"Do you love every comment your critique partners have made? Do you have to make every change they've suggested?"

Critique groups. Sometimes a source of brilliant feedback, and sometimes, well, a source of literary torture. Once you get your material workshopped and head home, how do you sort through the ink-scrawled suggestions and find some clarity, or at least avoid a brutal internal battle? It’s the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series (the quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were creating these magazines throughout the year). A regular prompt follows.

No. 11: Critique Conundrums
Do you love every comment your critique partners have made? I doubt it. Do you have to make every change they’ve suggested? You do not. Much of the critique feedback you receive will make you happy. Maybe not at first, but a high percentage will eventually make sense and help you strengthen your story.

“At some point, though, someone is going to make a suggestion you really don’t like. You’ll sit with it for a while, you’ll think about it, and you still won’t like it. It doesn’t fit your vision; it threatens to take the story in a direction that feels wrong; it doesn’t mesh with who you know your hero to be.
Don’t make the change. Let the comment go. This is your book, and you’re in charge. Honest!

“On the other hand … You signed up for this. You’re the one who hunted for this critique group. You’ve asked these people to read your chapters, to think about them and to get back to you. So really, you’d better listen to them.
When it’s your turn to be critiqued, go in with as open a mind as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to sit through the meeting smiling at every word your critique partners speak. But it does mean you pay attention, take notes and wait until you’re out the door before saying any of those swear words out loud.

“It also means that, when you are ready to revise, you take the time to consider each and every comment. Thoroughly. … Listen to your gut, but also listen to your critiquers. The combination of your writing and their responses is the magic of revision.”
—Becky Levine, “How to Revise From a Critique,” October 2010 (click here to check the rest of the article out)

(Image: Hiuppo [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

* * *

WRITING PROMPT: Midnight Madness
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings (next one: next week!). If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

At a midnight showing of a movie, something happens that wasn’t part of the script.

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  7. Mark James

    “And we have to see Night of the Living Dead at midnight?”

    Aeryn turned so he was facing Jared in the front seat of his truck. “Why would you see a movie like that in the day time?”

    “I don’t know,” Jared said with an elaborate shrug. “I’m thinking, maybe, sanity?”

    “You’re being a Z-Head. The zombies aren’t like you think,” Aeryn said. “And if you took time to talk to one, you’d know that.”

    Jared shoved the gear stick into Park. “I don’t talk to dead things.”

    “They’re people.”

    “People breathe.”

    Aeryn got out of the truck, and waited for Jared, arms across his chest. “This is about work, isn’t it?”

    Jared pulled Aeryn into his arms. “Take a job somewhere else. Anywhere else.”

    The Reanimation Center was a kind of homeless shelter for zombies who got hurt or just had no place to go. They also kept a fresh supply of meat on hand. Aeryn would be doing the paperwork that proved to the government that the Center’s meat supply was obtained legally from body donors.

    “The Reanimation Center pays double what I make now,” Aeryn said. He nuzzled Jared’s neck. “And only half the hours of a regular job. I could be home when you get out of work, and you could do things to me.”

    “Your hand’s way too low,” Jared said in a thick voice. “Why can’t I do things to you now, in the back of the truck?”

    “You can.” Aeryn brushed his lips over Jared’s. “After the movie.”

    Inside the theater, Jared insisted on an aisle seat, so he could them out if the zombies started acting up.

    At Jared’s words, the zombie in front of them turned around and raked his eyes over them. “Don’t you be worrying none,” he said in a slow southern drawl. “We is real civilized now, we don’t be eating meat on the hoof.” He dropped Jared a lurid wink. “Unless it’s been a while between meals.”

    “I didn’t know you liked movies, Mr. Miller,” Aeryn said, hoping he was fast enough to stop Jared from answering. “I’m really looking forward to starting work on Monday.”

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    With a sideways look at Aeryn, Jared said, “I forgot to get you popcorn. I’ll be back.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” Mr. Miller said. “We’re used to it.” He turned around and settled into his seat, perfectly still, unbreathing. Aeryn had to admit that still creeped him out a little.

    Jared came back with a bucket of popcorn and a jug of soda, handed them to Aeryn, and slipped into the aisle seat.

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  8. Reggie Manning

    Love Hurts
    (Rated R)

