September Meeting Details 2017

To avoid clashing with Fathers’ Day we have shifted the meeting day for September from Sunday 3rd September to Saturday 2nd September. Since our usual meeting room is not available at this time we have also changed the location to the Coffee Club on Park Road at Milton.

The September meeting details are as follows:
Date: Saturday 2nd September 2017
Time: 11am-2pm
Location: The Coffee Club, 9/32 Park Rd, Milton, Qld

Please note we will be capping submissions for critique to 3 this month, and advise if having your work critiqued where the general public may overhear to refrain this month and submit for the October meeting instead.

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Giving Your Reader Setting Up Front

‘Tavern Interior’ by Cornelis Pietersz Bega

One of the greatest pleasures and direst pains of being a speculative fiction writer is the world building. There is far too much advice on world building to fit in a single concise article, so for now I’m going to touch only on a problem that occurred in a submission last month, then again in another this month.

There is the convenient and well-used template of the medieval European setting for fantasy. It’s so commonly used that readers are quite familiar with it. It is this familiarity which can cause the problem we’re addressing today.

So, the story starts in a stable or a tavern. As a reader, your mind has probably immediately coloured in the medieval European setting. The problem is, stables exist in Victorian settings, Edwardian settings, heck I can drive down the road from my house here in 2017 and get to a stable in 5 minutes. I can get to a tavern in even less time (yes, it actually calls itself a tavern).

But as a reader many of us are so used to stables and taverns as medieval European based fantasy staples, that’s what we think of first. And if you don’t dissuade the reader from that initial assumption fast, they’re going to be sharply thrown from the story when your character cracks out a tin of baked beans for dinner twenty pages later.

So what can you do to help make that setting clear as early as possible? Well, first ask ‘do I need to make my opening scene in the stable/tavern?’. Could you set it in a Victorian drawing room complete with furniture iconic to the era, or a dressing room filled with era-specific clothes?

What if the story NEEDS the opening scene to be in the stable or tavern? Consider placing something era-distinctive there to set it apart. You could put a bicycle against a wall. It could even be a penny farthing if that’s your era. In the tavern, could someone complain the food tastes tinned, not farm fresh?

What if your story is medieval, but not European? Same ideas. Are those camels in the stables, not horses, or – if you’re going for something yet more distant from the norm – magically-bridled hell hounds?

Give your reader something early on to help establish that yours isn’t a stock-standard setting. Ground them, or at least let them know from the start that this really is a different world so they can look forward to seeing what tropes you’re going to flip, what surprises you have in store for them.

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Writing Prompt: Opening and Ending Lines

Take one of the lines below for your opening line, another for your closing line, and fill in the blanks between.

For an extra challenge (or if free choice has not provided you with inspiration) use the random number generator.

  1. The zepplins flashed amongst the clouds
  2. The glitter of the gems on her necklace caught his eye
  3. Her silken red hair fanned across the starched white pillow
  4. They didn’t care for the land, they only cared for the gold
  5. The moss on the lee side of the rock was an omen only she could decipher
  6. The only witness was the mouse peering from its hole in the wall
  7. Each cough my daughter made tore at my heart
  8. The poison gleamed purple on the floor
  9. Bright eyes watched from the shadows
  10. The wind tore at their hair relentlessly
  11. I couldn’t decide what was worse, the smell or the pain
  12. The town was evacuated

I’d love to hear if this inspires you. You can even link to where ever you publish the work in the links below for us to check out

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The Unlikeable Ones

photo by Fabrizio Russo

Have you ever received that feedback before?

“I just didn’t like your protagonist,” says your critiquer.

Sometimes it’s as simple as using a ‘save the cat’ moment to fix, but what about when your POV character that received the feedback is supposed to be unlikeable or has a job or mission that the story NEEDS them to have but most people will dislike (for example the torturer, Sand Dan Glokta from Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law series)? That’s a tougher problem.

One of our members has a series they’ve long cherished, but keeps butting their head against this problem. One of our other members went so far as to take thorough notes on the first chapter featuring the aforementioned character, Glokta, to show how a writer can make an unlikeable character likeable. A lot of the techniques involve making the character relatable to the reader.

