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Writing Workshops? -- POV changes -- Show Vs Tell

Posted: November 7th, 2010, 9:40 pm
by wordranger
Someone I met up with on this site recommended I take a look at On-line Writing Workshops.
I think it is probably a good idea, but which one?

Do you have any recomendations for good ones for Sci-Fi Fantasy writing?
She recommended

If anyone can fill me in on good/bad experiences, and make suggestions on any sites they have used, I'd appreciate it!

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 9th, 2010, 12:16 am
by Nathan Bransford
I moved this from Ask Nathan into the Writing Forums as I'm not sure!

Anyone have a good experience with an online writing workshop?

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 9th, 2010, 1:03 am
by polymath
I had mixed experiences with It's a free for all workshop in many senses. One, it doesn't cost anything. Two, it's catch as catch can responses. Anyone who signs up can choose to read and choose to comment and comment however the responder chooses to comment. Some comments push the limits of critters' administrator Dr. Andrew Burt's workshop decorum and diplomacy guidelines. Some critiques run into highly innappropriate territory. Over the top mistreatment draws ire and banishment. Some posted narratives get short-shrift, maybe one or no comments whatsoever after waiting four to eight weeks to come up in the queue and faithfully maintaining good standing in the interim by commenting on three narratives weekly. Others receive overtreatment, though mostly well-intended and courteously worded.

I also received mixed results with responses to my responses, some outright vile responses, some no response whatsoever, some courteously indifferent, some appropriately appreciative, some few downright grateful for my insights.

In general, having surveyed the gamut of narratives posted and the critiques posted for about two years, critters' responders tend to microfocus on minutia with little to no bigger picture concentration. My big picture responses fell as flat as lead balloons, with a very few exceptions.

On the other hand, critters is a place to start into a whirlwind of all the goods and evils of online writing workshops, and not a few of face-to-face writing workshops.

In my situation, I used critters to build critiquing skills and developmental editing skills for my own writing. I outgrew it within a few months but endured it for a couple years as I built my developmental editing muscles. My critique responses became somewhat broken records, so I didn't post the majority of them. When I did, they tended to be on one discrete area and couched in simple but encouraging terms. I stopped posting my creations long before I cancelled my membership.

My end came when I realized it was too much popularity pageantry, not enough substance for my liking, like authonomy. I've grazed other online writing workshop venues. Baen's, Hatrack, Asimov's, SFWA, F&SF, Clarion, Odyssey, WOTF, Analog, to name a few. I concluded they mostly are more decorous than critters, but also were disappointing in the substance department.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 9th, 2010, 11:52 am
by sierramcconnell
I haven't any real experience with it, but the problem I could forsee is that you would need to make sure no one was harsh. So you would have to enforce the: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" rule. And that totally tosses out the idea of a critique. Because if you can't say, "Well, I wouldn't do this" without fear of the person crying foul, then what's the point?

I'll give an example in which I've been on both sides of the fence. Yes, I've been a drama queen. Yes, I still go there at times, we're writers, we all do. Those who say they don't are probably wearing their Elizabethian collars and fanning themselves right now.

There's a workshop section on the doll forum I'm on. You're encouraged to give concrit. But remember that you have to be nice. So if you say something like, "Are you sure you should be doing [this]?" It can totally be taken the wrong way, a huge arguement will break out, people will be scarred for life, and the thread will get locked. It's gotten to the point where people give tight lipped, "You did a good job for your first try!" or "Maybe try to use a little more brown on the eyebrows, but otherwise it looks great!"

There's no real criticism there. Because in an online world, you've no personal interaction to see the person means no harm and is only trying to help you. And nothing is there to stop you from having a panty-party about how lame you are and how everyone hates you and how you're never going to show your work again, except on where everyone LOVES YOU, OMG.

So for Online Writing Workshops, for beginners it might be good to help with their self-esteem, but only if they're aware that the advice they're being given is only with a shaker of salt and a bottle of mayonnaise.

