The Rules of the Game

image from open clipart.org by nicubunu

 

I am the self-appointed editor of our group round robins.  Anyone who’s read our work knows I am LEAST qualified of the four of us.  ProWritingAid is the great equalizer, or at least I have to tell myself it is.

As the editor I have self-imposed rules.

 

1. Don’t change the core of other’s sections.  Whatever they wrote is what they intended and I have to work with that, not hack and slash around to change inherent meaning.  Too much change makes it “my story” instead of “our story” which runs contrary to the round robin’s goals.

 

 2. Seamless flow from one writer to the other is the goal, but I can’t change all the phrasing to be “Jessica” (or anyone else’s) style to achieve this.  It’s not right to erase someone else’s voice on a joint work to showcase another’s.

 

This worked well in our first round robin.  I used ProWritingAid first to correct grammar, style, to catch and rework repetitive phrasing, and to delete adverbs.  The major change I made was plot continuity driven.  One writer misread another’s part of the story.  Where Anges finds a dead body that writer interpreted it as Anges being the dead body.  I had to change content.  I adjusted three lines.

 

Fast forward to our second round robin project.  We used Reedsy to find a prompt.  The gist was: “Your grandmother makes pancakes for you every morning.  Your grandmother dies, but there are still pancakes the next morning.

 

This prompt was a different challenge from the last.   The first story blooms from three words/themes.  Using a specific scenario, encouraged more partnership instead of competition to “take over” the story.  This second round robin was smoother and required a lot less finessing to make it seem like one person had written the work.

 

If reworking it was simple why isn’t it posted here?

 

The “problem”: I hate my part of the story.  Not all.  I’m happy with the first three almost four paragraphs, but it goes downhill fast.  My ambitions to churn the most words and be the first to “finish” a round robin in fifteen minutes left me with a rambling sticky mess.  I do not want to publish such a poor expression of my writing.  Everything I think is weakest in my form is on display.

 

What might be worse, my closing section only drives towards a handful of endings.  I broadcasted the only natural conclusion, and that’s driving me to play with the less obvious choices to thumb my nose at myself (because I hate authority so much I’ll rebel against myself when I become the authority and isn’t that an unattractive personality quirk).

 

Help!  Do I publish and unfinished story as it stands?  Do I scrap this work as hopeless?  Do I make my changes because if I cut the last two paragraphs I could write three kinds of separate endings on my own?  Are more drastic changes to my section a benefit I gain as the person completing the editing work?  Do I have to keep everything I wrote in the spirit of the exercise and endure the cringe?  Tell me what’s a “professional” writer/editor to do in this situation with my minor conflict of interest.

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?

Murder, Love, & Romance

North Alabama’s Writer’s Group

Writing Round Robin Exercise

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Murder, Love, & Romance

By Christopher M. Palmer, Jessica Donegan, Zach Stanfield, and Patrick O’Kelley

Beatrice Lochley pulled her robe tightly across her sleeping gown. It was morning at Kimberley Manor and the warm sun was streaming through the bedroom window. She walked to the balcony, overlooking the rolling green grounds. Her grandfather’s Greek temple folly on the hill framed the morning sun like a druidic henge, casting long shadows over the gravel drive. The gardeners were busy in the flower beds, trimming dead blooms and weeds. Soon it would be time for breakfast. She listens to the maids making their way through the halls, but they knew from prior unpleasant surprises not to disturb her. She returned to the room, careful to avoid looking at the canopied bed. There was a little wine left in the carafe on the nightstand and she poured it into a crystal glass and downed it with a grimace.

The washbasin would be cold until they brought it warmed water, but it would have to do. Cold water worked best for bloodstains, or so she’d heard. She removed the robe, not looking down at the bloodstained gown underneath. She dropped it as well and washed. Blood coated her hands and chest and throat, but a few drops had made it onto her face.  When Beatrice finished cleaning the worst areas, she wadded up the bloody towel, gown, and the stained robe and shoved them under the bed.

As she leaned against the bed, Harry’s cold hand fell outside the curtain.  Beatrice shuddered and grasped it, moving the husk from sight again. She had loved him, once, but now she felt numb of all feelings. No love. No guilt. No fear of what would happen to her now although she had no idea how this would play out.

After a moment’s reflection, she retrieved the bloody clothes and dressed in them again, then reached through the curtains to where his bloodied body was hidden and smeared herself with blood. One quick look around the room and she crossed to the door, opened it, screamed at the top of her lungs, and collapsed sobbing.