Some techniques you can use are:

  • establish a weakness, something that people can sympathise with or empathise with
  • put them in a situation where they are harmed or powerless
  • establish their situation in a way that shows why they must do the unlikeable thing, show it isn’t through their own cruelty but because they have no other choice, are being bribed, blackmailed or coerced(perhaps even doing so to protect someone they love)
  • give them someone they love or cherish who the reader can truly like. If that person loves them back, great this shows the character is loveable by someone ‘good’, if they don’t you could frame it as an unrequited love which creates more sympathy because we’ve ALL been there
  • give them admirable qualities or traits such as intelligence and humor (dark humor can be particularly effective with certain characters)
  • put them in frustrating situations most readers can empathise with eg/ a boss demands an impossible job and expects positive results, or a boss chewing them out over something beyond their control, or even something small like interruptions repeatedly stymying them just an instant before they reach a goal(no matter how big or small)
  • show they are not infallible
  • let them react to bad things happening with bravery and/or wit so we can admire them and wish we had their courage/humor
  • if they do something bad to someone, can you dehumanise that person(the victim)? A good example of this is Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter, a serial killer who kills people who get away with crimes. The first victim the reader sees him murder is actually a paedophile who has gotten away with multiple crimes

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but a damn good start. Is there anything you can think of? is there a special trick you like to use yourself?

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Writing Prompt: Wrongly Accused

image sourced from Wikimedia commons

We’ve all seen it before. We all fear it: being wrongly accused.

In movies like The Fugitive we’ve seen it play out.

What you need:

  • Protagonist: The Accused
  • Antagonist 1: The Accuser
  • Antagonist 2: The Actual Criminal (optional, sometimes both antagonists are one and the same)

What has your protagonist been accused of? Can you make it a worst case scenario for them, or escalate a smaller accusation to trap them in a WCS?

Don’t forget the interplay of relationships. Was your protagonist once close to either of the antagonists? Was it this accusation that split them or an earlier problem? Is Antagonist 1 the only person who could possibly save the protagonist if they could just manage to think outside the box?

I’d love to see these in speculative stories. You’re welcome to include links to any story born from this prompt in the comment section.

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Writing Prompt: Tongue Twisters To Life

Take a tongue twister and bring it to life.

For example: She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
Who is she? Why does she sell seashells right where people could grab them for themselves if they wanted to? Maybe the shells have a secret…

Pick any tongue twister you like but pull it apart and make it a coherent story.



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Keep On Keeping On

There weren’t many stories up for critiquing at the bittersweet table of judgment this month. This means there wasn’t a huge amount of feedback to become the meeting takeaway. The coup de grace is that the best bit of advice given this month was something for my own work, and – since it is something I’m struggling with I can’t really do a post for you all explaining the nuances of something that I myself need to buckle down and do some extra research on.

And that’s what I think is an important takeaway for all of us: we are all of us still learning. Even the person who you rely on advice is still learning about something. Never rest on your laurels. Keep striving. Always work to be even better. And don’t let the fact you don’t know everything stop you from keeping on writing.

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Writing Prompt: Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping by Vittorio Reggianni

At the last meeting one of the bits of advice given was about dialogue and how to make it more realistic. A trick suggested to help improve dialogue was eavesdropping on real conversations and analysing them. While that tidbit was passed over as the meeting takeaway (many are), it stuck with me in a different way.

Bad things tend to happen to people who eavesdrop in stories. So what can your character hear that will change EVERYTHING? If it’s information they must share will they make it away safely to do so? Or have you got a better idea, something that hasn’t been done before with eavesdropping?

I look forward to the results.


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How To Receive a Critique

To follow up on my previous post about how to give a critique I thought I’d best help those bright-eyed and bushy tailed newbies with their usually even bigger fear (and yet driving force behind showing up): receiving a critique.

I’ve split this into three sections: pre-prep, at the meeting, and taking on board the feedback.


Before submitting your work it is vital to self edit. Do not submit a first draft, even when you are experienced. The tighter your submission is the less likely you are to receive feedback you could have avoided by noticing the problem yourself. This is also a matter of respect to your fellow authors – if you know there are problems and you leave them there, you have wasted other members time.

The other thing to do in pre-prep is prepare your mind.

You are about to hear everything that several different people think is a problem in your manuscript. Sometimes you will hear the same thing several times from different people, sometimes you’ll hear lots of different things from each person, and a lot of it will be stuff you never even thought of. It may hurt the delicate creative side of you, but this is when your hard-ass editor side needs to step up.

Remind yourself, I need to hear this. I need to know what’s wrong so I can fix it and both this piece and my overall talent in writing will be better for it.

After all, you came to this group hoping to make your writing better, didn’t you?

