by Lana Krumwiede
Many people ask me about how our writers’ meetings work and what we talk about. Without getting too specific, I’ll share some interesting points that were discussed in a recent meeting.
Right now, we have two members who are working on middle-grade mysteries. One is in the beginning stages of the book and submitted chapters two and three for this month’s meeting. The other is near the end of the book; she submitted the next-to-the-last chapter this month. The feedback that each of these authors received had a lot to do with pacing. The beginning chapters could use some speeding up while the ending chapter needed to be slowed down a little.
This seems to be a natural tendency. We writers often start too slowly. We want to set up everything just so and make sure the reader gets to know the characters and the setting before we go on. And when we get toward the end, we want to sprint to the finish line. Perhaps this tendency comes from the fact that many of us read a book in a similar fashion—careful at the beginning and speedy toward the end. Pacing is a very tricky thing to get just right. Unless you’re a very experienced writer, pacing is something you have to tinker with during revisions. One of the best ways to perfect pacing is to have your writing buddies give you feedback.
As we discussed a different manuscript, another interesting point came up. One of the writer’s tasks is to direct the reader’s attention in certain ways. The amount of page time an object gets should be proportional to how important that object is to the story. When a writer spends a lot of time describing a certain tree, the writer is sending a message to the reader: Look at this tree. Remember it. It’s important. If the tree doesn’t factor significantly into the story later on, it becomes confusing. As writers, we’re not always aware of how we’re directing the reader’s attention, which is another way that feedback from other writers can be very helpful.
Our meeting also included a humorous picture book manuscript and a discussion about submitting to foreign publishers. I always enjoy seeing the wonderful new ideas my writing buddies are working on. Which brings me to another advantage of attending a writing group: Feeling energized and inspired by amazing writers!