My Fingers Are in My Ears for a Reason

by Marilyn Hudson Tucker

I like writers’ groups. Perhaps I should say I love them, since I am a member of three critique groups. They are all invaluable, but in different ways.

The first time I had my work read at a writers’ critique group, I assumed that everyone would say my chapter was fine just as it was. Perhaps even perfect. “Go, thou, and seek publication immediately.” That sort of thing.

Not so. They told me exactly what was wrong with it and what I could do to improve it.  I won’t say I left with my tail between my legs, but I definitely no longer had my nose in the air. At least they laughed in the right places. Since humor is my passion, I knew I was on the right track.

I persevered, and my writing slowly improved with each new session. Even when my work did not make it into the queue to be presented during that session, I learned by listening to the critiques of others’ works.

Over the years, I have learned that some suggestions must be ignored.

Sometimes, the advice given is simply wrong. One person said I should make my dialogue tags “consistent,” with all of them either at the beginning or in the middle or even at the end of (after) the quotations. The person wrote that advice but did not say it aloud, so I didn’t even have a chance to discuss the comment.

Often, a person will read something on the Internet and decide it is always true. One person in my group insists that every agent or publisher will throw the prologue away and refuse to read it. Not so. I heard a famous agent say he loves prologues. I have witnesses. He even named and explained all the various uses for prologues. In fact, on my iPad I have several bestselling novels that begin with prologues. One even has a “prelude.” Be careful about following suggestions willy-nilly.

Recently, a friend suggested that I have my main character do something that would be quite hilarious. I seriously considered including it until I realized that she would never do what was suggested. Basically, the scene involved my main character wearing borrowed stripper clothes to go to her sister’s law firm after being locked out of her own apartment.

I love to make people laugh, and I truly wanted to use the scene, but deep down I could not make my character do it. She simply refused. I asked a good friend about whether I should follow that suggestion, and he gave me excellent advice.

“Trust yourself,” he said.

It is perhaps the best advice I’ve ever listened to.

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