Ever since I took part in the online writing workshop at The Cult forums (offshoot of chuckpalahniuk.net) with Craig Clevenger, I’ve been participating in the main workshop area on that site. I encountered a few good writers and a handful of people willing to write good critiques, and started to believe this mght be a nice way of getting a bit of extra perspective on a few of my “trouble” stories. More and more, though, people on The Cult gravitate toward writing and critiquing only flash fiction, usually trying too hard to be edgy or transgressive in a Palahniuk-ian way. So more and more, I drift away, and don’t bother posting critiques there, because the “tit for tat” thing just isn’t happening there. The last story I posted only received a single, brief, moderately helpful critique in the first month it was up there. Post a 600 word piece about lighting your girlfriend on fire, though, and you’ll get fifteen critiques in two or three days.
One of the writers I encountered on The Cult who seemed on the same wavelength as me suggested Scribophile so I’ve signed up for an account there. I gave some consideration to trying Critters or OWW, but they both seemed less active, from what I was able to see. Scribophile is a much busier community, at the very least, and there’s a cross-section of more and less experienced writers, and people doing all different kinds of genres and styles, even a few people posting scripts and poetry. The system by which points are earned for critiques seems to reward more sincere, in-depth appraisals and suggestions, though of course it’s really the length of the critique that is being rewarded so I suppose some people might end up gaming the system by posting extremely wordy stream-of-consciousness crits. Haven’t seen that yet, though.
I’ve only posted a single critique (very long, but completely sincere and well-intentioned), and half of one story. It costs the same number of “karma points” to post a short story as a longer story, but I figured I’d have a better chance of having my 5,000 word story (the same one that only garnered a single critique on The Cult) if I split it in half. That way people who hate reading longer chunks of text can eat it in smaller bites, and receive more karma points as a reward for reading two separate stories. We’ll see how this goes.
The story I’ve posted is actually one of my earlier stories, a science fiction piece about a prison on the moon and a prisoner who is given an experimental treatment in an attempt to rehabilitate him. It’s a ‘broken’ story, and I know what’s wrong with it: the protagonist is in prison, and it’s difficult to give him an active role in either his treatment or his progress toward trying to get out of prison. Prisoners are by definition restricted as to how much autonomy they have, so the character ends up being more passive than I’d like, sort of accepting what treatments are offered to him and only barely taking action to drive the process forward. I’ve been looking at this thing too closely for too long, and can’t really see my way out of it, at this point. I’m sure if someone else posted this story with different names and in a different setting, I’d zoom right in on what this other writer needed to do in order to punch up the protagonist-ish-ness of the characater and give him a way of needing something, wanting something, and pursuing it over all kinds of obstacles. It’s so much easier to see what needs to be done with some other person’s stupid, faulty idea.
If anybody reading this is looking for a new critique community to check out, I’d at least tentatively recommend Scribophile.com. People there seem friendly and involved, and the system seems well-designed to make sure story submissions of every type receive at least a few critiques. There are all kinds of social networking aspects to create additional opportunities for people who are friendly, good at networking, or who give good critiques.