Category Archives: Writing Friends

You never walk alone

Well friends, we’ve reached that time. It’s been a great month, but we’ve hit the last day of this topic and with April the Fictorians will bring you a whole new angle on which to explore. All throughout March our members and guest posters have explored the friendships they loved in fiction, the friendships they add to their own writing and how real life friends have helped them in their careers. On my previous post I departed from the model to address the friends of writers directly, but now I will return to the theme of the month and provide an example of each.

Like many people, my first *real* fantasy trilogy was The Lord of the Rings. I was maybe 10 or 11 when I read it, and I was very struck by the many strong relationships in that story: Frodo and Sam, Gimli and Legolas, Gandalf and Aragorn. Well trodden ground for most readers though, so for my fiction example I’d like to highlight a friendship from the *second* fantasy I read, which was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. No, I’m not going to discuss that series’ extremely problematic main character (to me, anyway) but rather the Giants.

The Giants in the Thomas Covenant books are just such amazing friends to the people of the Land, and I found them as a group to be both inspiring and heartbreaking. Long lived and incredibly powerful, once stranded from their home they could have easily conquered the native people but instead they entered into a millennia of friendship and service with them. They built Revelstone, joined the Lords in their war against Despair and embraced the concept of service to the land itself. Their ultimate fate is incredibly tragic, yet their enduring legacy for me as a reader is one of positivity and optimism. The wonderfully named Saltheart Foamfollower said “Joy is in the ears that hear!”, capturing the spirit that embodied these friends of the Land so well.

In my own fiction, I wanted to explore the concepts of friendship on both sides of the story equation. My current project has a male and two females as the primary protagonists, all of whom end up friends but with no romantic entanglements added. As a trio they learn to trust each other and provide support, even as they endure some remarkable hardships. I also wanted my villains to have friends too though, and that dynamic has been a fun one to explore. The best antagonists for me are ones who have some redeeming qualities, and seeing my primary bad guy still show loyalty and even compassion I think makes him all the more interesting.

It would be impossible for me to provide all the examples of how my friends in real life have helped me. It is through friends that I first found the Superstars Writing Seminars, which led me to the Fictorians. Friends were there to encourage me through my first Nanowrimo and my first story submissions. Friends who helped me through rejections, revisions and beta reading.

Without my friends I’d still be that guy who had a novel in his head but that was it. Thanks to my friends I’ve written three novels, a novella and a whole bunch of short stories. Each person who offered support or advice has walked me a little farther down this crazy writing path I’m on. I may be by myself most of the time the fingers are hitting the keyboard, but I’ve never walked alone. I don’t suspect that will change anytime soon, and I hope I can be as good a friend to the writers I know as they have been to me.

Thanks for taking this journey with me this March. See you next month!

We’ve got a friend in you

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying our month-long look at the many concepts of friendship in fiction as much as I have! I’ve been thrilled to see all the different perspectives and interpretations that my fellow Fictorians and guest posters have brought to the table.

For my own look at friendship, I’d like to take a slightly different tack. Rather than covering a favorite friendship in a story (I’ll do that in my second post later this week) or discussing how my friends have helped me in my own career, I’m going to talk directly to that most important of friends… your friend. There’s no more valuable resource than that dependable friend of the writer. (Family members count as friends too, of course!) Thus, I’d like to take my post to address those reliable folks who have our backs. 

Go ahead, invite them over. Are they here? Seated comfortably? Great. First off pal, on behalf of all writers everywhere we want to say: Thanks!

Being the friend of a writer is not always an easy task. There is the time we take away from the friendship to (hopefully) bang away at a keyboard, or alternatively softly bang our head against our desk. There’s the staring off in space when you’re trying to talk to us, knowing our head is a thousand miles away chasing plot bunnies. We can’t help it, and we love you for understanding.

In truth, knowing you understand and care about our mad quest is all we need. If you ever wonder if there is more you can do to help us, I have a few suggestions:

  • If you like to read, you might ask if we’d like you to read something of ours. We might say yes, we might say no. We know you will understand either way, but I’m guessing many of us will say yes. In fact, some of us were probably hoping you’d read our stories, but we were too shy to ask you.
  • If you read our stuff, please understand you don’t have to like it. Tell us what you really think, what you liked and what you didn’t. Often times the most valuable feedback we can get is what a story made you feel, and at what points did you have those feelings. Even the bad ones, like boredom for example. It is so valuable to know where a reader loses interest. Good stuff is great too of course! We want to know what you loved, where you cried, what villain you hated. Give us the real truth, good and bad. We were friends before, we’ll be friends after – no matter what feedback you give.
  • If you’re willing, let us bounce ideas off you. You don’t have to be a writer to be a great sounding board. Writing is just another form of storytelling, most people have strong reactions to storytelling no matter what the media it’s in. Sometimes that fresh perspective on a problem is just super helpful. Next time you see us lost in thought chasing those plot bunnies I mentioned, maybe offer to help us talk it out? You may have a bunny trapping method we never would have thought of.
  • Finally, if you truly like our stories we can never get enough promotion. Many writers are pretty shy by nature and self-promotion comes hard for most of us. Just sharing a Facebook post or re-tweeting a book announcement is such a great gift to your writer friends. Additionally, “buy this person’s book, it’s awesome” often just carries more weight than “buy my book”

