are certainly part of your target audience: readers.

When I retired to The Villages, Florida, I was pleased to find several writers’ critique clubs. There are so many retired writers here that the groups tend to specialize, and cover the gamut from memoirs and fiction to poetry and short stories. I now alternate between a writers’ club for adult fiction and another for children’s books. In a typical week’s session for either club we will critique six or seven submissions, each no more than 1500 words.

About a third to half of the suggestions I receive in these groups result in changes that improve my work. There are other advantages as well. I learn from hearing critiques of other authors, particularly if I also write in their genre. From time to time experts are invited to give a short talk useful to writers, e.g., how a crime investigation works, or the utility of on-line grammar checkers. And there is a social aspect, with lunches at a local restaurant after each meeting.

As for the tone of the critiques, everyone is friendly but we don’t hold back. No one says “your piece stinks.” It’s more like “Who are you writing this for? I don’t see an audience for this” or “I can’t figure out who is speaking in your dialogue,” or “you have way too many prepositions in your story.” Earnest writers will make changes, learn from the critiques and return with a rewrite. And some will drop out, not able or willing to accept the criticism. Either way, the experience is valuable.

Following the above comments about my writing, I got rid of the prologue in a contemporary fiction novel and fixed the point of view in one of the scenes. I changed my nine-year old protagonist’s lines in a children’s book. I made my war hero a stronger character in one historical fiction novel, but in another kept General Sherman’s mistress. Any experienced writer will tell you, ‘it’s your work, write what you want’. True, but I believe a good critique group can help show you ‘what you want’.