What? I like mayonnaise on my chicken. XD

And I realize that comment could be totally taken wrong, but if you want true, unabashed criticism, get out there and let it get ripped. Just be prepared to go on hiatus for a few years...and come back wiser. <---[I'm totally kidding. Don't do that.]

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 9th, 2010, 11:53 am
by Margo
polymath wrote:I had mixed experiences with
polymath wrote:My critique responses became somewhat broken records...
Ditto again.
polymath wrote:Baen's, Hatrack, Asimov's, SFWA, F&SF, Clarion, Odyssey, WOTF, Analog, to name a few. I concluded they mostly are more decorous than critters, but also were disappointing in the substance department.
To be honest, after being part of two in-person critique groups run by published authors (one thriller writer, one romance writer), trying out twice (currently a member and regretting it), doing the online writers workshop (used to be the Del Rel Online Writing Workshop), doing a couple of webinars with agents or authors, and attending Viable Paradise and two Maass workshops in-person, I have come to the the conclusion that the only useful feedback I have ever received on my writing has been from editors and agents. In fact, Maass did more for my understanding of genre fiction in a 30 minute sit-down than all the others combined over the course of YEARS. Most of what I got from other aspiring authors in online workshops was drivel or was so poorly explained ("I don't like this part, but I don't know why") as to be useless. So my suggestion, to be brutally frank, is this: look for webinars and online classes taught by agents or editors, particularly courses that involve a professional critique of your work.

*Note: I have seriously been considering Odyssey, maybe in 2012. In 2011, I'm going for the Maass/Nalo Hopkinson Fire in Fiction/SFF Master Class.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 6:53 pm
by sgf
Hi Wordranger,

OK I'm coming clean... since I was the one who suggested the workshop, I thought I'd add some more details here along with others' comments. :)

I basically agree with everyone, but I do think there's some value in getting feedback on these workshops. Along with catching typos and that sort of thing, they're good for getting tips on avoiding what some consider "mistakes" in style-- and I put that in quotes because technically they're not mistakes, and some published authors use them frequently and still sell millions of books. These include:

1. Use of unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.
2. Infodumps
3. Show vs. tell
4. POV problems

And I'm sure there are a couple more. This might be why Margo and Poly's critiques began to feel like broken records-- because it's hard to give big picture recommendations when looking at one or two chapters of a novel per month. Of course, if every writer followed all of these rules all of the time, then everyone's writing would begin to read the same! Another benefit getting feedback on these sort of sites is that you begin to develop a stronger sense of your own writing style, and quickly learn what to agree with and what to ignore.

But I wouldn't agree that going on these workshops will build self esteem. Sure, a lot of reviewers will begin by saying something nice-- but that's just because most (but not all!) people don't want to seem harsh. Sort of like the Sandwich rule I've read about on this site. When you read between the lines, past the bread, the mustard and mayo, most reviewers will get to the meat of how they think the submission could be improved.

As to what sort of feedback you'll get and whether it's of any use, I think it really depends on whose feedback you get. The people on these sites range from published authors who are looking for a last review from anonymous sources, to people who just wrote their first short story. Getting good feedback is partially a matter of luck, and partially the work you put into reviewing others' submissions (in my experience, you should expect to get a review for every 4 or 5 that you give). So, review only submissions you think are as good or better than your own writing, and look at the writer's other critiques to see if you want to be reviewed by him or her.

In any case, even vague or unexplained feedback such as "I didn't like this but don't know why" can be helpful. If you get five people to review a submission, and all of them point out not liking the same part... that sort of tells you that part needs to be re-worked. It's up to you as a writer to figure why or how to fix it.

Along with OWW, I've also tried Critique Circle. I found the reviews on OWW more professional and helpful, but this was just my experience and like I said, it could have been a matter of luck. Haven't tried Critters and at this point I probably won't.