Some people come to the meetings expecting up to receive nothing but praise. In five years I have not once seen a single piece get such treatment, and we have members with multi-book contracts at the table — even they did not come out unscathed.

I’ll admit, there are some writers groups which will do this. Afraid to bite the bullet and possibly hurt feelings they won’t let you know about the flaws in your manuscript. On the other hand there are also groups that delight in tearing a story to shreds. Having seen both of these other types of groups in person I am relieved that Vision Writers is a group where we will be gentle but firm.

If you want to see if we (or whatever other group you’re considering joining) critique the way you want to be critiqued it’s a good idea to go along to a meeting. You can simply sit in without submitting or critiquing and observe the group and its members. This should give you a good idea as to how in depth the critiques will be.

Now you’re mentally prepared and have submitted a polished piece, lets get on to what to do at the meeting.

At The Meeting

Here I’ll become very Vision Writers specific, but a lot will still be valid at other writing groups(though do check their specific rules).

Our group follows a format where each piece has its turn. During the submitted piece’s turn each member of the group is given two minutes to verbally summarise their feedback. They will focus on the biggest or most important points they have to make. This is not necessarily all the feedback they have for you though. The majority of our members will print out your submission and write their notes all over it.

Despite these notes, it’s always a good idea to take your own notes too. Not just because it’s handy to have a back up, but also because ideas for solutions might come to your mind while they talk to you.

It is important never to interrupt or argue during this stage. You will have your chance to respond after everyone else has spoken. You will get three minutes for ‘right of reply’. The only exceptions for the don’t interrupt rule are if you need clarification on what was just said and to thank each person as they hand over their written notes to you.

During right of reply it is nice to thank everyone for their feedback again, after all, think of how long it took you to write the other member’s feedback. They each spent just as much time helping you. If there is anything you really want to respond to, such as questions asked feel free to do so. It’s also the perfect time to say “Hey, I don’t quite know how to fix XXX, does anyone have any ideas?” and begin a small brainstorming session if you’d like.

If you can help it, avoid explaining what you really meant if people misunderstood something. Take their misunderstanding as a sign of what you need to work on and put that explanation in your piece, because you won’t be there in person to tell editors or your readers. However if that will make you feel better, do so. Right of reply is your chance to let some of that pent up discussion out. Just don’t forget to fix the text too!

Taking On Board The Feedback

You may not quite feel ready to read all the written parts of the critiques immediately after having received the verbal parts. On the other hand you might have had some great ideas during the verbal part and are raring to go.

Something to remember when taking on the feedback is that these are the opinions of others. It is possible they are not familiar with the tropes of your genre, or they don’t know your intended goal for the story, so may have given advice based on their own knowledge, concepts and values, that won’t quite match with what you want your story to be.

It is perfectly fine to not take on board every piece of feedback you receive. What you should do before choosing to ignore or reject a piece of feedback is consider several things.

Are you rejecting this particular piece of feedback because,

  1. to take it would mean a lot of extra work for you
  2. you aren’t particularly fond of the person who gave it
  3. you really like that scene/line/character and either they suggest to remove it or the obvious solution is to remove it

All of those are poor reasons for ignoring feedback.

Also consider did a lot of people say they also had this problem? The more people who reported that issue the bigger the problem is. It could be a rather bad idea to ignore the advice of so many  people all on the one point.

Once you’ve taken on board the feedback, if you still feel uncertain about the piece consider resubmitting it for a second round. If you are doing this please ensure you did take on board enough of the feedback to have made significant changes to the piece. When a story comes through for a second time and is barely changed it is seen as being disrespectful to the people who critiqued it the first time. Also, if you didn’t take their advice the first time, why are you asking for it again? It will more likely than not be the same.


The whole process through, whenever you feel uncomfortable or hurt, remind yourself: I need to hear this. I need to know what’s wrong so I can fix it and both this piece and my writing in general will be better for it. With that in the forefront of your mind, it should help shield you from some of the hurt. Just think of how great your story will be after this!

I hope this has you all excited to submit your work for critique. Don’t forget our submission rules (or the rules for the group you’re working with).

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How To Critique – A Newbie’s Guide

Our newbies be all…

With newbies frequently joining the group I often hear or see them struggle with fear that they don’t know how to critique and worry they won’t be a valuable addition to the group. So, since there was no particularly significant ‘takeaway’ piece of advice from March’s meeting I thought I would instead tackle this.

First up: every opinion is valuable. You may not spot anything ‘new’ compared to the others at the table, but even simply agreeing with what others have said before shows the writer receiving the critique that this really is a problem they need to attend to.