None of the above is required of course. We’re so thrilled to have you as a friend even if you never read a word of what we write. Just the fact that you are supportive and understanding of our strange creative mania is enough for us. We may not say it as often as we should, but I’ll say it clearly here:

Friend, we couldn’t do this without you!

Three’s Company, But Six is a Crowd

Writing critique groups are like blogs. They both tend to start with vows of seriousness and dedication. They launch with vigor and excitement, but eventually slow and become work. Life gets complicated (as it always does) and priorities change. First one deadline is missed. Then two. Then all of them. Most often, people in the group wander away, and unless there is a constant flow of new blood, the collective falls apart. Though plentiful, most fail within a year.

However, decay and disbandment are not inevitable, just common. I’ve contributed to half a dozen blogs or critique groups over the years. Only two have continued to this day. First is the Fictorians. Second is my current critique group, which has been going strong for over two years and has helped us all grow as authors. So, what makes these two groups successful, whereas the others failed?

The key factor, I think, is ensuring the group is the right size for what it is trying to accomplish. Groups that are too small may fail to meet their goals because the work overwhelms the members. There are simply not enough people to carry the load. Another common pitfall that I’ve observed is the tendency of small groups to synchronize into a group think. There needs to be enough diversity of thought and experience to keep things interesting and productive. So why then not take a “the more, the merrier” approach? Wouldn’t a group open to the public be preferable?

Frankly not, in my experience. It’s a matter of the time and reliability of the individuals involved. Nobody’s time is infinite, so any meeting that is too large must inevitably splinter into smaller groups to allow for practical critique. Secondly, large groups inherently diffuse personal responsibility. Why, after all, does any one member need to meet their writing goals for the week or read the other members’ submissions? Surely someone else will do it. Finally, the larger the group, the more likely there will be conflicts of personality that sour the tone of the meetings. Writers put ourselves on display in our fiction. We must trust those we turn to for critique or we will not be open to their help.

Take as an example my first two critique groups. With seven and eight members respectively, reading everyone else’s submissions became a chore and seriously impinged on my writing time. The critique we offered was often superficial and therefore not terribly useful. The second major problem that killed these groups was that we were never able to meet face to face. We tried to use a private forum to bridge the gap, but that medium destroyed accountability and it wasn’t long before people stopped posting.

My current critique group calls ourselves “the League” and consists of three members. Though we may seem too small, our size makes us flexible and familiar. Though we live in different cities, we meet face to face each week via video conferencing. When one of us has something come up on the normal meeting date, we can usually find an alternative time. This maintains accountability, which has been my only reason for making keyboard time some weeks. Because we are friends, we trust and value one another. We understand each other well enough to know what our fellow authors are thinking and can therefore offer deep, constructive criticism. Furthermore, we are comfortable enough with one another to engage in productive conflict, pushing each other to be better.

Also key to the success of the League is that we have been able to adapt the group to our changing needs. We started by performing weekly writing challenges. At that point, we three needed something to get us writing consistently, and it worked. For a time. After a few months, we all grew bored and frustrated, yearning to get to actual fiction. We three are novelists at heart, after all, and 1,000 word challenges weren’t promoting our goals of becoming published authors. So one meeting we discussed the problem and decided to change our focus to be prewriting new books in tandem.

For a while, this vein worked for us. However, we eventually found ourselves bogged down and struggling with making consistent progress. Another discussion led us to take David Farland’s Story Puzzle class as a trio. The class was fantastic, but even better because we took it together.

We all received extremely positive feedback from Dave on our assignments. NOT because we were particularly brilliant, but rather because we discussed his lessons and workshopped the exercises before sending them to him. I firmly believe that we three got more out of the class because we took it with friends.

My critique group has found a size and a strategy that works for us. Though every writing journey is unique, none of us is in it alone. I would highly encourage any aspiring author to find a group of like minds to help them take their craft to the next level. Like writing itself, critique groups require dedication, time, trust, and most of all the ability to grow and change.