Calvin and I belong to a wonderful writers group. We are a community of writers--fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, children's literature and screen-plays--but, more importantly, we are a circle of friends. We meet at Given's Bookstore, the best independantly owned bookstore in Lynchburg. Givens is a charming place, chock full of new and used books, quality toys and teaching aides. Tucked here and there within the store are little reading nooks. And for those who enjoy a coffee or tea while they read, the Drowsey Poet Cafe at the back of the store is a delight. Givens has always been very hospitable to our group, allowing us to meet in a quiet room upstairs.
I shared a chapter of my historical novel with the group last night. Now you'd think after doing this for over a year, I'd be more calm about having my writings read, but my stomach still ties into a large knot, my palms sweat and my head pounds. Sharing something you've written is akin to stripping down to your "altogther," holding your arms out and chirping, "What do you think?" It's definately not fun, but to improve as a writer, one does it. Over the course of time, I'm slowly developing a thicker skin. Hearing negative comments no longer means that the short ride home will be a teary one with Calvin patting my hand, offering words of consolation. It means that I need to pay closer attention to my weak areas, many though they be.
This is the nature of writing groups. We share what we write and ask for remarks and criticisms. Sometimes they sting. More often they cause the writer to reassess some areas: plot development, pacing of the action, quality of description, or reality of the dialog--is it being true to the character, etc. If the character is a college graduate, for example, one would expect his dialogue to be different than that of a charcter who has not graduated from high school. Someone from one part of the country would have different speech patterns than a person from the opposite side of the country.
To make dialogue jump off the page, a writer needs to pay close attention to how people talk--and use such speech patterns to identify a speaker. Some of us have distinctive speech habits. How many of us know someone who ends every sentence with, "Know what I'm sayin'?" By using "identifyers" like this, we make our characters real--and likable (or unlikable...know what I'm sayin'?). We do not want all of our characters sounding alike, for in real life, we don't. This is an area I need improvement in; comments last night were not entirely positive. So today, I'm back rewriting. Hemingway once said that "writing is rewriting." And it seems that I live to rewrite. And rewrite and rewrite. Know what I'm sayin'?