Category Archives: Classes & Seminars

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.

For Me

Amanda cardFor me, writing comes naturally. Writing well takes work.

I decided this year was the year to take a step back and evaluate how well I write. Although reading is a great way to learn about writing, an online class is definitely a more effective way to strengthen your skills.

Time was a consideration for me when deciding to take on “one more thing.” I tend to lead a busy life. I work two jobs as a teacher: one at high school, the other is at college. I am currently enrolled in courses for an additional add-on to my certification. I am going back to school again for yet another degree in January (I already have four). Taking on a writing class was definitely something to really think about since I knew I needed to do it now rather than later.

Honestly, I didn’t take a lot of time. I wanted, no – more like craved – to learn more and become a better writer. Ok. Ready, set, go! I jumped.

I signed up for a few classes with various instructors. All were good classes. I have to say that David Farland’s classes and online lectures were the strongest ones I have taken to date. Listening to his sage advice and techniques had me taking copious notes and reviewing previous things I have written. It has also given me a stronger foundation for future works.

Dave is patient man. Any question I emailed him he has graciously been kind and helpful. No question is “stupid.” The feedback I received from the assignments had corrections and suggestions. Some lessons have more corrections than others, which is ok. I wanted to learn. If I knew it all, I wouldn’t have signed up.

One of the assignments had me build a world. An actual world. With land and water. With habitable areas. With people and animal potential.

I had to read the assignment again. I was terrified. *deep breath* Ok. I can do this.

I watched the videos a couple of times. I took notes. Then, I started plotting and planning.

I figured the best way was to start large and work my way in. I made a world, then focused in on the major areas. From there, I created cities that were important to the story.

At first, I was stressed. I wanted it to be great. With Dave’s advice, I did it over a few weeks, one step at a time. As my fictional world developed, so did my creative world. The more I added, the more it became real to me. I have even, with the help of my chemistry friend, developed the crystal that is a major prop in the story.

I submitted the assignment. And waited.

My results came back. Dave made comments on everything I had submitted. Although I still have all of the comments, the one that still sticks out for me was, “This is something doable.”

My face hurt from smiling. I did it. I was proud of myself.

Dave has truly inspired me. I have never created anything this complex. World building is new to me, and I now realize how much work goes into it. There is as much, if not more, work as actually writing the story. I find I keep going back and adding more, creating more detail for myself so as I create the story, that information will filter through. I want to transport the reader to a new world and experience a new adventure.

Yes, I am published. My paranormal mystery, Strength of Spirit, won an award in 2014. I have had short stories, journal articles, and poetry published. I have been published academically, too.

I am a seeker of words, a bibliophile by choice. However, I pray I never become so complacent with my work that I don’t desire to learn more.

About the Author: Amanda Faith

Amanda Faith

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way. Loving a good puzzle has always been a fascination, and writing gives her the outlet to put all the pieces together.

Being adventurous and loving to try new things, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves in unusual situations. She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and to see how they interact, taking them on journeys they would never have normally experienced.

Teaching high school English by day, college English by night, writing, and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.

Post 1000: How on Earth Did We Get Here?

The Westin with arrowAs near as I can recall, the Fictorian blog was birthed—at least in idea form—on March 20, 2010 in the lounge of the Westin Hotel in Pasadena. (See photo to pinpoint more or less the exact spot.) A group of writers had assembled for the first annual Superstars Writing Seminar to learn about the ins and outs of the publishing business. We were a big group of strangers with a whole lot of high-flying ideals.

I’d like to think those ideals haven’t gone anywhere, but that big group of strangers doesn’t exist anymore. Alas, we are currently a big group of friends and trusted colleagues.

Of course, none of us went home from that seminar ready to start blogging. It took just over a year to get organized. Our first blog post, “The Benefits of Holding Hands,” went live on March 30, 2011—and it goes like this, courtesy of Fictorian alumnus Nancy DiMauro:

Writers help you stay motivated and hold you accountable. It’s like having an exercise or diet buddy. After all, who can understand the ups and downs of writing better? Writers need to network, commiserate and, well, get honest feedback about what they write from others who are wrestling with the same questions…

I don’t know if Nancy set out to write a mission statement, but this one would certainly do the trick. Four and a half years later, and one thousand posts, it still holds true. The Fictorians is about writers holding other writers accountable, keeping them motivated during the many and varied troughs of the writing life, and helping them to network.

All of these years later, the names and faces have changed, but none of the original Fictorians are at the same place in their writing careers than when they started. Without question, this blog has helped us to grow and stay connected with our tribe.

