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Under a sympathetic microscope – Feedback Evening – 28 September

Does that first paragraph grab?

Does the dialogue ring true?

Do the characters rise from the page?

At the end of a successful Feedback Evening these questions, and many more, get answered to the benefit of our writing. For those new to the process it may be daunting: for those who have shared their work before, it is eagerly anticipated and invariably constructive.

And so it proved at the first Feedback Evening of our programme where anonymous poetry, extracts from novels, pieces of flash fiction and short stories were passed round and pondered.

The confidence of writers was boosted by positive comments made about language and imaginative word-play: a jaundiced cruiser wrote of a “juggernaut of indulgence”; “white-iced mountains” were the backdrop to birds flying south; we learn that one writer “waxes grandiloquent” to all but the person they should. Fantasy worlds were created and portals found in just the right tone. Tensions mounted before boxes were opened and moral questions were asked about Santa; a sense of disappointment and loneliness portrayed to the “pendulum of her heartbeat.” When a comment read “This writer has a talent for scaring the reader,” we knew someone went home with a spring in their step.

But, as we strive to improve, the art of “constructive criticism” is critical. We don’t just say we don’t like something or highlight a phrase or character we feel doesn’t work. We work hard to say why. We suggest alternatives or improvements; we offer a different point of view; as readers we interpret phrases in ways the writer hadn’t intended.

Could punctuation make certain sentences less ambiguous? Do the characters come across as mature beyond their apparent years? At what point does imaginative become contrived? Can we sympathise with the protagonist or are we introduced to too many characters? Is it too short, too long? Is the alliteration over-played or the metaphor clichéd? Has the writer read their piece out loud to see how the dialogue really sounds? Even though these comments were about specific pieces of work, there were lessons we could all learn and pitfalls we could all avoid.

And invariably there are different points of view. Is this the protagonist or antagonist we’re being introduced to? What does this last line really mean? Should you start a sentence with “And?”

It’s all grist to the mill, and our writing improves as a result.

 

Nigel Ward

 

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