I am thrilled to share with you a guest post from writer Larry Enmon author of Wormwood, a psychological thriller set in Dallas Texas. Larry has very kindly written an interesting and insightful piece about the importance of critique groups to develop both yourself and your novel. First though, here is the synopsis of Wormwood for you to whet your appetite.
About The Book
In Dallas, Texas, Katrina Wallace goes missing. As the mayor’s daughter, her kidnapping triggers mounting political pressure and forces the Chief of Police to put two senior detectives on the case. Rob Soliz and Frank Pierce have done the impossible in the past, but their methods are unconventional.
The only evidence at the scene is a Bible found in the girl’s car and soon Frank and Rob find themselves involved in a disturbing investigation shrouded by Bible prophecy, doomsday cults, and murder.
Is Katrina still alive? And what exactly is Wormwood?
As the trail leads them into the woods of rural East Texas, Frank must deal with his lingering religious doubts and solve the case. His worst fears will be realised when he must discover the ugly truth about Wormwood. But he and Rob will have to get out alive to tell the story…
Why You Need a Critique Group – Larry Enmon
I have a confession. Without my writing critique group, I would never have been published. The reason? When I wasn’t getting regular feedback from other writers, I was speaking into an echo chamber. No critique means no improvement.
It really doesn’t matter how you do it, but you must find other writers and share ideas, even if you live in the boonies and have to join an online group. Reading your material to your pets or having your spouse or friends read it just isn’t the same, unless they are also writers. You need someone with a clear understanding of what good writing is to tell you how to make yours better. Besides, my pets don’t read crime mysteries.
My critique group, the Dallas Fort Worth Writers’ Workshop, is a large organization that’s been around over forty years, and it’s produced some ridiculous number of traditionally published writers, like myself. We break up into smaller groups of eight to ten people and read our work every Wednesday night, and it’s common for a few seasoned authors to find their way into our groups. In any particular critique session, I’m listening to a writer read a hard-boiled detective story, followed by a sex scene from a romance novel, followed by a fantasy story about elves who self-combust in the sunlight. It’s hard some nights not to get whiplash.
Even so, I’ve learned quite a bit about storytelling by listening to other genres. I will offer a word of caution, however. Not everyone, including me, can understand the many nuances of all genre writing styles. If your style is consistent with the accepted one, you’re probable okay. If it’s way out there, might be time to reel it in a little. But don’t expect all the members of your critique group to understand the conventions you’re using.
As an example, as I read my just published novel Wormwood to my critique group, and although it was generally well received, some laughed and made fun of certain technical parts of the manuscript. They weren’t trying to be cruel. They just didn’t understand the genre as well as I did. I remember vividly when one workshop member, who has published quite a bit, exclaimed my scene was the most boring thing they’d ever heard. Again, that person wasn’t meaning to beat me up, but the author didn’t write or read in that genre as much as I and didn’t know what the norm was. I ended up ignoring over half the comments and suggestions in my group for most of a year, and in the end, my editor loved the manuscript.
At some point you have to make the call as the author. Do I keep it, or change it to what the group wants? If you’re a new writer, better go with the group—they know best. But, if like me, you’ve been writing for ten years and get a critique you know is wrong, go with your gut. I can guarantee if I changed everything my critique group thought I should and then reread the corrected passage to another group, they’d give me another set of suggestions that would have me chasing my tail in circles.
The mechanics of good writing is what throws most new writers, and making a passage smooth and concise takes practice and experience. As a new writer, I overwrote. I didn’t trust my reader or myself enough to let my descriptions or narration stand on their own. I added extra words that weren’t necessary. My group broke me of that. I still have a few of the scars.
Each writer must find his or her own voice. That can be a challenge when you’re not exactly sure how to write well. Start with the basics, like this piece of advice I heard at a recent writers’ conference: “Every scene, and all dialogue, must reveal new information or characterization.” I might add “or provide some tension or emotion.” Advice like that is pure gold to a writer.
Critique groups can also help the new writer understand the most effective use of dialogue. An author once said, “Dialogue is that conversation that you hear as you pass a door that’s ajar.” The conversation must be interesting enough that you would sneak back to the door to hear more. Pure gold!
Writing groups are necessary, but they can’t do it all. It’s up to you to educate yourself. If you want to be a successful writer, you must learn as much as possible about the craft. For most of us, it doesn’t come easy. I love having a non-writer stroll up to me at a party and, after discovering I’m a writer, remark, “Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking about writing a book.” And you can tell they think it’s easy, that anyone can create the next best seller. Some writers go crazy over this, but I think it’s hilarious. Because I know something about the person standing in front of me that they are not aware of. They’re full of shit!
The odds are against us as new writers. Most won’t get published. Of those who do, most will fade away after one or two books because of poor sales. The survivors will stagger along, but keep their day jobs. But a few golden children will go all the way to the top. The ones who make it will most likely have a good critique group or stable of great beta readers behind them. Hey, this is a team effort…right?
About the Author
Larry Enmon worked thirty-seven years in U.S. law enforcement. He began as a uniform officer in Houston P.D. before transferring to the Vice Squad. He accepted an appointment with the Secret Service and worked both investigations and protection until retirement. For twelve years he conducted terrorist investigations in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
He retired from the U.S. Secret Service and started writing. During his career he acted as liaison between the USSS and FBI, working in the Joint Terrorism Task Force. He received special training from the FBI and CIA in weapons of mass destruction.
For relaxation, and to get away from the city, he likes spending time at his ranch in rural Eastern Texas. With 200+ acres, private shooting range, a 2 ½ acre pond, and miles of woodland trails to explore on four-wheelers and RTV’s, it’s the perfect getaway.
He swims four miles a week, holds a Divemaster rating with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and has a black belt in Tang Soo Do karate. He is married with two children and lives in Tarrant County, TX
His debut crime mystery novel Wormwood is being published by Bloodhound Books, Cambridge. He is represented by the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, Ltd, London. Wormwood was published on the 1st November and can be bought here.