V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 13, 2014 - 6:24am

Has anyone ever workshopped an entire novel? On LitReactor or elsewhere?

I've started to do it and it's been useful, but I'm getting to the point where multiple protagonists will take the story in different directions. I want a few reviews, so have to keep my chucks in the 2-4,000 word range, but if I followed the chronology of the book, I'd just have people reviewing incomplete scenes because I jump between storylines.

If I workshopped each character's scenes individually with brief descriptions of what would happen elsewhere in the novel, do you think that would work? So I say, "Detectives are briefed on the case"; then I have a scene where the killer is preparing to attack someone; then I say, "Detectives interview an expert"; then I have a scene where the killer is following someone (these are just examples, not spoilers, just in case you want to do a review. Hey, did I mention I'm workshopping this? Have you seen the chapters in the workshop? Oh, I just thought I'd mention it...)

I'm using the structure that I've chosen to build tension - you can see the detectives are on the trail, but maybe they're still far behind, and then the killer is getting ready to go again, then the detectives get a lead and so on.

Any thoughts welcome.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 13, 2014 - 7:08am

Yes, I used to belong to Write Club, which was a year-long novel workshop. And my biggest challenge, aside from how slowly I write—they'd only get about one chapter per month—was dealing with multiple/nonlinear narratives. I didn't want to actually write the book in the order the chapters would appear, but felt compelled to so that my workshop peers could judge the book by the same chronology the end reader would experience. One thing that helped was to create a thread (in your case, maybe a document?) of running chapter summaries each time I posted a new one, so they could refresh themselves on what happened before.

I can't speak to how LR wokshoppers might prefer you handle this. But I would guess if you're a pretty fast writer you might be able to write the book as-is and they could keep track, but otherwise, the method you suggested sounds doable. One thing, though, who's to say the same reviewers will be reading each story since they're all separate threads? (I think.) Maybe you could solicit some specific people willing to follow you for the entire journey. (Is there any novel-reviewing component to the LR workshops?) One advantage of Write Club is I had the same three or four reviewers locked in for a year.

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 13, 2014 - 8:51am

Thanks Gordon. I've actually finished the 2nd draft so I'm workshopping as I do a bit of additional polishing on each chapter.

The chapter summaries are a good idea.

I definitely plan to get some beta readers to read the whole thing, but right now it's quite useful to have different people coming in and looking at some of the more 'contained' stuff like style and grammar and my bad habits, which I can hopefully pay attention to in the next chapter. People are also asking about the motivations of a particular character, which makes me more optimistic about some of the material that is coming. And maybe if I can get a positive response from people who read the end of a story, when they weren't there for the beginning, or describe the procedural stuff in an engaging enough way for it to stand alone, I'll know I'm on to something.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 13, 2014 - 9:36am

Would it not be advantageous to have an entire first draft written before entering into this sort of thing?

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 13, 2014 - 10:10am

Thug: for LR, I would think so. But in Write Club, that was one of my peeves, when members would come in and drop a novel on us, even in pieces. I would feel like the feedback I was providing wasn't being heeded when I'd see the same mistakes and tendencies repeated over and over because it was already written. I wanted to see them evolve over the course of the year as they incorporated those lessons-learned.

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 13, 2014 - 10:44am

Yeah, I actually have 2nd draft completed. I'm happy with the plot and characters, now I want to polish the prose, get rid of some bad habits and make sure people get the image of my characters that I'm aiming for.

Then when I find someone willing to read the full 70k words, they can hopefully get in to the story without being distracted by basic POV issues or crappy dialogue.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig January 13, 2014 - 4:10pm

I did Write Club chapter by chapter and I enjoyed learning that way. The guy I worked with did his in 2-3 chapter chunks (they were short chapters) and yes, in an environment like that it would be frustrating to have the whole thing done. Part of the idea of a thing like that is to have a relationship with the people looking at your stuff where they know your weaknesses and strengths -- you get about half way done and all the little bullshit is gone and your critiques focus on the bigger picture.

I've never workshoped a pre-written novel online. I did this once in an in-person writer group but it was so long ago, I don't even remember most of those people's names let alone what worked or didn't work for me in the process.

PatManhattan's picture
PatManhattan from New York is reading "Dog Soldiers" by Robert Stone January 13, 2014 - 7:19pm

Sure, count me in. I've got a raw first draft novel done, and my resolution for 2014 is to get a good polished 2nd draft finished.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 14, 2014 - 5:45pm

Maybe in Write Club people should have a first draft done, then do the rewrite as the year progresses...