Now on with how to critique.

Critiquing is essentially you telling the writer your opinion of their story. It’s how you feel. The only ‘wrong’ way to critique is when you attack the writer as a person, not the piece itself. This is a rule we have at Vision: critique the writing, not the writer.

When you’re a newbie it may be harder for you to spot some problems, but don’t let that daunt you. As you give more and more feedback your skills will improve – something that will benefit your own writing too.

Do you review books on Goodreads or your blog? Critiquing is rather like reviewing. In fact several of our members conduct their feedback in exactly that way, by summarising the story they read (this lets the author see if what they really wanted people to notice in the story is what they saw), listing things they liked, then problems they found.

If you don’t review books don’t panic, you still know what you like and don’t like, right? With the questions I’ll list below and the knowledge of what you like and don’t like, you can provide a good critique.

While reading the submission make a note of when you feel bored, get confused, or in any other way get thrown out of the story. You might not realise it at the time, but you have subconsciously found a problem in the story. Over time you will start to recognise what caused these feelings and you can point the root issue out alongside the problem sentence/paragraph/scene. Don’t worry if you can’t yet, this will simply challenge the author to put on their thinking cap and reassess that section to diagnose their own faults, which is a valuable lesson for them.

Other things to think about while you read are:


  • are they behaving in a consistent manner through the piece, or do they change in ways that a real person would not? eg/ kind to one person, then awful to another, but with no explicable reason why
  • are they reacting as a real person probably would to the situation around them?
  • do you like the character? If you don’t ‘like’ them, are they still intriguing enough to make you want to read on?
  • are each of the characters their own distinct person, or are they pretty much the same person in different clothing/skin suits?


  • Is the place the story is happening in described to you in a way that enables you to really ‘see’ it? Or did they give too much info until it bored you, or conversely gave so little your imagination filled in the blanks, then later on something was written that clashed with your filled in blanks, jarring you out of the story?
  • Is the setting exciting or interesting to you?


  • Does the dialogue sound like real people talking, or is it awkward or, in some way you can’t define yet, weird?
  • Did you know who was talking at all times or were you ever confused?
  • Did anyone talk for too long about something and it became boring? (this could be an info-dump disguised as dialogue)
  • Do all the characters talk in exactly the same way, or can you tell who’s saying what even without the ‘Chris said’ dialogue tag?


  • Did events happen in a way that was logical or at least possible?
  • Was what happened exciting or boring?
  • Did you have a reasonable sense of time flow within the story, or did you get confused as to whether an hour or a week had passed?
  • Was what happened the exact same thing that has happened in an a thousand other books (cliche) or was it new and novel (or at least with an interesting twist or new veiwpoint)?
  • Did things seem to take forever to happen, or was it a terrible sudden deluge of events you couldn’t keep up with?


  • Were there sentences you didn’t understand because the author phrased them oddly?
  • Were any words used so frequently you couldn’t help but be distracted by their repeated use?
  • Were there times when you knew the writer was trying to make you feel a certain way but you absolutely did not?
  • Were there parts where you thought the wording was cliche or over the top? Or conversely, where it needed to be stronger?

Wow, I know, a lot to think about, right? But don’t panic. Even now, after 5 years, I still read a lot of submissions twice to make sure I don’t miss anything. Also, you might have ‘missed’ many of these points because the piece did not suffer from those problems.

Another worry some newbies have is hurting others with their critique. Most people at a writers group are prepared to hear the negative. A lot of us CRAVE the negative because we want to know what went wrong so we can fix it before submitting or publishing. Still, to help ease the pain of being told all the issues found in a story don’t forget to also mention what you liked.

If you loved (or loved to hate) a character, if the action scenes were thrilling, if the world blew your mind, if that scene made you jump up and scream “S*** just got real, son!”, or anything else that might let the writer know that no matter how many problems there are in their story, that there is at least some gold too.

You may like to put all the good things first, or last, or maybe compliment sandwich your critique, but always let them know what you liked.

Often Vision members will wrap up their feedback by thanking the author for sharing their work as a closing statement.

I hope this has helped you and you feel more confident in coming to a future meeting to critique. If you’re still a little wary, maybe practice with some book reviews. You could put them on Goodreads and see if any of your Goodreads friends or followers ‘like’ them, or just keep them to yourself like those embarrassing Tron rip-off/fanfictions you wrote when you were 10. Either way we hope to see you soon.

Coming Up Next – How to Recieve Feedback


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