I dreamt of smashing dozens of big, white, china plates with a brown pattern. In the morning, the class started the critiquing session with my short story. Thirteen people around the table - isn't that meant to be unlucky? I felt like standing up and saying, "Let's be reasonable, people, it's only a writing exercise," before anyone else could say anything. But instead I resorted to a poker face and carefully avoided meeting other people's eyes while I scribbled down the remarks I could hear coming from all sides.
"I really enjoyed reading the story. We get a clear picture of the group, but I just don't care about the hero."
"I enjoyed reading it but I don't understand why we need all these characters."
"I enjoyed reading it but the girlfriend's history is irrelevant."
Why is it that everyone prefaced their remarks with 'I really enjoyed the story' when they didn't sound like they had? I decided that when it was my turn to critique someone else's story, I would not use that phony phrase. Later, when I was commenting on a fellow amateur's story, I found myself saying, "I enjoyed reading the story," without even thinking.
"There are too many characters and it gets confusing."
"I don't think so - you need those characters to act as a buffer so that we don't get to see what is really going on. That's how we get the surprise ending."
It's frustrating when you can't talk back - this is the way the critiquing sessions are structured.
"You managed to make the guys believeable except for when the guy comments on the food. Guys don't care about whether it's mozarrella and proscuitto - it's just ham and cheese!"
"I don't agree. But I do think guys can be less romantic."
"I want to know why the story was written. We need more motivation to understand what she's trying to tell us with this story."
It was just a writing exercise. Really. I don't have any age-old wisdom to hand out.
The teacher finally waved her hand.
"OK, J-A, do you have any questions or comments as to what we said?"
I smiled. There really wasn't much to say when thirteen people had dissected your work down to the last detail, so I thanked them for their comments. The teacher looked at her watch.
"We really need to get moving onto the other stories," she said.
I'm going to write about robots next time.