Reviewing and being reviewed: Start Writing Fiction week 3

The second part of week 3‘s lessons involved writing a short piece, the start of a story, and posting it for review, then reviewing other writers’ work. The piece we wrote was meant to be new, but I ended up restarting a short story I’ve been working on for a few days but wasn’t happy with.

This is what I wrote:

Poppy shouldered the heavy pack off her back and lowered it to the ground.

“This is a pretty good place for a rest, don’t you think? What a view.”

She gazed out over the landscape spread out below. The wind cooled her face and she loosened her neck scarf to let the air cool her neck too. She opened her arms as if to hug the wide expanse of sky.

Behind her, Zeta let her own pack drop to the ground, where it made a grinding sort of thump as it hit the gravel of the path. Zeta sat on the pack. Then she got up, took a flask of water out, and sat back down again.

“The town looks so small from up here,” Poppy said. “We’ve come such a long way already.”

She lowered her arms and looked out further, across the regimented fields, clumps of trees, and as far as the horizon, where the sea was just visible, a thin band of dark blue.

“Let’s find somewhere where we can’t see the town at all before we decide the view is perfect,” Zeta said. She took a gulp of the water.

Poppy turned to face her friend. “I know. As far away as possible. But it’s so nice up here.” She bent down and plucked a buttercup from the grass. Wildflowers of all colours speckled the grass around them. “The sun is shining, there are flowers everywhere, the air is fresh, and there’s nobody out here but us. It’s a pretty good start, right?”

Once I’d written and posted that, the next step was reviewing. I reviewed three other stories. We were asked to answer the following questions when reviewing:

How was the central character portrayed and was this portrayal clear and interesting?

What made you think this piece was a story and did you want to read on?

What were the most, and least, successful aspects of the writing?

I felt these questions helped to focus my feedback. Sometimes when you’ve got free reign it’s hard to know what to say and you may end up saying things that aren’t useful, so having some focus like this was helpful. When I am looking for beta readers for a completed project I will definitely consider using these questions and others to help direct the feedback.

Feedback I gave

The three stories I read varied in skill level. The first seemed to be split into two distinct halves, the first half exploring the character and the second introducing some external conflict. The character side of things seemed pretty good to me, showing a character with human flaws. It was just enough to show what the character’s personal conflicts were about, with a well chosen point of comparison between what he has and what he wants in the form of tea. The second half introduced an external conflict via the medium of a newsflash on the TV, which I found tropey and rather abrupt.

The second story seemed to be written by a non-native English speaker as it had a few errors with tenses and word order. It was the start of a period romance, which isn’t really my thing anyway. It certainly seemed to me that the writer was fairly new to writing. They started with dialogue, then went off on a tangent of thoughts and exposition before the character responded to the dialogue addressing him. I didn’t feel the character had much depth; he seemed to be written from an external point of view, someone outside his head imagining what they’d want him to be thinking. Perhaps an easy hole to fall into for beginning romance writers. Still, the intent was clear enough: this character was compassionate and respectful.

The third story I reviewed was, I think, the best. It was about somoene attending one of those detox camps, trying to get rid of a sugar addiction. The character came across well as an intelligent, slightly snarky person who was definitely addicted. I struggled to find flaws with it.

It was interesting to read these. I guess I don’t often read outside of a few genres (fantasy mostly, but occasionally sci fi and historical fiction too, plus Greek mythology). So it was interesting to see two modern settings in the stories I read. And I’ve definitely learned something from reading them, especially as regards the tea comparison in the first story I read, which provided an effective illustration of a character who had gone looking for something and moved away, only to decide that maybe the grass was greener back home.

Feedback I recieved

This is the feedback I received from Ade:

How was the central character portrayed and was this portrayal clear and interesting?

The central character which I think is Poppy was portrayed in a warm and interesting way, it was evident the type/personality she had. I enjoyed meeting Poppy 🙂

What made you think this piece was a story and did you want to read on?

From the beginning I knew it was, and I did want to read on because I found a place with the character.

What were the most, and least, successful aspects of the writing?

The most successful aspect the fact I could tell the girls where moving to a new town and not just going on a hike. And on the least Zeta was on the down low.

To be honest I’m a little disappointed by this feedback. The course instructions suggested giving at least 150 words of feedback and even counting the questions themselves this doesn’t reach that. All that Ade really says, when you cut out the fluff, is that Poppy has a warm personality, that Zeta wasn’t so happy, and that it’s clear they’re not just out hiking. Which, okay, means I got the important bits across. But there’s nothing about what didn’t work, what wasn’t successful. I don’t have anything to work on. In the end, it doesn’t tell me anything useful.

I was also disappointed that I only got one review. After I receieved Ade’s review, I hoped I’d get a second one and so decided to split my week 3 appraisal into two blog posts. But no more reviews have materialised. On the one hand, I am several weeks behind and most people have already gone far past this step. But on the other hand, I’ve given out three reviews and there are others behind me in the process. Maybe I will get another review later on.

I guess I’d better catch up if I don’t want this to happen for the second review assignment.

And if anyone feels like reviewing my piece using those questions, I’d be grateful.

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