I am back from the writing group, after their reading of chapter two of In Our Image. It has been over a month since they read chapter one, a point I'll come back to.
Comments from the group, with my (usually unspoken) reactions:
- Not enough physical description for Tara, the Ishtar AFS. Give us expressions, how she blends human and cat features, sounds, smells, describe motions, legs, how tall, how her kind would look in clothes. Well, I'm used to anthropomorphic characters--maybe I'm not giving enough detail. Her initial description is: "At most she weighed eighty pounds. Her face was an odd mix of human and feline: delicate features but definitely a muzzle, hair like a human but ears like a cat. Proportionally, her body was human, curved hips and chest, two breasts, and--now that he thought about it--no tail. She looked like a cartoon come to life." Definitely can be expanded. Of course, that was in chapter one, and there's not much extra description given in chapter two.
- We don't know too much about Kevin [the main character--human--who finds Tara in chapter one]. Shouldn't he seem more amazed about all this stuff? Why is he ignorant of what Tara is initially? Does he have a girlfriend? Has he ever had a girlfriend? He seems cardboard. Which is virtually the opposite of the "I get a good feel of what Kevin is like" at the end of chapter one comments. Given that chapters one and two are indeed quite frenetic, is it valid to say: hey, these are going to be revealed in action in later chapters, and very soon? Maybe it's not clear that the only "amazing" thing here is Tara herself--the rest of the technology we've seen is pretty pedestrian to Kevin.
- Do the AFSes [the anthropomorphic critters] have to have a military background? Probably, yes. That's a cliché in science fiction largely because the military is where nearly all high tech projects start.
- One character has glasses. Would they have still need those? Whoops.
- I still don't get a feel for what the cats are like. Would she use a litterbox or a toilet? Am I allowed to be offended for Tara at this point?
- It seems like Tara had lost a lot of blood but she's recovered so quickly. I kind of expected she wouldn't make it. She'd lost enough blood to go into light shock, not enough to die. I'm going to be silently grumpy while I try to think of a way to emphasize the research I did into just how much blood loss would be appropriate without having the nurse effectively say, "The author researched the following numbers I'm going to regurgigate so you don't think he didn't check this out."
- I don't know what kind of a guy would want a sex kitten [the slang for the genetically created feline race that Tara is a member of]. This seems like the sort of thing a woman wouldn't write. In the sense that the woman would be more judgmental right off the bat?
Some members later disagreed with the first members, stating my unspoken thought that Kevin's character was starting to be shown when you look at chapters one and two together. A really important part of Kevin's background is revealed in chapter three--again, only through simple action, and leaving a lot more unanswered questions because (a) I'm just that sort of bastard and (b) I'm kind of hoping readers, oh, will want to keep reading to get those questions answered.
Obviously I'm a little frustrated, but the experience is valuable, particularly as this group has no other science fiction/fantasy writers in it, and some members who don't really read it. Even so, I wonder if part of the difference between the somewhat more positive responses of the other writing group I'm in--which also has no sf/fantasy folks in it (and mostly has poets!)--is the group's structure.
The poet-heavy group only meets monthly, and whoever has something to read does so at each meeting. The fiction group meets twice a month, but just two people read at each meeting. That group was six people, and is expanding to eight--which means that it will be two months between each chapter.
If chapters one and two had been read close together, would it have helped? With some things, maybe. Some people didn't get a picture of what Tara was like in the first chapter, either; it's clear I can be a little too Spartan, which is a problem I suspect I've had in the past. (In the second chapter a nurse says "her foot's plantigrade, like ours"; it was clear nobody understood what the nurse had meant.) But I suspect--particularly from the comments from the other writing group--there is enough of Kevin's character in the first two chapters together to keep him from seeing "cardboard" if chapter two is looked at in isolation.
Even without looking for comforting rationalizations, though, there's the stark fact that if Image turns out to be average size for a novel, it would take four years to workshop it with this group. Four years. I know I kvetch about bouts of writers' block, but when things are flowing, drafting a couple chapters a month is hardly out of the question.
Every so often I wonder about trying to start my own writing group, probably specifically for science fiction/fantasy authors. A local friend attempted to do this online a few years back with decidedly mixed results and the group collapsed in fairly short order. Face-to-face is arguably better, but other than that local friend, I don't actually know anyone in the local area who's writing this stuff, and I'm not particularly interested in trying to break up one of the existing writers' groups I'm in.
At any rate, I have a lot of comments to get through. When I'm refreshed enough--and cool-headed enough--to do it objectively. See if I can work in more physical description of Tara and the Ishtars so it's obvious enough that they can wear clothes. Show more of Kevin's reactions, whatever that means in practice. See about tightening up the "big information dump" video presentation (which actually did get complimented by several people as a great way to do a big information dump without halting the story flow).