My First Writer’s Conference, Part Three: The Dreaded Read and Critique

The scariest thing I did at the Penn Writers conference this year was attend a read and critique session. It was me, five other writers, and a panel of people waiting to rip me to shreds.
And it was easily the highlight of the conference.
Listening to a panel of professionals offer up advice and praise to other authors was so inspiring, and it helped me put into focus was is important in writing salable fiction.
My take-aways from listening to the critiques:
  • Have a killer opening line.
  • If the novel is anything other than contemporary, specify the setting (time and place) before the first line. (example: Boston, 1815)
  • Get into the head of the protagonist right away. Forging an emotional connection in the reader’s mind will keep her turning pages.
  • Edit mercilessly. Decide on the focus of the scene and cut out whatever is not critical to it.
  • Every word should move the plot forward. Don’t dump in backstory at the beginning; you have plenty of time to slowly reveal it, and keeping the reader guessing keeps the reader invested.
  • Build tension from the first word on and keep building it.
I’m happy to report that my own critique was overwhelmingly positive. The panel was super enthused with the quality of the writing, which was such a relief. They were very critical of some issues with pacing, and while it wasn’t easy to hear, their suggestions for resolving it provided another ‘eureka moment,’ when I recognized opportunities for strengthening my writing and my novel as a whole.
In the end, I am so glad I went and put myself out there. I left encouraged, bolstered by the fact that professionals in my field loved my writing, and inspired with new ideas for how to make it better.
What about you? Any critiques stick out in your mind as game changers? How did feedback affect your process?

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