I’m preparing for a writing workshop right now, a place where people like me, people who love to write and would like to take it to another level, sit around and try to help each other become better at our craft. One must meet certain quality standards to be accepted, so the group is not spending its time on people who have a way to go to imagine actually getting paid to write.
So what we will be doing is this: criticizing each other’s work. The criticism may or may not be useful for the recipient, but in thinking about the writing of others we should each learn more about our own. In the short-story workshop, each the dozen participants has submitted three short stories. Now I am reading them all, and trying to come up with helpful advice and explanations for exactly why certain things don’t work. Already this process is changing the way I feel about my own work — sometimes for the better, sometimes… not so much.
I have not read all the stories yet, so there may be an exception waiting for me, but even if it’s not universal, the trend is certainly obvious. At the moment of truth, at the time when life is on the line, I’ve been reading a lot about the character’s actions, whether running or ducking or fighting or whatever, but nothing about their reactions. No heart beating out of the chest, no urge to scream, not even breaking a sweat. No blind panic or tunnel vision, and god forbid someone should pee their pants when an alien is kidnapping them. At the critical moment in the story, the tone becomes oddly dispassionate.
My own submissions for this adventure are, alas, also lacking in this regard, although to be honest I think I come closer than most. (It wouldn’t surprise if all the other writers felt the same way, feeling emotions that we all think are implicit in our work but are in fact in the writer’s head.)
When I give myself this better-than-average rating I intentionally don’t include one of my stories, a relatively fluffy bit that would not benefit from the protagonist peeing his pants. Only… actually, that would be pretty good. He’s the narrator and he’d never admit he did, except he’s under oath. He’s promised to tell the whole truth.
Dammit, even that story could benefit from a bit more viscera.