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 14, 2014 - 6:08pm

Yeah, I've definitely seen that a few times, and seems to work well. They get more out of it, because they can post chapters faster and probably have a third draft by year's end, as opposed to many who don't even get their first one done in that time. I workshopped the same novel two years in a row and was still only 60% done. That frustrated some readers, so I ended up posting all my remaining chapter synopses so they could at least see how it would end. Actually, I think I did that in the middle of the second year because I was getting annoyed by certain pieces of feedback that were a result of them not understanding my intentions of how I was working up to reveal a big twist.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 14, 2014 - 7:12pm

Is there any reason not to post the entire first draft at once in Write Club?

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 14, 2014 - 8:00pm

Etiquette. The unwritten expectation is to post a chapter/section at a time. Goes back to what I was saying about the madness of pointing out the same mistakes/tendencies over and over because there's no progress seen/made during that time. That, and you could be waiting many months to get feedback on a document that large (given that most reviewers would expect to be providing about that same amount of feedback over the course of an entire year). I've edited books for friends before, and even with somewhat-focused attention, that's weeks of work.

Now, I suppose you could say, "Read this draft quickly without making any line-level comments, and just give me some big-picture thoughts at the end and suggestions for improvement," and work from there. I personally couldn't do that, though. Mainly because I can't stand reading unpolished work. That results in so many "yeah, but"s that I'm pointing out, things they probably knew they needed to fix anyway, wasting both of our time. Me, I only want to read something after they've already made it the best they possibly can, where my suggestions would be most beneficial. Unless the story's fucked at some fundamental level, in which case having polished it was a huge waste of their own time. hahaha So, yeah, diff'rent strokes, your mileage may vary, yadda.

Matt A.'s picture
Matt A. January 15, 2014 - 5:31am

Gordon, I came upon this thread and tried to reserach this Write Club that's mentioned. All I found was an in-person group that meets in a few major cities. Am I looking at the correct "Write Club?" I got the impression from this discussion it was on-line, but maybe I'm wrong.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 15, 2014 - 10:26am

It's online, but it's a private forum (to safeguard against "prior publication" among other things). Signup is usually in November-ish, by word of mouth, and then it locks down before the beginning of each year. I think there are probably lots of clubs/sites that use that name; no affiliation. I believe Renee Pickup is the admin this year, if I remember correctly.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 15, 2014 - 1:07pm

What, if anything, would you say is the difference between a write club and beta reading?

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 17, 2014 - 9:15am

Damn, I've fallen at the third hurdle.

I posted the next chunk of the book, but only the scenes involving one of the characters, with just brief sentences describing what the other characters were doing elsewhere. I re-read it and decided that doing it that way absolutely killed the tension. So I deleted it from the workshop. 15 points I ain't never gonna get back...

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 17, 2014 - 9:42am

What are points?

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 17, 2014 - 1:22pm

You earn points for reviewing LitReactor workshop submissions and then spend the points to submit your own work for review.

Dmcleod's picture
Dmcleod from Florida is reading Molloy January 22, 2014 - 4:30pm

How might one go about "auditioning" for this Write Club? I heard about it on the Booked podcast and it is very intriguing.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 22, 2014 - 4:49pm

Renee up there ^^ could probably tell you. Usually it opens up in November-ish to get ready for the following year. I was in it for several years; not sure how they're handling it at the moment as things evolve.

 

Also: Booked, woot!

Dmcleod's picture
Dmcleod from Florida is reading Molloy January 22, 2014 - 7:22pm

Hey! you had an interview on there. I am years late but I am about to get my claws on a copy of of Warmed & Bound. Cant wait.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 22, 2014 - 8:06pm

Can't go wrong with that book; it's excellent. Enjoy!

And yep, they interviewed me for episode #33, featured a clip from a reading in #68, and reviewed my novel Flashover in #89.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 25, 2014 - 1:33am

Write club still open?

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig January 26, 2014 - 8:54pm

Let's see if I get everyone's questions...

Gordon, I came upon this thread and tried to reserach this Write Club that's mentioned. All I found was an in-person group that meets in a few major cities. Am I looking at the correct "Write Club?" I got the impression from this discussion it was on-line, but maybe I'm wrong.

Wrong Write Club. I know someone who got as far as signing up with the Write Club you're talking about before realizing it wasn't the right thing. It's a fully online, private forum. And yes, I am one of the admins this year.

