I came home Saturday night from a fantastic week in Utah at WIFYR (Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers). My notebook is crammed full of notes I'm planning to blog about--otherwise I'd forget about them--but I thought I'd start with that first morning.
I took Ann Cannon's morning class on the YA novel, and it (she) blew me away. We read 20 pages from each of our 12 classmates before the week began, and I was so interested to find out who wrote all those submissions. The other writers were talented, and I enjoyed their work. More importantly for a critique workshop, they were very perceptive readers, and I came home with lots to mull over.
I volunteered to be the first up for critique. I'm a worrier, and I thought that if on Monday I could stop worrying about getting lost on my way to the conference AND hear my manuscript be ripped to shreds, I just might be able to focus for the rest of the week.
The main theme that readers came back to was that I needed to deepen the sense of place in my 20 pages. I've mentioned before that that's a weakness of mine--I'd say Achilles' heel, except that would imply I only had one--and both my agent and my critique group here at home have pointed it out. It was interesting to hear that same feedback coming from different directions. For example, someone asked how the stones on the church were weathered--let us see them! Another mentioned the often neglected sense of smell and asked if this funeral had flowers, or what. A couple people asked if the mom could see the little boy the main character was talking to. Several of them suggested playing up the weather element to echo the main character's feelings (that's a struggle for me--I had to read Ruskin's essay on the pathetic fallacy back in my school days, and I guess I'm cutting edge for the nineteenth century in my views on that).
They came up with other insights, large and small, that I'm still digesting (I also wrote down "terrorizing sheep" in my notebook--who knows. My funeral scene is sheep-free.).
Ann Cannon gave us all paddleboards and had us write "Time-Space Continuum" on them to remind us to ground our readers in time and space. Great visual--and it's also a great example of how my settings lurch after the ball of my story, trying to give it a spot to land!
I did relax after I made it through that (not even a little bit brutal) critique session. I did, however, manage to keep getting lost that week.