Getting together to critique

The last of the lunchtime diners straggle out of Café de Grancy in Lausanne calling out goodbyes over their shoulders to the waitress, as the four of us gather round a table by the window. We exchange handshakes or hugs, hesitate over what drink to order and then bring each other up-to-date on our latest writing exploits. On the table, between the cups and the odd half-eaten cake, lie piles of manuscripts, single chapters from our latest YA novel. Shared over the Internet several days earlier, they are now annotated with our remarks and suggestions, awaiting discussion. Taking it in turns, we listen, jotting down the occasional note, as the others critique our work. This is our second meeting, so the stories are taking shape and characters are becoming more familiar as the plot unfolds. There’s both praise and criticism. Comments range from praise for a well-written scene or a particularly polished style to overarching concerns about characters or plot, with more detailed questions about word choices or sentence structure. One person proposes building suspense by changing the word order. Another questions inconsistencies in a character’s behaviour, while a third puts forward ways of enhancing dialogue by calling on the different senses. Two hours and four chapters later, we fix a date for our next meeting a month later and take our leave, promising to email our comments once we get home. Outside the boulevard with its sluggish traffic and its preoccupied pedestrians seems strangely unworldly as each of us mulls over the changes and improvements we plan to make to our chapter.

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