I wouldn't doubt that webinars and online classes by agents or editors would be very helpful. I considered going to an agent-run seminar in NY that starts Nov. 11th (this one: ... &Itemid=60)

Then I found out the price and decided to hold off on it... it was sort of expensive, about $500.00 a day, and that's without hotel and plane costs. Who knows, it might have totally been worth it. Maybe I would have gotten inspirational advice or even an agent interested in representing my novel... or maybe not. I figure I might as well try the least expensive methods first.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 7:40 pm
by polymath
The big picture stuff I commented on was mostly plot related. One thing I learned at critters and other writing venues is plot means a lot of different things to different writers. Mention dramatic structure as a function of plot and eyes start to roll around in their sockets. Mention a basic plot formula and writers balk at the idea there's a formula to it and avoid formulas rigorously in order to avoid indictments for being formulaic, which is actually, really a term meaning predictable.

It didn't matter to me whether I was reading short stories or novel installments. I'm able to respond with insightful commentary to parts or parcels because I can evaluate based on intepreting a writer's creative vision. An opening chapter that's pure backstory exposition told by a narrator directly addressing readers is going to get show versus tell commentary but not in so many imperative words. Chapter parts or short stories with unsettled narrative voice are going to get narrative distance commentary. Narrative parts or parcels with glaring plot holes are going to get dramatic structure commentaries. If it's chapter seven and there's still been no inciting crisis introducing the main dramatic complication, then that's the commentary. And so on through the mangle.

The principal factor I evaluate for first in every case is whether a narrative part or parcel has a discernible creative vision direction. That's important because determining a creative vision's direction avoids the worst kind of critiquer influence, imposing outside creative visions onto a work in progress. I've found developmental editing and critiquing function best at the beginning of a project and the final stages. The in-between efforts are for all intents and purposes best pursued by the creator with limited external input, just when stuck or prospecting for new insights.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 8:17 pm
by sgf
Polymath, it sounds like you used to give valuable critiques! From looking at your other posts, it looks like you definitely put a lot of thought into your comments.

Could you by chance define "creative vision direction"? I'd take this to just mean plot without any further elaboration.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 8:42 pm
by polymath
A writer's creative vision is what inspires a narrative, and imperfectly makes it on to the page. It's an imitation of an imitation of an imitation of a proxy reality based on real life experiences. Setting, plot, idea, character, and events of a narrative, plus discourse, especially narrative voice and narrative distance, make up a creative vision direction.

In a recent discussion on plot Mike Dickson asked for a simple mystery plot based on parameters he provided. I had enough to sketch out a rough plot outline based on his creative vision. It was a little more complex than a '50s era mystery plot but essentially the same shape with more character emphasis and transformation than event emphasis and transformation. The main difference being a focus on the protagonist's role in a murder scheme. The direction Mike Dickson wanted the creative vision to go was solving the murder. I suggested solving the murder was secondary to its influence on the protagonist's character transformation. '50s era mysteries didn't have much, if any, character transformation. They are mostly event transformations. Contemporary mystery audiences expect some level of character transformation.

It's the transformation set up in an opening and single-mindedly pursued in the middle and the main part of the final outcome that completes the action of a narrative. If there's enough of that transformation process in a writer's creative vision for me to discern the direction, good fortune to bad fortune, bad fortune to good, bad to worse, or bad to worse then good, I can usually figure out where and why a narrative feels awkward or doesn't feel complete in its parts and wholes.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 10:29 pm
by wordranger
Wow! I never thought my little question would lead to such in-depth discussion!

Thanks, guys. I'm not really sure which way I will go. Actually, I've gotten some pretty good inspiration just from feedback from these forums... enough to make me at least realize, and notice in my own work, that I habitually change POV, which NONE of the people who've read my novel so far have pointed out to me. At least this is a pretty easy fix, although I am having to drop some very-loved personal insight from one character, because the chapter really needed to be told in the POV of another.

Thus are the sacrifices we make! Onward and upward!