Maids rushed from both left and right sides of the hall.  A pitcher of fresh warm water shattered, forgotten on the marbled floors.  Beatrice smells heavy herbal tea and greasy bacon.  It mixed with Henry’s dry clotted blood in strange and stomach turning ways.  

The first maid, Anges, knelt beside Beatrice and tentatively reached out her warm arm.  Beatrice leaned into the warmth, shaking and crying.  She was enjoying the body heat even if she didn’t otherwise appreciate the liberties Beatrice took to make contact.  Nothing this morning, or most of the past evening had been warm.  From blood damp bed sheets to her small attempts to wash.  Chill surrounded her and radiated from a once loving heart.  

“Help,” Beatrice pleads, a detached part of her is proud at how many tears she’s produced and how much her voice quavers.  There was a reason Henry had always indulged her whims, and it wasn’t because he’d suspected the end he’d meet if he denied her.

 Anges shushes her and pulls her closer.  She’s spent around fifteen years in service to Beatrice’s family.  She knows what her concerns need to be if she plans to stay employed.  

“What are you all gaping at!” Anges demands.  “You call the authorities, there’s been a catastrophe.  Dalia and Andrew, clean this mess you’ve all made, and Grason, prepare the spare bedroom at once!  Draw a bath for Miss Lochly.  She’ll need to wash and some strong tea,” Anges proclaims.  

Strong sure hands grip Beatrice now.  They help steady her as she rises.  Beatrice wants to tilt her head like a curious kitten.  Who would have dreamed Agnes could be so strong and sure of herself?  A woman of her late sixties, she’s demure and quiet.  Always lingering around the edges of Beatrice’s life.  Taking empty dishes, cleaning dirty rugs, stoking fires.  Anges is useful, but never worth a second thought.  Now, comparing her firm certain grip to the tepid last struggles of Henry, she wonders what attracted her to that man.  That a servant woman commands such presence when Henry barely made his last moments memorable. Henry gave up long before Beatrice struck her killing blow, accepting his death the same way he accepted an unsightly gift.  It was good she’d ended his misery.  Maybe with Henry gone and this unsightly murder behind her, Beatrice would return some sense of control to her life.  She’d no longer have to entreat anyone to fund her hobbies or clothes.  The manor and all its funds would be hers.  An unforeseen gift.

Anges led Beatrice to the far side of the manor.  A rarely aired out section the family only uses for holiday visitors.  Beatrice hiccups and wrinkles her nose at the old dust and imagined mold.   She takes a few shuddering breaths.  Sobbing lost its charm almost as soon as she took it up.  Swollen tired eyes isn’t a look someone of her station should try.   Beatrice’s throat is hot and itchy from the screams.  Her body is tight with the tension caused from the pantomimed trembling.  It’s all so tedious.  

“Please,” Beatrice whispers.  

“Hush now Miss, we’re almost there.  Soon you can rest your bones in a nice warm bath.  And I’ll bring hot tea with lemon and honey, for your throat.  Your mother alway did warn you against such hysterics,” Agnes chides.

Captain Jonah Batson arrived just as Beatrice dropped her wet towel to put her evening clothes on. The thrill and the shock of her murderous action is wearing off and softer tender emotions are taking over.  Beatrice’s hands tremble, and she wonders, what’s next. Agnes knocks at the door of the guest bedroom, and Beatrice jumps.  Her nerves can’t take all this uncertainty.

“Miss Beatrice, Capt. Batson is here. He would like to have a word with you.”

“Just a minute.”

Beatrice finished dressing, relaxed her breathing, and reached the door just as another knock came. The door opened.

“Excuse me, miss. Sorry for the intrusion but we must be getting on with this case.”

“No, no. I understand. I’m sorry. I am still a tad bit shaken as you might imagine. Henry and I have been together for a good number of years and this is a complete shock to me.”

“Oh, believe me Miss Lochley, I understand. But if we may, I’d like to ask you a few questions before I visit the scene.”

“You haven’t been to the room yet?”

“No ma’am. Based on my previous experiences, I like to get a first hand account of the situation from the witnesses if there are any. So what can you tell me about the events of last night and this morning?”

Beatrice hesitated. She had thought she would have more time.  Her story was foolproof but her performance might be the deal breaker.

