What is Speculative Fiction?
You can read the wikipedia entry here, but I think the term was invented to handle stories that included both elements of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. What genre label can you put on a book that has dragons fighting against military spaceships? Time-traveling elves?
Speculative Fiction solves that problem by encompassing many genres: Urban Fantasy, Magical Realism, Steampunk, Supernatural, Horror, Dark Fiction, and many others. The less your writing is about the normal world, the more likely it is to be embraced by Speculative Fiction.
Writers Group Discussions:
The writer’s group has several functions. First, there are discussions based around the subject of writing/publishing. These discussions would benefit any writer, not just writers of Speculative Fiction.
The latest group discussion focused on the beginning of your story (aka: the Hook). The group organizer brought examples of famous story openings and we talked through whether we thought they were good or bad, and why.
Topics for future discussions are often brought up by suggestions. Next month’s discussion is “What authors do you love/hate and why?”
[Update: I’ve given a presentation on Organizing for Writers, and co-hosted a panel on Social Networking for Authors.]
Writers Group Critiques:
The primary function of the group is critique. People submit their writings to the group website. The group reads and critiques the submissions, highlighting mistakes, pointing out logical errors, mentioning things that were confusing and things they liked/didn’t like. Word count of submissions is limited to 10,000 words, so people often post short stories or sections of larger works. The number of submissions is also limited each month.
The more you … participate with the mindset of helping others to become better writers and letting others help you to become a better writer, the more you’ll get out of it.
Once per month, the group gathers and we go around the room, each person presents their critique to the submitting authors. Each author is expected to bite their tongue until each critter has had their say. Critters are limited to 3 min each. When the critters are finished, then the author has their chance to thank, explain and rebuke the critiques.
At first blush, it sounds like an opportunity for a new author to get seriously lambasted by a snake pit of experienced writers. That would depend on the members of the group, and I can tell you that our group is very positive and supportive. Very few things get thrown, and the only weapon I’ve seen available is a stuffed snake. In other words, no one is mean and no one gets hurt. The more you are able to check your ego at the door and participate with the mindset of helping others to become better writers and letting others help you to become a better writer, the more you’ll get out of it.
Other Benefits of a Writers Group:
Getting diverse and objective opinions on your work is only part of what writers groups provide.
Groups like MNSpec are the “writing community.” They truly understand what it means when you say you finished your story, or got accepted, or published, or rejected. Someone else at the meeting has the same questions you do. Someone else probably has the answer because they had that same question before.
Writers groups will test your public speaking skills. If you are nervous speaking in public, here’s your chance to practice with a limited and sympathetic audience.
Members will share and discuss opportunities and events going on in the local community. Author readings, radio interviews, newspaper articles and more; if it’s going on in your area, the author’s group is the grapevine for spreading that news.
The submission deadlines of the group are… deadlines. They will help to motivate you, if you are the kind of person who needs deadlines to get motivated. And the knowledge that your writing will be read by others will make you realize that you are NOT writing for yourself.
Another advantage of critiquing the work of others is that it sharpens up your Inner Editor. When you re-read your own material looking for errors or ways to make it better you are really Editing. Evaluating other peoples work gives your Inner Editor the skills to do a good job on your own work later.
What if there isn’t a Writers Group in my Community?
Trick Question. If there isn’t a writer’s group in your area, then YOU START ONE.
Meetup.com is painfully simple to use. Yahoo Groups too. Craigslist, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter. Need I say more? If you can write an e-mail then you can start a writers group. And if you can’t write an e-mail, that’s a skill you might want to work on before you go starting a writers group.
But don’t forget to look in the real world, at people and groups in your local area. If you’re in school, I bet your English Dept would be thrilled to support a writer’s group. Post something at your workplace, or local bookstore or coffee shop. Think of places readers and writers would hang out in your area.
The trick is to pick a neutral meeting ground. Don’t hold meetings at your house. It could be someplace as obvious as your local fast-food hangout or coffee shop, or the local library. Libraries often have community rooms that are free to use.
If you have more writers group tips or suggestions, leave a comment. To learn more about the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Group, go to their website: Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers.