Lessons Learned (Part 1)

Posted by Dwayne on March 19, 2012

In my previous post, I mentioned attending Big Sur Writing Workshop.  It was great meeting agents, authors, editors, and a host of dreamers like me, but the most valuable aspect had to be the critique groups.  The reviews given were invaluable even though they were very specific to each writer.  The Sunday afternoon following the final session, I sat down with my notebook and tried to distill the essence of our critique sessions into concrete “lessons learned.”  I think different members of each group would come up with wildly different lessons since we’re at different points in our writing.  However, as I thought about the underlying principles of everyone’s comments, three general ideas seemed to repeat over and over again.

  • Logical consistency
  • Over/under writing
  • Clarity

I’ll touch on the first one (Logical consistency) in this post since I think it’s the most important.  It seemed to me that the overwhelming majority of comments dealt with this notion of logical consistency.  This is the idea that your character, or an event, or an item, must exist within your fictional world in a manner consistent with the parameters of the world.

Let’s consider each of these general categories: Character, Event, Item


In this case, the concerns dealt with motivation, choices, and reactions.  In my mind (since I categorize almost everything), I saw these three as before (motivation), during (choices), and after (reactions).  The kinds of questions and observations that emerged were: Would “character” really do that?  That seems inconsistent with what we know about “character”.


In this case, the concerns dealt with world-reality.  In many cases, events are taking place in fictional worlds where anything might be possible.  While that is true, events in any fictional world still have to be consistent with the “rules” for that universe.  This necessities a clear understanding of the world one is creating, but it also necessitates knowing how events will fit in that world.  The kinds of questions and observations that emerged were: Could/would this really happen this way?  If event A takes place, then event B doesn’t seem to fit.  N.B. This is NOT “should an event happen this way?”  That is another problem.


In this case, the concerns were similar to “Event”.  I make the distinction though because “Item”, in my mind, deals more with setting and physical objects, while “Event” deals with stuff that happens.  So, this concern dealt with world-reality and possibility.  Again, anything could be possible, but it must be possible within the framework being constructed for the story.  The kinds of questions and observations that emerged were:  Could/would this object exist in this universe?  … in this specific setting?  Does that object make sense in the culture you’ve described?

The Key:

The takeaway principle for me as an aspiring author is that I must learn to ask the right questions.  When I can look at my characters and events and items and objectively ask … Does this fit?  Does this make sense?  Is this consistent? … then I’ll have learned this lesson.

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