Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Benefit of Extra Eyes

by Annette Lyon

My critique group is composed of several talented, published writers, yet we continue to meet regularly and read our work aloud to one another and get criticism. I've been attending for upwards of 8 years.

Some might think that by now we must have exhausted our usefulness to one another, that we've learned all we can, and might as well move on.

Nothing is further from the truth.

I've found that extra sets of eyes looking at my work will find things that I am incapable of seeing because I'm the one that wrote it. It doesn't matter how great a writer I become; the fact that I wrote the piece by its very nature dictates that I cannot see all the holes. The moment I think I'm such a good a writer that I don't need outside feedback is the day my writing takes a nosedive.

In our group, every so often we come upon something that makes us all laugh out loud—usually something that didn't come out quite how we meant it to.

Below are a few gems from our last meeting. Remember: all of these sentences came from authors who have multiple published novels under their belts. It happens to the best of us.

1. James hadn't meant to let it slip that he wasn't married, at least to his boss.

(No, James isn't married to his boss . . .)

A set-up for #2: the character in question has built a narrow enclosure for a horse, using dowels slid through the back opening of the area to prevent the horse from backing out of it. Okay, now the sentence will make more (silly) sense. Note that we've been talking HORSES:

2. He had made holes for sliding sticks through the rear end instead of her recommended two.

(Uh, that would be the rear end of the enclosure . . .)

The next one shows a scuffle between two WOMEN:

3. Suddenly her hands were on my chest, pushing me backwards.

(Doubt she meant to give her an unscheduled mammogram . . .)

Note there's nothing inherently bad about any of these sentences, but in context and with a different pair of eyeballs than the author had, a new meaning emerged.

Sometimes our "bloopers" are of the grammatical variety. Other times they're simply ambiguous. Then there are those that just leave a silly image in your mind.

Here are more I've gathered over the years—all real quotes from drafts brought to our critique group. And yes, some are mine:

Suddenly, my mother turned into a driveway.

Your grandmother killed him before I got the chance.

Lizzie's hands flew to her mouth. Inside lay four books.

Lighting a candle, she settled beneath the covers.

Andrew noted his lean frame on the high counter sipping his drink.

. . . he began, then stopped seeing Jacob's scowl

Quiet and patient, Alice's dark hair was always pulled into a simple bun.

And our all-time favorite blooper:

A man is inside a cedar wood closet, which reminds him of the cedar chest his mother once owned. But instead of saying it like that, it came out like this:

The scent reminded him of his mother's smelly chest.

We've had our laughs over all of these, and any time someone else lets a blooper loose, I write it down—not only because of the chuckle, but because it's a subtle reminder that we need one another to read over and catch not only our bloopers, but all kinds of other things that can make our writing continually better.

Every writer needs that.


Stephanie Humphreys said...

It is good to be able to laugh at ourselves.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Those are great sentences. . . back over my manuscript, one more time.

Janice LeFevre said...

Thanks for the laughs!

Josi said...

LOL--that is too funny. I had a sentence that said "She was tired of mechanical sex" then realized that the implications were beyond the realm of the market I write for. What I meant was that they were trying to have a baby and so had scheduled sex in hopes of conceiving. Words are powerful things.

Heather B. Moore said...

. . . or the time I wrote "prostate" instead of "prostrate."

Anna Maria Junus said...

These are hilarious.

I am all for having other people critique your work. You can't see it clearly. You're in love with your work. You don't see the mistakes.

It also helps to put the work away for a couple of months.

Karen Hoover said...

Maybe I'm just tired, but I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. Those are hilarious! Thanks for sharing. I needed the laugh!

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