What, if anything, would you say is the difference between a write club and beta reading?

A two way relationship. With beta-readers, you write it all out, they read it. With WC you're giving and taking which means you and your partners know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and you go through your work over a longer length of time. 

How might one go about "auditioning" for this Write Club? I heard about it on the Booked podcast and it is very intriguing.

It's not all that crazy. You have to be invited, so look out for people who are in (hey, I'm in, you see me, right??), then you have to provide a synopsis of your novel. As Gordon mentioned, invitations usually go out in November, registration starts in December, and we get to work in January. So around the end of the year is the time to keep your ears perked.

Write club still open? 

Short answer: No. Longer answer: see above.

Kind of wish this discussion had started in Nov/Dec. we were trying to recruit pretty hard as a lot of the old guard has sort of graduated from the WC format.
 

 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 26, 2014 - 11:31pm

Thanks for chiming in, Renee!

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 27, 2014 - 8:30am

If anyone's interested, this has been my experience so far of posting novel chapters in the LitReactor workshop (and someone else is doing the same thing now, so they might have something to add in a while):

The short version is, I'm really glad I did it and, so far, my main reservations have been unwarranted.

I've had some people read all of it and others just individual chapters. Feedback from both groups has been useful. Flat dialogue and illogical character behaviour is apparent at any point in the story. I've had so many people bring up POV issues that I've finally taken the hint and rewritten scenes to address them. It took more than one person before I got the message though - multiple opinions carry more weight, and I can be stubborn. One reader made a general comment that chapter 3 wasn't as polished as the previous 2 - he was right and I went back and tightened up my prose.

I think everyone has a different approch to reviewing, so getting more than one reviewer is crucial. Some people are more interested in the language (one reviewer highlighted a couple of my sentences he liked, which motivated me to really work on my prose), others are great for pointing out that a character is thinking about something trivial after they just found out something non-trivial. Some people like suggesting story changes, other focus on grammar. No one person picks up everything.

The process is also motivational - I feel like I have to work to retain regular readers, but also produce chapters that are interesting enough to drag in someone who wasn't there at the start. If your chapter 3 makes someone want to go back and find out what happened at the start, imagine how hooked people who have been with you from the beginning will be. I posted one chapter, then withdrew it because I wanted to make it better to keep my readers.

Obviously, I'll get beta readers to look at the whole story at some point, but for me, workshopping the novel like this also has its benefits.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore January 27, 2014 - 10:00am

Yeah, a big part of workshopping is learning what feedback to ignore. Taking everyone's suggestions is both exhausting and often counterproductive. But it's hard to discount a consensus, so those carry more weight. Me, I've always been better at pointing out nuts-n-bolts stuff at the line level, and tend not to be as critical of big-picture plottings and thematic stuff. Which is also why I always appreciated the latter type of feedback more in my own work. And why the replies in the threads themselves are so important (as opposed to just their doc attachments), to hopefully spark some discussion between reviewers who probably aren't seeing what's in others' docs, getting consensus and reinforcing or negating certain things.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami January 27, 2014 - 12:26pm

It seems like it would be more productive to workshop a short story collection that happens to have a linear progression with the same characters story by story, than a novel then. One of the more destructive things I've noticed in myself, is trying to edit as I go if I try to stick to the same seven point structure throughout the book.

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow January 28, 2014 - 2:28am

Gordon/Sarah,

I actually haven't had to ignore much feedback at all and right now and I want to edit as I go along. I've spent 18 months and 2 drafts getting the story done. Much of my feedback has been on POV, dialogue, sentence structure, lack of description, and characters behaving in ways that real people wouldn't behave in those situations. In these instances, I can rewrite straight away to erase these obvious problems and hopefully address them in the following chapters. People also give me these little thoughts about characters that get me thinking of them in new ways (and sometimes it actually seems to help that they haven't read previous scenes that reveal details about these characters).

BUT for a 'no outline, hurtling into the first draft to discover the story' kind of writer like me, workshopping a first draft as I write it would be like taking a photo of my penis when I was 9 months old to show someone on a first date.

I can imagine, though, that if your work is more literary and you've got a more distinctive style and voice than me, workshopping a novel chapter by chapter might be less useful. But I still stand by what I said. For the purpose of polishing a story that is already complete and getting multiple people to catch your bad habits or simply tell you what they do and don't like about individual scenes, workshopping the novel is working for me (so far).