“‘They looked down at the body for a moment, and then Rory took Glenda in his arms and kissed her passionately. Yes, there would be the police to deal with, but he knew in his heart of hearts that this was the end of the matter, and that he and Glenda would have a wonderful life together.’”
The silence stretched out for some time after Paul finished. He’d been reading his novel to the group for months, and he felt the feedback had helped him immensely. But the ending was the important thing. Had he wrapped it up right? Would it put paid to the rest of the story?
Jackie cleared her throat. “Um, well, Paul, that was certainly an interesting novel.” She stared down at her copy of the manuscript. “I mean, um, the way you kept the plot confused right through the ending really kept me, um, guessing at what was gonna happen next, you know? And, uh, I really like that you leave the ultimate conclusion up to the reader instead of forcing the reader into your idea of how it should end.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Terry said. “I’m still not sure who really did these things, even though Marty died at the end. I mean, he could have done it, sure. All the signs seemed to point at him in the beginning. But then you took the plot line in an entirely new direction maybe a quarter of the way through it. It was like, um, two books in one, maybe even three, with that twist close to the end. Well, maybe that made it two books and a novella, but you see what I mean. Jeez, man, when you brought in that guy we’d not met yet and made him seem to be the bad guy…that was, um, great. Totally unexpected.”
That made Paul feel good. As the founders of the writers group—as well as being published authors—Jackie and Terry always got to speak first. Once they were finished, the others could add anything they wanted. It was all part of the critique—what the group preferred to call the finessing—of the story. Having both Jackie and Terry like his work was gratifying.
“Anybody else having anything for Paul?” Jackie said, finally looking up.
“Um, yeah,” Derek said. He was a younger guy, and it showed in his writing. Not many in the group liked his profanity or his graphic violence. His stories seemed so…mainstream. “I gotta wonder about pulling this one dude out at the last minute. I mean, it was cool and all, ya know? But, like, maybe you should go back and foreshadow him or something? Right now, it feels like you put him in because you needed a worse bad guy than—what was his name? Oh, yeah, Marty—a worse bad guy than Marty.”
“Are you sure that’s fair?” Jackie said. “Unexpected plot turns are part of the genre, aren’t they? Don’t you see that kind of thing in Michael Connelly’s novels? I’ve never read one, but I understand he does that a lot.”
“Well, sure,” Derek said. “But he plants clues that let you look back at the end and realize it was all laid out for you. Connelly just plays cat and mouse with you, making you think one thing when it turns out you’re interpreting the evidence the wrong way. That’s how he gets his surprise endings.”
Michael Connelly? Who was that? Did he write about crime, too? Paul jotted the name down, thinking he should look the man up. He couldn’t be too serious a writer, though. Probably had a book or two out, just breaking into the business.
“But, that’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a mainstream, commercial writer,” Terry said. “What about symbolism? What about being all-inclusive? Paul does that with his story. He’s got someone from every culture represented—well, except, perhaps, for persons of reduced stature—and the characters are all so tolerant. Even Marty ends up changing his opinions about African Americans before he dies. And since we don’t know for sure if he killed all those people or if it was this other guy, that makes it all worthwhile. And I like that you left this other bad guy nameless. That way no one is really to blame.” He chuckled at his pun.
To think that, when Paul started this novel, he wanted it to be a real whodunit, like the ones he saw on the bookshelves. How hard could it be, after all? Just put in a supposed crime, then have the protagonist find who did it. But under coaching from this group, he’d started including symbolism and socially conscious discussions in the text, all of which helped him cloud the main issue further. By the time he finished the book, even he wasn’t sure who’d done it, or even if anything had happened.
But he’d finished the novel, and without one of those pesky outlines. Planning anything when you were being creative was so restricting, after all. And using all those repeated words and confusing paragraph structuring just gave the story an avante-garde feel, maybe even a Bohemian bent. Wasn’t that what every writer wanted? What was bestseller status beside that?
He glanced at Derek, but the man wasn’t saying anything, just staring around at the rest of the group with a look of…was that disgust? Amazing. Especially considering the stuff he brought to read. It was offensive, really. Characters actually used racial slurs. How did that reflect on Derek as a person? You had to hold those kinds of beliefs to write them, no matter how much Derek denied it.
“I love it,” Moira said in her soft voice. She was the shy one. Paul didn’t understand her poetry, but it was beautiful anyway. “I think you should maintain its integrity and self-publish it, Paul. Don’t subject yourself to the competitiveness of the markets. If you self-publish, you’ll know that everyone who buys your book will really want to read it instead of wondering if they bought just to go along with the masses.”
There was a general chorus of agreement.
“Anybody else?” Jackie said.
No one said anything.
“All right. Next up is Adam with his existential science fiction story. Adam?”
I know that’s not very good. Satire isn’t my strong suit, at least not in any extended way. I can make satirical comments, but I think good satire requires more planning than I usually do. In fact, the above is a good example of how a scene can turn out entirely different than what you originally pictured.
But that’s okay. This isn’t about the real quality of the story so much as it is an attempt to make a point: I hate political correctness, and it seems to me that a good writers group is one of the last places where you can get an honest opinion these days. I hoped to show that in a more humorous way, but I have trouble taking PCness in that vein. It pisses me off too much.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be impolite. God knows criticism can be hard enough to take at times, even when it’s couched in good manners. Sometimes we can’t help but be offended when we think no one else gets what we’re doing. But, the key to that is giving yourself time to cool off and think about it rationally. After all, if no one else gets what you’re doing, that probably means you’re doing it wrong.
No amount of political correctness will help you, um, correct that.
I just hope that PCness never invades writers groups. If it does, we won’t be reading stories anymore. We’ll read existentialism gone wild. And how entertaining could that be?