So, one thousand posts. Four digits. A really big part of me can’t believe we’re here. I’ve read somewhere that the average blog lasts two years or less. If that’s true, we’re beating the odds—and that’s largely due to the fact that we’re doing it together. Holding hands, so to speak. It’s not easy to keep an online presence going day after grueling day. With the Fictorians, it’s pretty effortless. When everyone makes a small commitment (one post month, loosely), it’s not hard to fill up the calendar with great content.

Well, perhaps you’ve noticed that we’re really very extremely excited about our 1000th post. It’s a big deal, a big milestone, so we figured, why not throw a little party? That’s why we’ve been giving away books all month. Seven last week, seven this week (it’s actually thirteen, since one of the prizes this week is a seven-book bundle), and fourteen more as the month rolls on. These are books we’ve written, books that our friends and guest bloggers have written, and even books that our mentors have written. There’s a lot of good stuff. For more details, click here, or simply log in to the Rafflecopter interface to your right.

Our celebration isn’t all about the giveaways, though. For over a year, we’ve been working behind the scenes to bring you this upgraded site interface. It was ready just in time for this month, the most pivotal of months. We hope you’re enjoying it so far!

If you’re a writer and you’re looking for a tribe, consider us in your corner. Read and comment on our articles. Get in touch with us. And if you’re really serious about doubling down on your writing career (and we’re all hoping the answer is yes), then consider signing up for the Superstars Writing Seminar. That’s right; the Fictorians are still around, and so is Superstars, going strong into its sixth year. There’s no better place to fulfill the above mission statement.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, has just been released. He specializes in both hard and soft science fiction and lives in the vicinity of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Never Stop Learning

I don’t think I can count the number of times I’ve heard people say that some aspect of writing couldn’t be taught. My personal favorite is that you can learn all the technique you want, but you’re either born with the ability to tell a good story, or you’re not. That you can’t learn how to tell a good story.

I personally think that the people who espouse these ideas have either spent entirely too much time dealing with writers who aren’t willing to put the work in, or we’re all a little confused on what, if any, difference there is between technique and telling a good story.

Writing is a craft, after all, and no one’s born a master of any craft.

Of course, we will probably never be utterly fantastic at every aspect of the writing craft. Some have fantastic world-building but a slow plot. Others great characters but not enough setting. Stephanie Meyer, for instance, has long been derided on her writing style, and has even admitted herself that she’s not the best writer, but she’s does a hell of a job weaving emotion into every scene and tugging the heart strings of her readers—which is exactly what her readers want.

The point being, just because you’re not the greatest at something doesn’t mean you’re not a good enough writer to be published. At the same time, ignoring your weaknesses because “it can’t be taught” is a total cop-out, in my opinion.

Like most everyone here, I dream for that day when I’m going about my usual day, doing something boring and what-not, only to happen upon someone reading a book with my name on it. I feel the despair that I’m not quite there yet and hear the clock ticking away the time that means there’s one more day I haven’t achieved my dream. And yes, I’m a realist. I know a good portion of that is fear of putting my work out there, but I also know I’ve still got some serious weaknesses that I need to address.

When I was a teenager, I had a choir instructor who explained that he taught people who were tone-deaf how to sing. It’s in understanding the real root of the problem that allows something like that to happen. With the tone-deaf people, they had to learn how the notes related to each other to be able to figure out how to go from one correct note to another correct note without wandering off, so to speak.

With writing, I think, it’s much the same. If you understand what the real problem is, you can fix it. You just might have to look a bit harder and be a little more creative to get the results you’re looking for.

My personal demon at the moment is plot structure. Something’s always escaped me about how to put one event before another and have it work to engage the reader, move the story forward, and still service the characters.

As a discovery writer, I lean toward minimal effort spent on deep planning before writing. Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling with a few stories that I have come to realize really need to be plotted before I start writing in earnest. So, recently I decided to dedicate a good portion of this year in workshops and classes specifically geared toward pre-writing. Currently, I’m doing David Farland’s online prewriting class at mystorydoctor.com, and while it has done a fantastic job in helping me learn how to plan a novel before I write it, it incidentally opened my eyes as why plot structure has always eluded me.

For me, there was one exercise in particular that helped me figure out what the real problem was. The idea was to establish circularity between characters in opposition to each other, by writing out how each character reacts to the actions of the other. This forced me to find the cause and effect of the conflict…and suddenly I know how my plot is supposed to work and how the sub-plots interact with it. Suddenly, I get it.

So, that’s my goal for this year, to focus on becoming a better writer by taking my weakness and working to learn how to get better at it.

I refuse to believe that there are things I can’t learn. The only thing I was born with was a love of stories. The writing portion is a work in progress.