Recording The Writers Group Meetings

Last night I finished another edit of chapter two of Gods Among Men, …Awakens the Outer Circle…. During the editing process I used a recording of the Magic City Writers meeting where the chapter was reviewed and suggestions made. This is a practice I will continue to use.

I became aware of my need to make recordings some months after the OmegaCon convention in the spring of 2008 in Birmingham Alabama. It was the first time I ever attended writer panels and workshops. The experience was inspirational on many levels. It led me to recruit other aspiring writers into the group we now call the Magic City Writers. (Well, I call it that and no one so far has objected.)

Months went by and the OmegaCon convention retreated from my memories. The group’s reviews of my work accumulated. I began to see the limits of note taking. Moments that had major significance at the convention became vague recollections. Specific suggestions from the group were now cryptic notes even I couldn’t fully understand.

I began recording the group meetings, and at ImagiCon in 2009 I recorded all the panels I attended. I’m not sure I shall ever revisit the recordings of the panels, but the recordings of the meetings has proven invaluable.

My editing process has become this:

  1. Review the general comments each person wrote about my chapter and do an editing pass addressing those issues specifically.
  2. Go through the chapter line-by-line and check for any comments made about that specific line. Make changes as needed.
  3. Clean up any garbage I may have accidentally added in the first two steps.
  4. Listen closely to the recording of the meeting to see if I have missed anything major.

In each of times I’ve used these recordings I’ve discovered several major points not in any written notes or suggestions. Forgotten moments no longer than a minute or two, buried in several hours of recorded interplay. It is invariably a point when the conversation was flowing and ideas were being tossed about rapidly. Sometimes it is a point I made, an insight I had, which I failed to write down and have forgotten in the weeks after the meeting. Something that was impossible to pause and record on paper without dissipating the creative energy being produced.

When I find such a nugget I stop the playback and address the issue. Sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes hours. The end result is a block of writing that I can definitively state is better than it was before.

For me, recording group meeting and brainstorming sessions so I can replay them at least once is a crucial part of my writing process. It is the only way to be sure the final work is as strong as I can make it.

The Purpose of the Opening Line

I was at ImagiCon a few weeks ago and one of the authors raised a rhetorical question. “What is the purpose of the first sentence of your story?” he asked, then replied, “To get people to read your second sentence.”

I am, at best, ambivalent about this sentiment. Certainly the first sentence should not make people drop the book in disgust, but should the opening be a snare for readers?

I did not choose first sentence in Gods Among Men for others. I wrote the opening over and over, trying one starting point after another, until I finally found a formulation that felt right.

My final choice for the opening sentence introduces my central character and established a starting scene. It leads naturally into a first paragraph crafted to inform the astute reader what to expect from the whole story. The first paragraph is mirrored by the last paragraph of the entire multi-volume epic. Thus Gods Among Men is framed by two paragraphs designed to fit together. They form the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega.

Does my first sentence make readers want to read the second? I don’t know. I do know it is the right starting point for the tale I want to tell. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that a different opening might be better. Perhaps, but replacing that paragraph, to me, undermines a structure important to the overall plot.

I can easily replace almost every other sentence or paragraph in Gods Among Men, I can rewrite whole chapters. But the opening paragraph, the opening sentence, is hard to change without disrupting something fundamental to the story.

In the Beginning…

Herein lies the history of the Magic City Writers and the purpose of this site.

In March of 2008 I attended the OmegaCon Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Birmingham, Alabama — the Magic City. OmegaCon was not very good overall, but it had numerous literary panels that, as an aspiring author, I found quite enlightening and inspiring. One in particular was on forming a writer’s group. After the convention I formed a group as quickly as possible.

Without naming names, I was able to find a small number of like minded writer’s and we began critiquing each other’s works on a regular basis. We later advertised for new members under the name Magic City Writers.

In March of 2009, Birmingham was host to ImagiCon, a smaller but much better run Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. There I attended a lecture entitled The 4 C’s. The focus of this seminar was on building a sense of community around your work, and they suggested starting a blog about your work.

Which brings us to this, the first post of The Magic City Writers Blog.

At least once a week I will try to post something about writing in general and Science Fiction and Fantasy writing in particular. I shall regularly focus upon my own works in progress and attempts to become published. Occasionally I shall include excerpts from my epic, multi-volume, story, Gods Among Men, with the hope that the post will inspire comments and discussion. I also encourage other members the Magic City Writers to post as often as they can.

I honestly have no idea where this may lead, but I hope the journey will be fun for all of us.

— R.B. Davidson