Monday, June 13, 2011

I’ve Become a Writing Snob

I just took a web class on writing dialogue.

It’s an email class. The teacher doesn’t read any of the assignments, but the other students can.  Students post their writing on a web forum site and for the final assignment, they are supposed to give each other feedback. The feedback is supposed to list the techniques they used, comment if they did them well, and then give suggestions for improvement.

Aside from the lack of teacher feedback, the class was excellent. The teacher posted dialogue ideas, gave examples from successful movies, outlined the principles that made these techniques work, and gave deadlines for posting.

It’s only a 10-day class. All students are supposed to commit those 10 days to applying the lessons to their writing.  They can rewrite existing material, or create new material.  One of the key points was that for these assignments, every line of dialogue should use at least one of the techniques.   This means that no dialogue for these assignments can be simple sentences like “No.” or “Hi, Sam.”  Yes, there may be a reason in the full story to use lines like these, but NOT in the assignments.

When I saw posted assignments using lines like these, I wondered why these classmates were even bothering to post their work.  There are no grades. And aside from the last assignment, there is no feedback. Half the students didn’t even bother to post most of the homework.

It is their time, their money, their stories, and therefore their choices.  Still, being the snob I am – someone who is already selling professional work, and who wants to learn to write with even more skill – I wanted classmates with equal dedication.

When we got to the final assignment, fewer than half the students posted.  At first, I was the only one leaving feedback.  Again, being the snob that I am, I mentioned techniques I thought they’d used well.  I quoted lines I particularly liked.  And then I made criticisms, like “I think the conflict between your characters would be more interesting if the protagonist had at least one negative trait and the antagonist had at least one positive trait.”  Or, “On page one, the teenager is concerned about her chemistry test, but on page three she’s concerned about her biology test. Please pick one test.”

One other student posted feedback, but her comments were all like “I’ve been reading your assignments and I’m looking forward to reading more.” 

When the last student who bothered to post put his scene in the form, he appended a note at the bottom.  “Anyone is welcome to critique this, except Lois.”

Okay – I won’t bother.  I wish he’d put that note at the top so I wouldn’t have bothered reading it.

I’m a snob. I want all the feedback I can get. I want to improve my work. I imagined that my classmates might feel the same.  I imagined that if I left feedback for others, they’d do the same for me. At least this student was honest – he doesn’t want to be a professional.

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