As many readers here know, my story, "Bend to Me" was "workshopped" last evening in Brando Skyhorse's class. Most of you have read this story. If any Sassistas reader has not read it and would like to, please let me know in a comment or email. At the present time, I have no plans to publish the story in the sassosphere.
Overall, the story was very well received, and I am very encouraged. Each of the fourteen workshop participants (including Brando) marked up her/his copy of my story and wrote a 400-word critique about what was working and what wasn't working in "Bend to Me." Here is Brando's critique:
Fact #1: You have a remarkable voice. Fact #2. You have a remarkable story of survival. Fact #3: You're ready to tell it. So let's try and piece this out together.
You know how to use scenes, dialogue, intimate details, etc. You're way past that stage. This draft is still missing something, though. We don't know what you've learned from these experiences. If we don't know what you've learned, we don't know what our takeaway is. If we don't know what the takeaway is, all we're left with is raw feelings on the page.
So how do we know what you've learned? What's missing is that definite inner voice that guides us through this rough terrain. That voice is the ballast a reader needs that keeps us from either feeling too much sympathy/pity for your character or from feeling as if you're writing out a litany of wrongs you want righted or, worse, that your character is too whiny which then drives us into the arms of your mother. Right now we have a thrilling sequence of your awesome (and I believe this is the right word) mother and an entire family that's been cowered into submission save yourself. What we don't have on the page yet are clues as to why you've chosen to fight back. Why haven't you been crushed the same way your sisters and father have? The key is that inner voice that tells us: you are different. You are resilient and observant in ways your sisters and father are not and those powers of observation are what will keep you from being totally destroyed. What's here in this draft doesn't trust the reader will give shelter to this eighth-grade version of you that had no right to be treated this way. The reader can be overwhelmingly forgiving and full of grace -- IF you let them. How do you do that? Let them get to know the YOU inside your heard that a.) was trying to survive this life moment-to-moment, and b.) has processed these events from a distance. My brilliant editor Millicent Bennett told me that people wouldn't care about the characters in my story, no matter how fantastic it was, unless they cared about me first. Readers of memoir care about characters they are invested in, and they can do that ONLY if you tell them what you were feeling inside then, and what you think about this now.
We'll discuss more at office hours.
In class, Brando called my skill with dialogue "remarkable" and said, "David Mamet has nothing on you." After class, he came up to me and said, "Welcome, comrade. Let's have a drink." We walked to a nearby bar, got a table and drinks and then Brando said this: "You do know that you are a f*cking good writer, don't you?" I said nothing. "I mean it, you are a f*cking good writer and you have to write this. You have to do this. We'll do it together, but you must do it. You've waited long enough. Write it. Now."