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 11:05 pm
by polymath
A writer who deftly handles changing viewpoints but remains in one narrative point of view is John Grisham. An excerpt from the opening of the first chapter of his latest release The Confession is available at; ... d=11971165

The final paragraph reports the viewpoints of Travis Boyette, Dana Schroeder, and the narrator but remains in the narrative point of view of the covert narrator. Grisham makes smooth viewpoint transitions look easy. The method he uses there is like a panning camera from the narrator observing both characters and two auxilliary cameras for close ups of the two characters' perceptions and thoughts. It's no wonder to me why his novels quickly and readily translate into films. One technique that's especially good is how Grisham uses volitional thought verbs to make transitions, "noticed" and "pondered," into interior discourse. He also uses observed sensations that can be from the narrator's perspective and one of the two characters' perspectives. One thing he doesn't do is cross the line between them or turn the figurative camera back on the narrator.

While unsettled narrative point of view can be disruptive, point of view transitions aren't necessarily disruptive. I think one way point of view transitions can go awry is when a narrator figuratively steps out of a setting and turns to address readers directly. And then repeatedly yo-yos in and out of a setting commenting on what's going on rather than just reporting the unfolding action.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 11:45 pm
by wordranger
Thanks for that exerpt, Polymath.

Funny, I've been trying to be careful not to describe my characters too much... Do the old show don't tell thing, and here is a perfect example of showing what a character looks like... just what he is wearing. He's not brushing dirt off his dungarees or anyting... he's just wearing dungarees. And you know what? It totally works!

I guess you need a combination of the two. You can show some, and tell some. This is making me re-think things. I think I might revert back a few things I have changed in the past month.

We are digressing from the topic a little, but I'm here for feedback and suggestions wherever I can find them! Thanks!

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 10th, 2010, 11:57 pm
by polymath
My sense of the show don't tell imperative is if a narrator's telling readers what's going on it's not a viewpoint character's perception from within a narrative's setting. If a viewpoint character takes notice of something like dungarees because it matters to the viewpoint character it is a visual sensation reported from the viewpoint character's perception within the setting, in the scene showing what the viewpoint character perceives.

The custodian shoveling snow is the viewpoint character who notices Boyette isn't very well dressed for the cold. All the custodian does is place Boyette in setting context and begins introducing Boyette's character traits.

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 11th, 2010, 12:32 am
by sgf

Great insights about POV switches. One of my favorite fantasy writers, RA Salvatore, also handles POV switches seamlessly.

For me, POV switches are most disruptive when a reader feels settled in one point of view, and then experiences something from another character's point of view without warning. I never considered using what you call "volitional thought verbs" to prepare the reader that the point of view has shifted. Actually, I always thought that those "projection verbs" (he noticed, she saw, he felt, she heard) were for the most part pointless, so thanks for showing that there could be some use for them, after all!

Re: Any suggestions for Online Writing Workshops?

Posted: November 11th, 2010, 11:08 am
by polymath
Sensation verbs like saw and heard can go either way. They can show volitional thought or come across as a narrator telling summarized sensations directly to readers. A distinction is whether they are reported summaries or suggest deliberate viewpoint character thinking. Reporting seeing or hearing can summarize a sensation and add a degree of narrative distance separation by coming from a narrator's perception of a perception. What distinguishes volitional thought verbs is they indicate viewpoint character cognitive reactions to perceptions, effects preceded by causes.

Jazzie asked the crack whore why she gave her the finger. She heard firecrackers. She didn't see gunshots. She wondered why her legs felt rubbery. Blood spread on her blouse from her waistline and underarm.

That example closes into Jazzie's perceptions and thinking through her erroneous assumption the gunshots are firecrackers. Then the volitional thought verb "wondered" closes in closer into her cognitive thinking. She looks down autonomously then, which doesn't need to be reported as coming from her perception because Jazzie is causally reacting to why her legs feel rubbery.

Jazzie asked the crack whore why she gave her the finger. She heard gunshots and looked down and saw blood spreading below her underarm and from her waistline. She wondered why her legs felt rubbery.

That example doesn't close in nearly as close. "Wondered" in that case makes a conclusion and stalls plot movement rather than posing suspense questions, which further plot movement.
I apologize for the topic digressions, wordranger. I figured we'd have a mini workshop right here, at least on a few areas of narrative point of view and seamless viewpoint transitions and show versus tell.