Thursday, August 28, 2008


We had another great CWC meeting the other night. It was interesting to get feedback on Vesta, aka SW, so soon after hearing what the Icon judges had to say. Not surprisingly, it was quite different. Of course, to be fair, the CWCers have had about 148 or so more pages to go by. In some ways this was good for them and in others, not so much. As I suspected, two of my characters have the same argument over and over and never ever resolve anything. That will be fixed in the second pass.

Mary had some different comments to make this time around. She's been reading a book by a famous author whose name totally escapes me this morning. But it's about cliches in writing. Now, I know that I tend to hone in on the things I'm working on or reading about when I'm doing critiques so it isn't surprising that a lot of Mary's comments for both Ali and me (and I'm sure for Fleur who couldn't be there) were about cliches. They can be a very lazy way to write. And I don't think any of us want to be lazy writers. If we did, we wouldn't be subjecting ourselves to the CWC.

Anyway, here's my question: When is something a cliche' and when is it just the way things are? One cliche listed for Ali was the way the waitress greeted a customer. And I guess Ali could come up with a unique way that the people working at the bar welcome a customer. But, really, how many places actually do that? One of my characters is an old Southern woman who says something about a storm "fixin' to come". Now, I'll admit a lot of her dialogue is cliche' ridden--and I'll be fixing that. But in that area of Florida, people say "fixin' ta". Nothing ever happens, it's always fixin' ta happen. So using that phrase helps set the scene. In only two words.

I guess it's more about being aware of when you are using a cliche' and then making an informed decision to go with it. Because even if you make up your own mannerisms, they can become cliches unique to you. Think about the Buffy-verse. How shocking and interesting and different they way the characters talked was in the first season. And fun to revisit in the second and third. But by the seventh? Weren't they becoming cliches for those characters? And then Firefly and Serenity had the same kind of quippage (which is a Whedonesque word). And I'm sure The Doll House will as well. Fun to listen to. Easily identifiable as a Joss Whedon world. But now somewhat cliche' for him. So should he go back to straight, boring dialogue? I don't think so, but where's the line?

The cliches that bother me most are the character cliches. The hooker with the heart of gold. The assassin trying to get out of the game but being pursued by the new killer in town (looks like Nic Cage's new movie falls into that one). The divorcee who finds herself by getting lost somewhere exotic. Or the writer-only cliches. "Shots rang out." And, of course, I can't think of any more right now. But you get the idea.

So, where do you stand on this? I don't think Mary was wrong. But I may make an informed decision to stick with some of my cliches anyway.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Survived American Icon

Barely. It was a nerve-wracking evening to say the least.

I arrive, turn in my form with the title (now Swamp Witch) and logline and pick up my program and name tag. Sit down with my buds and open the program. It still says "Vesta" as the title and I'm #13 in the line up. That means I'm after the intermission. Great. Lots of time to worry.

More people show up. At the cool kids' table, we have Jenny, Shane, Ali, Nicole, Fleur, John and me from the Pirates plus another John, Joe and Iron John's folks. Cool, indeed. I listen to the other people reading. Some are excellent. Some, not so much. Listen to the feedback. Don't agree with all of it, but then you never do. It's a subjective business.

Intermission. Time for a trip to the bar so I can have a nice cold glass of pinot grigio waiting when I come off stage. It'll go nicely with the two petit fours (would that be a petit eight then?) saved as a reward. And, of course, a visit to the ladies room.

First person after the break gets up and reads. I sort of hear it. Sip some water. Then the one before me. I stand up and move into position. Feel for a moment like I'm going to pass out. Breathe. Again. People applaud. I climb the three steps. Put my paper on the podium (plexiglass so I can't really hide behind it-damn!). Hang on to the podium so I don't fall over. Start to read. My voice is shaking so I take a deeper breath and speak louder. Seems to have steadied. Keep reading. Look up. So many people out there. First page done. Do the voice. Do the voice. Okay, that sounded deeper to me. Different. Did anyone else catch it? "finds it hard to ignore." Done. Applause. Smile. Turn to judges. They're applauding. Seems geniune. Feedback starts. "Great premise." blah blah blah "Backstory bad." blah blah "Good metaphors. Nice description." blah "Backstory really bad." blah "Wanted some religious symbols after hearing the logline." Huh? More applause. Return to seat. Don't trip. Congratulations from the table. Where's the wine?

Then it was Fleur's turn. She rocked the house and ended up winning for Best Tension. Abso-freakin'-lutely. John followed her with his fabulous reading. I'd heard it before and was still on the edge of my seat and laughing at the same time. Hard to pull off. But he did, and should have won for Best Thriller.

I know the person who won the Audience Favorite and Best Overall. I almost voted for her for Audience Favorite because her writing and reading were great. How can you go wrong with a woman's reaction to being next to the stage at a strip club watching another woman dance?

I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that I didn't win. Especially when one of the categories was "Best Premise". But the feedback about not going into back story on page two might very well be valid. It doesn't really need to be there. It's only two sentences, but still. The religious symbols? Not so much. She's going home to have dinner with the preacher, for pity sakes. Two more pages and we'd be there. But I got up and read and survived. I'm glad I did it for that reason. I don't have to do it again. And I doubt I will. At least in that setting.

Oh, I won a fabulous door prize. So between that, overcoming one of my big fears for a few minutes, seeing a couple friends win big and hanging out with my buds (who were so greatly supportive and I can't ever thank them enough for that), it was in the end a great evening.