“Alright. Last night was like any normal night. Nothing extraordinary happened. However, around midnight I…”

A scream pierces the air, interrupting Beatrice’s stilted performance.  Batson tears out of the room leaving Beatrice behind. Another scream. Beatrice rises and begins to follow Batson.  What now?  Had one of the servants stumbled in on Henry’s body?  No, they would know to avoid that room.  Beatrice’s nerves feel raw and tender.  She’s doesn’t have the endurance for so much intrigue.

Batson arrives to the master bedroom where the body still lies. At the window, Agnes stares down to the courtyard below, pointing down and sobbing. Batson rushes to meet her gaze.

“Now Ma’am, there’s no reason to be so close to the open window, please come inside,” he coaxes, approaching her as a well meaning man may head towards a wounded deer.  Beatrice stands transfixed in the doorway.  Why did Anges venture to this room ahead of the Constable’s investigation?

Anges shakes her head, loosing a sob.  She looks past Batson to Beatrice, and as their eyes meet, Beatrice is certain she knows exactly how Henry’s bloody corpse came to lounge in the master bed.  But she doesn’t have any time to react because Anges turns and dives toward the walkway below.

Agnes prostate body caressed the stone. Blood dribbled down the crease of her mouth and into the lawn. Captain Batson peered up to the second floor and back at Ms. Agnes.

“Constable.”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Gather up the rest of members of the estate until further notice.”

“Yes, sir.”

Moments later, Captain Batson circles the body. He rolls her upward to face the sky and delicately shuts her eyes. A refraction of light showed from her hands. She clutched a locket, its chain winds around her wrist. Batson unclasped the piece. Inside were two adolescent photos of Henry. He was dressed down in light slacks and shirt. He affected no smile and stared ahead. Batson clasped it shut and returned to Beatrice.

She wept in the parlor. A few others stood by around tending to her sobs, trying to placate the tender spasms of air she sucked in. Batson dismissed the others and faced her.

“How long was Ms. Agnes attendant to Henry?”

Beatrice dabbed at the tears.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Want more?

Christopher M. Palmer’s Ending

Jessica Donegan’s Ending

Patrick O’Kelley’s Ending.

 

Curious About the Process?

All About the Writers’ Group Round Robin

All About Writers’ Group Round Robin

image from openclipart.org by oksmith

 

What is it? 

The Blitz Round Robin is a work we create in our meeting.  We pick a random theme, choose a member to start us off, and they have to write for fifteen minutes.  After time is up, the next member gets a chance to read the work and then they have fifteen minutes to write.  We do this until all of us have a chance to write.

Why?  

There’s a lot of reasons to do this exercise.  For our group the primary reason is to encourage speed of production.  Generally, we are a group that spends too much time thinking or editing and not enough time pounding on computer keys.  But there are other reasons to participate

  1. It might jumpstart some creative juices
  2. The process offers unique challenges each of us struggles with in our personal writing and sometimes we try to trip the following writer up
  3. It provides writers a chance to collaborate and work together
  4. The Round Robin gives us a chance to complete something small while we toil with larger works
  5. The activity forces forward movement where all of us sometimes linger our own projects to languish in interia
  6. Since we’ve decided to publish the final products to our blog, these activities give us a chance for publication and perhaps create an audience for our personal style.

Hear From the Group:

The round robin is a great opportunity for me to develop speed in my writing.  The group challenges everyone to write the other in a corner, to call back to an early passage or develop and introduce new character on the fly.  I believe we all hone spontaneity and versatility every time we slam on the keys.”- Zach Stanfield.

For me, the round robin is all about collaborative writing and melding four distinct styles into a coherent story.  I enjoy seeing all my fellows’ contributions and moving the story forward with my personal flare.  The best part comes after the exercise, when we edit.  It’s inspiring to see a work created to try and make each of us fumble transform into a story in which I can’t tell where one writer’s words ended and another’s began.” -Jessica Donegan

The round robin provides me with an opportunity to practice on thinking on my feet when it comes to having an idea and throwing it on the page. A lot of times I have an awesome idea that I start but falter two paragraphs in. The round robin also creates a accountability to get something down. Plus, I love coming in where someone left off and going crazy with the story. Painting someone in a corner can be fun as well.” – Patrick O’Kelley

Where to Go From Here: 

We will publish our first group round robin.  Since the work was not completed during the exercise, we each decided to add our own alternate ending.  I, personally, am beyond thrilled to post the work and hope all our readers are able to enjoy some quick, fun stories!

Want to Read our First Round Robin?  Check our Murder Love and Romance for our beginning with Christopher M. Palmer’s ending, Patrick Jospeph O’Kelly’s ending, and Jessica Donegan’s ending all available.