Monday, April 20, 2015

The Last Chapter (And the Epilogue)

Post by Jenny

I reached somewhat of a milestone last week, when my critique group finally made it through the last chapter of my novel. (And the epilogue.) For months, I’ve brought one chapter at a time, to have it read aloud by another member of the group. Page by page, we drew closer to the end, until there was only one chapter remaining. (And the…well, you know.)

I admit, I was a bit nervous, much as I was when I brought the first chapter. First and last chapters are important. A novel is kind of like a sandwich in that way. Even if there are great things in the middle, whatever is on both ends (the bread-chapters) must hold it together in a satisfying way. So there I was, with my ending slice of bread—and the pickle on the side, which is how I now think of an epilogue—anxiously hoping it wouldn’t all fall apart.

To my great relief, everyone was happy with the conclusion. Since then, I’ve been thinking of how much I have learned from the process of having a novel critiqued from start to finish. Even though I’m the creator and writer of said novel, I realized that sometimes I don’t know it or the characters as well as I thought. Sometimes I brought a chapter that I felt was a little weak, only to hear that it was solid and served an important purpose in furthering the story. On other occasions, I brought a chapter that felt like a homerun, only to have the group’s astute questions and observations point out the shortcomings of my imagined brilliance.

And my characters, who have taken out long-term leases inside my head…I’m more familiar with them than anyone, and yet there were numerous occasions when a critique group member would say, “I don’t think s/he would do/say that. It seems…“ (You know what’s coming, right?) “Out of character.” More often than not it was the right call, and I would wonder why I didn’t see it. I suppose the reason is that we all have blind spots where our writing is concerned, much as we do with our children. (Except mine, which are perfect.) When a fellow writer can point them out in a kind and constructive way, it is exceptionally helpful. A few tasty snacks don't hurt, either.

If you’re in a critique group, how has it helped you?


RichardK said...

Congratulations on finishing the last chapter. And now, the REWRITE! (Runs to catch Jenny at the point of fainting.)

Patricia Stoltey said...

My critique group members catch stuff I miss all the time. I love 'em.

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