Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Critiques: A Fresh Set of Eyes, Part 1

 Those of us who have sustained a writing discipline soon realize we can’t see the forest for the trees. We just get too close to our work. We may feel a section isn’t quite right but all of our tinkering doesn’t relieve the sense of uneasiness..


The first level of critique support is your mom or your best friend. NO! That’s not right! They are for emotional support! Let me begin again.

Your first level of critique support is a CRITIQUE GROUP

A critique group is an exercise in developing a tough hide, and in the process you will also make lifelong friends.

The leadership of ACFW Indiana has encouraged all of our members to seek out such a group. 

Rebecca Reed runs an online group within our chapter. 

My long-running local,  secular group has also gone online for the past fifteen months, which gives us the added advantage of including those who have moved away. 

Then there is Heartland Writers Group. They only meet once a month, but it’s an excellent place to dip your toes into the sometimes icy waters of criticism. I have found Heartland to be extraordinarily gentle and kind with new writers.

Several eyes on your work has advantages.

1. You can see multiple reader reactions in the space of a few minutes. If many mention the same gripe about a particular line of text or a plot point, you can be sure they’re correct. You need to fix it. That part you couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong? They will probably pinpoint the problem for you.

I have found this aspect of critique groups most helpful. Because of their laser focus, I’ve become aware of  my weaknesses and how to overcome them. I am much the better writer for it.

2.If only one person complains about a character or the story arc, etc. don’t worry about it. Their personal preference isn’t of value in a critique. It’s your story not theirs. Acknowledge their objection and move on.

Be careful with this one. If you’re like me, this kind of complaint can get under your skin—and yet the person is a single opinion versus all the rest!

In one meeting, I tired of the same guy always telling me he didn’t like my characters. It may not have been his intention, but I felt he implied I should change their personalities. I finally snapped at him. “My character is who she is whether you like her or not.” He hasn’t been back to the group since. I’ve always wondered: if I'd had more self-discipline, would he have remained with the group? I have learned to nod, take notes, and remain silent.

3. If half of the group points out something they dislike about an aspect of your submission, and the other half are convinced otherwise, lively discussion ensues.

“The character is too kind,” gripes one member of the group.

“No, no! Her actions and words fit her personality!”

“But is she realistic?”

“Absolutely! I’ve known people like this character.”

Perfect! You’ve created a passion in your readers. Keep it just the way it is. When such discussions occur over my work, I leave the meeting totally fulfilled! Meanwhile, I take notes on their comments just to review and see if I land on one side of the debate or the other.

If you don't already have one, I urge you to find a critique group.

Local, online, international. Find a group that you feel comfortable with. I guarantee you will grow--as a writer, an individual, a child of God!


Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.

A wife, mother of three, grandmother to eight, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!

Where Linda can be found on the web:






Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Will You Take the Challenge?

Over the years, I've tried to challenge myself as a writer, with varying degrees of willingness. While I believed that stretching my writerly inclinations would be good for me, I still bulked--sometimes a little, often a lot--when it came to tackling things I'd labeled as boring … or hard … or not my thing. 

I noted repeatedly, in front of witnesses, that I had no interest in interviewing people like my friend Kayleen does. None at all. Yet, some time later I found myself writing feature articles for a local magazine based on interviews with business owners. For two years, I psyched myself up each month to complete the assignment. Despite this type of writing not making my top-ten list, a sense of accomplishment washed over me with each on-time article submitted. And the golden nugget tucked inside? The many interesting people I met and the "hidden treasures” I discovered among the businesses I visited.

When my friend Rhonda talked excitedly about her new venture, providing web content and advertising pieces for businesses via a marketing firm, I smiled politely. While I was happy for her, I firmly stated that I "would never want to do that." Write weekly blog posts, monthly e-newsletters, and other "business writing" content on boring topics. I inwardly moaned at the thought of researching and writing about subjects that I had little to no interest in. But guess who later inquired about the opportunity to join her writing team? I plowed through the first months of boring assignments, not sure I could make it a long-term gig. But perseverance won out and nearly seven years and upwards of 700 articles later, I have learned so much and have grown by leaps and bounds as a writer.   

 Poetry is another "not my thing" type of writing that I tend to avoid like the plague, although I've forced myself to write a poem on several special occasions. Those efforts didn't kill me. And I wasn't banned from any of my writing hangouts. So, a few years ago, I challenged myself to compose a poem in celebration of National Poetry Month (in April). Once I put pen to paper, I was surprised at how easily the poem came together. And while it's unlikely to win a prize, I have to say, I was rather pleased with the results.

Photo by krystina rogers on Unsplash

In Honor of Spring

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
But the tulips of spring,
How they make my heart sing.
The grass is so green,
And my, how it grows.
So cool and so soft
Against my bare little toes.
The warmth of the sun
Surrounds the fertile earth.
As the wonders of spring
Fill us each with such mirth.
A confession I must make
Although it pains me so.
Only the tallest part
Of the lawn did I mow.
The day had been long and
T'was already past seven.
My bones were so weary
To rest–that would be heaven.
I’ll finish the job
Before the grass is knee high.
I promise I will
About that I would not lie.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Dean Koontz on Credible Characters

 Last month, we considered how to create sympathetic characters—those a reader can feel an affinity for because they have desirable character traits. This month’s subject is closely related. How do we create characters who realistic and believable, even if we feel little sympathy for them? Villains must be as credible as heroes are, minor characters as realistic as protagonists. Anything less betrays a careless author.

Koontz says, “I believe very strongly that the success of a novel hinges on good characterization as much as it hinges on good plotting. To my way of thinking, those are the only two absolutely essential elements of fine popular fiction. I expend a considerable percentage of my writing time in the careful development of three-dimensional characters.”[1]

He suggests compiling a dossier on each character before you begin to write. This detailed list of factors that have shaped the character won’t be used in the text itself, but it’ll make you aware of attitudes and actions that would be natural for a certain character—and which factors would not. Scrivener provides a character template to help you start such a dossier, but you could include so much more. Here are the elements of a character dossier that Koontz recommends:

·        Physical Appearance

·        Voice and Speech

·        Movement and Gestures

·        Past Life

·        Religion

·        Sexuality

·        Vocation

·        Skills and Talents

It could include much more, of course, but these factors will help you begin to paint a credible portrait of the person in your story. It’ll help you maintain consistency in the way you handle that person and it will remind you to avoid cookie-cutter character designs. No one that you know has a cookie-cutter personality. Neither should anyone you create on paper.

[1]Dean R. Koontz, How to Write Best-Selling Fiction (Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 1981), 147.