I just had my short story, “Long Night at Jade’s Diner,” critiqued by my classmates, most of whom are 12-15 years younger than me. While I took this Creative Writing class with an open mind, I had no idea how these kids would react to my story. After all, it’s very violent. At nearly 7,000 words, it’s on the long side for a short story. It’s written like a faux screenplay (something I aped from Haruki Murakami’s After Dark). And it ends (and begins) rather ambiguously.
My classmates liked the story. My professor seemed to really like the story. However, this blog isn’t about that. Instead, I want to talk about some of the criticism leveled at the piece.
First, there were a few adverbs that didn’t need to be there. Some instances of “show-don’t-tell.” You know, basic early draft mistakes we all make.
Some were taken back by the ultra-violence. Now, let’s be clear: they weren’t #triggered. They, rightfully, pointed out that given the story’s more literary bent, the violence was very jarring to read. The professor disagreed, but I kind of agree with the kids on this one. The piece will likely benefit from reeling in the violence, making it less over-the-top. While gore has its place (and God knows I’ve written plenty of blood and guts stories), this particular tale doesn’t need it.
Two women called me out for the omniscient narrator describing the breasts of two female characters. If I’d been writing from the point-of-view of a character who has a fixation, the lingering might have been called-for. In this case, it wasn’t.
I’m glad they called me out for it.
When you’ve been writing as long as I have, I think it’s rather easy to get set in your ways. Weirdly enough, the professor told me early on that given my publication history, I wouldn’t likely learn anything from this class and the students who, he believes, are less far along in their writing journeys than me. But he was wrong, and I’m glad he was.
I believe you can, and should, always try to learn at every stage of your career. Like programmers who refuse to learn new software or engineers who steer clear of new equipment, the writer who stops honing his craft, regardless of their level of success, will become obsolete.
I don’t intend for that to happen until I die.