This was the first full workshop of the semester (someone had read a story the first week and we’d responded orally to what we heard), the only good thing that I heard was from myself. They were all looking at me, waiting for some kind of reaction. I still had some of my old bravado and I said, “Not bad, for two days work, huh?” Someone who had been in my Fiction Techniques class said that I should have said something and I responded that it was still interesting to hear what everybody had to say. Their comments would be helpful when I sat down to revise the story.
Later, when I did pick this story up again and decided that I was going to translate their comments into something that I could use for revision, I decided that the main thing I could work on would be to include more of my characters inner thoughts. I also received a very valuable comment about including too many metaphors that I resisted at first.
The main criticism from the teacher was that the writing was too much like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I had trouble thinking of that as a bad thing and my (supposedly) final version of the story has the same tone. For a while, my revisions didn’t include the suicide at the end. They all wanted the suicide cut and it was until an editor at The Missouri Review told me that the story was well-written but didn’t have a strong enough pay-off, that I put it back in and made the story complete.
So how do you decide which comments to use and which to keep?
I used my initial reactions, although if I felt any ambivalence, I kept the comments to look at another time. I copied editorial comments I wanted to use on a single copy so I didn’t have to keep the big stack of paper. Punctuation, spelling, grammar (gee, I hope not), and POV usage decisions, I decided I would always decide on the spot and copy into my master copy. I kept the teacher’s comments too. For comments such as “explain this or that” I also decided if the comment was worthwhile. At the time, I didn’t think it was such a good workshop. They really seemed to be hyper-critical to me and none of the other workshops I had in my program seemed as harsh. I don’t know if I grew a thicker skin (which would be a good thing) or if it was that particular group of people. Looking back at the experience, the best comments I received were about not using so many figures of speech.