    I grabbed the collar of my shirt and flapped it a few times.
    “Cologne, check, breath… check.” I said to myself as I held my palm to mouth walking towards the door. I had prepared all day for this midnight movie date with my ex. It’s been months since we had communicated, so I was surprised when she called a couple days ago. Now things had to be perfect; it was obvious she missed me, missed us, so I wanted tonight be and feel perfect, destined.
    “Kristina.” I said with a childish smile as I stared at her in the doorway. There seemed to be this illuminate glow around her silhouette as if she was the Mother Mary; but with the vulgar memories that danced in my head, that analogy may not be appropriate.
    “Ummm, are you going to invite me in, or would you rather stand there looking like Bambi?” Kristina joked as she brushed by me playfully. I stood beside the door and watched her navigate to my ‘L’ shaped couch; I’ve watched this scene play out in my head all day, and it was even better live.
    “Sooooo, what type of movie are you in for?” I asked as I made my way towards the couch. She was doing something with her phone and didn’t seem to hear the question.
    “I’m sorry, what was that? Movie? Ummmm, you’re the host, you pick.” Kristina said as she shoved her phone deep into her purse. Her whole demeanor seemed to have changed at that moment. She wasn’t as relaxed as she was initially, and now she was sitting on the edge of the couch like an anxious mom watching her kid at a Spelling Bee.
    “Are you ok?” I asked. She was beginning to rock slightly back and forth; I knew this to be her body language for discomfort.
    “No, I’m not nervous… it’s just that…” My doorbell interrupted her. I was startled myself because I had warned all of my friends not to bother me tonight, and usually they were great followers of the code of men. As I attempted to get up Kristina stopped me.
    “No! Please don’t answer…” This time the banging from the door cut her off. Now my mind was in a pretzel. Who could possibly be banging on my door like a ‘Mad Man’? I stood up and headed towards the door, but Kristina grabbed my wrist.
    “Look, I have to tell you something. Please don’t answer the door… He’s crazy.” The banging continued with amplified volume.
    “He!? He who?” I asked, though I knew the answer to this question wouldn’t turn out good either way.
    “My ex… He must have followed me.” Out of anger I snatched my wrist from her grasp. Walking towards the door I heard her grab her belongings and bolt towards the rear of the apartment. This night was getting stranger by the second. As soon as I opened the door I saw stars… Love hurts.

  9. Dare Gaither

    Simone finally gave in.
    She had been stifling a yawn for what seemed like hours.
    Her jaw gave a slight pop and the yawn was over.
    She wished the movie was.

    She glanced over at Edward to see if he had noticed.
    He was enthralled with the courtroom drama unfolding
    in excruciating detail on the screen.
    Would it ever end?
    She envied the man snoring quietly two seats over.

    Suddenly she was seized with an uncontrollable urge
    to stand up and run screaming from the theater.
    She suspected at least half the audience would gratefully
    follow her. In a valiant effort to control herself, she
    stared intently at the man picking his nose in front of her.
    The real human awfulness was much more interesting than the movie.

    Another yawn threatened to burst forth in self-defense.
    As she considered the excuse of a bathroom break to
    escape this hell of eternal boredom, a commotion erupted
    in the first row. The figure of a man with outstretched
    arms stood in silhouette against the flickering screen.

    “I did it!” He screamed as he dropped to his knees sobbing.

    “She’s hanging up to dry in the old tobacco barn out back.”

    He pulled out a tattered handkerchief and blew his nose
    with a loud trumpeting sound.

    “She’s finally quit nagging at me.”

    A security guard hurried down the aisle and escorted the
    babbling man out of the theater. As they reached the door,
    the man wrenched his arm from the guard’s grip.
    With Shakespearean flair he turned and addressed the audience.

    “I suffer not outrageous fortune’s strife,
    but with an arrow’s point unchained my life.”

    The prodding of the security guard ended his soliloquy.

    “I die a happy man!"

    He sighed and bowed to the crowd.
    His performance was met with a standing ovation.
    Simone clapped with tears in her eyes.
    Surely they could leave now.

  10. Janel

    Nicola arranged the candy on her lap. Chocolate on her left leg, fruit-flavored goodies on her right. The lights dimmed and she settled deeper into the padded seat. She had been looking forward to seeing this movie for weeks.

    Beside her David was already fidgeting, making his seat squeak. He looked like some kind of squirrel/human mutant in the dim light as he stuffed kernel after kernel of popcorn into his mouth until his cheeks were bulging. Nicola jiggled the drink cup positioned between them, making sure he had something to drink if he started to choke. He obviously didn’t want to watch the movie, but was doing it “because I love you.” Nicola couldn’t tell him she loved him, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

    The trailers finally faded and the movie began. Jack Carson’s face filled the screen. Saying that she was just a fan of him was like saying The Rolling Stones are just a band. She didn’t like scary movies, but since Jack was in this one she was willing to wrestle with her fear for a few hours. Ghosts and poltergeists were subjects she would be happy to never contemplate. As knives and frying pans crashed around the kitchen on the screen Nicola gripped the seat arms until her fingernails felt like they were going to split from the force. She screamed when a plate hit Jack’s character in the head, sending a river of blood down his face.

    David’s popcorn was gone. He slid his foot over next to hers and rubbed the side of her leg with his knee. The chocolate bars toppled off her leg when she jumped at the unexpected touch. She slapped his knee and hissed when the contact made her knuckle pop. David muttered something about being a chicken.

    Nicola put her hand over her mouth, trying to mute her scream, as one of the actors struggle with a rope around her neck, tightened by some unseen force. She squirmed in her seat and punched David in the arm when he lightly ran his fingers down the back of her hair.


    “Stop touching my hair!”

    “I’m not!”

    Nicola slowly turned around. There was someone behind her. She could barely see them in the darkness. It looked like the person was wearing a black coat with the hood pulled over their head. She turned back to the screen when Jack began to speak. The fingers ran through her hair again.

    “Please stop it.”

    She twisted in her seat, hoping glaring at the idiot would make him stop. The person in black was a few inches from her face. She realized it wasn’t a person. The black shadow got even closer. Nicola screamed and several people nearby turned to look since there was nothing to scream about in the movie. A cold breeze brushed past her head as the shadow faded. A man’s voice whispered “hello” in her ear. Nicola whirled toward David and vomited in his lap.