Any writer, whether they love critique or not, gets a little nervous going into a workshop. People are about the go tearing into something you’ve worked hard on, and you’re hoping all your work won’t have been for naught.
But workshopping with peers can be fun as well. Maybe two people get into a debate about a scene, both having differing opinions. Perhaps someone has something witty to say about something. Perhaps someone made a suggestion that made no sense, and someone else shot it down with an impressive one-liner.
Here are some things I’ve seen/ overheard:
We’re gathered around discussing part of a YA book one of our peers has written. There are two main characters—a twelve-year-old boy and an eleven-year-old girl. They are captured and the boy is taken away, but we don’t know what happens to him, as the chapter is from the girl’s point of view. When he returns, he’s near catatonic.
One guy says, “I know it sounds horrible, but I was just thinking…did he get raped?”
“Oh man, I was thinking the same thing,” says another.
I slowly turn my head to look at the author, sitting separate from the group. She stares at both on them in wide-eyed, gaping horror, and then buries her face in her hands.
“I think he needs to change up the name a bit,” said one reader, referring to the fake name an author had given to his ex-wife. “Like, they were in a relationship. Maybe call her Jess, or Jessy.”
“She threatened him with a box cutter. I’m pretty sure he’s not thinking of her in cutesy pet names.”
“Wait, I thought he was some kind of monster.”
“No, he has dimples. That automatically makes him attractive.”
“So, as I was reading this, I was trying to figure out who Amber was,” I say. “And then I saw you used an excerpt from one of your previous pieces and realized it was your ex. Except in the excerpt you call her Kaitlin.”
“Ah crap,” says the author.
“Yeah, who are all these women?” I ask. “Are you perpetuating a Muslim stereotype?”
“Yes. I have many wives.”
This was a phone call between me and a friend who wanted me to workshop his stuff.
“Uh, hey,” he says, “I got your email.”
“Ah good. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Because you just sent me seven thousand words of grand fantasy cliché and that’s not like you.”
“Oh. It was….that bad, huh?”
“My mom asked if you were trying to write Game of Thrones.”
“So, did Preston seriously faint?”
“God fucking dammit Preston.”
“I always feel like I have nothing to submit, because you guys never have a lot to say on my non-fiction.”
“Well, it’s harder to critique non-fiction, because it’s your life.”
“Yeah, I can’t just say “No, no that doesn’t sound like something [Author] would do,” because it’s non-fiction and you probably did it.”
“How do we pronounce the name of this city?”
“Honestly, I have no clue.”
“I love this part. If this paragraph was a beautiful woman, I would make love to her.”
“Right, so, I liked the end of this chapter. It was messed up. The comment I wrote here was ‘AAAAAAAHHHHHH.’”
The author starts laughing.
“And then as a secondary comment I wrote, ‘Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!’”
“You are a horrible person.” –Said pretty much anytime an author does something someone else thinks is messed up.
So remember writers, just because your story is getting torn a new one, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.