Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Manila Litcritters Dissect PGS3

From left to right: Charles Tan, Zarah Gagatiga, Dean Francis Alfar, Alexander Osias, Elbert Or, Miggy Escaño, Elyss Punsalan, Vincent Simbulan, Nikki Alfar

From left to right: Charles Tan, Zarah Gagatiga, Dean Francis Alfar, Alexander Osias, Elbert Or, Miggy Escaño, Elyss Punsalan, Vincent Simbulan, Andrew Drilon, Nikki Alfar

The "Before" pic: Charles Tan, Miggy Escaño, Elyss Punsalan. I decided not to put up the "After" pic.

Vin is pensive; Nikki, thoughtful.

Alex expounds on something while Elbert listens.

Though a ton of things needed attending to at work that day, I just had to make time for this: the Manila Litcritters critiqued three stories from PGS3 last October 20, 2007 at A Different Bookstore, Serendra during one of their Open Sessions (Open Seasons?). I arrived first, about an hour early (was I that excited?), and whiled away the time re-reading the stories. By the time everyone arrived I was more than ready, and by the looks of it, so was everyone else, even the writers (I think).

In order of, were Elyss Punsalan's "Twinspeak", Miggy Escaño's "Tuko", and Charles Tan's "The Devil Is In The Details." There was a lot of good-natured ribbing beforehand, and I remembered the expression "preparing the lambs for the slaughter" with a smile. But once things started in earnest there was nothing but good intentions and honesty in all that was said. There was nothing personal in the critiques, and I'm glad that everyone kept to issues and to text.

Some of the things that were discussed (without going into whose story was being studied, though anyone who has read the stories will know which comment goes where):

1. Writing from the point-of-view of a character who is of the opposite gender of the author can be challenging, and needs that extra effort and awareness to pull it off well. Otherwise, that character might end up weaker than others in the story. But in writing from the point-of-view of a character one knows well, same gender or not, can result in a particularly believable and memorable one.

2. There is such a thing as too much detail, too much research. It's always good to know everything about one's subject matter, or if not, at least as much as anyone can know. But putting all the details in might burden the story with unnecessary minutia. Research well, then choose wisely which points can best serve the story and move it forward. Having said that, detail can enhance a tale's texture.

3. Old conventions can be reworked and given a fresh look, a makeover if you will, through execution. But you'd better pull it off at least at a better than competent level or the story will hardly compare to those that have already been written. Adding little twists and clever, up-to-date tricks and references can help a writer succeed.

Two of the writers themselves have blogged about their experiences here, here, and here, and one of those who attended, Zarah Gagatiga, Xavier School teacher, blogged about it as the session was ongoing: 1, 2, 3, 4. Charles Tan also uploaded an mp3 file of the session here, having saved the whole thing on his digital recorder.

It was a bit awkward being caught in the middle as PGS publisher/editor, having to defend my selection of the stories from the other critics' slings and arrows, and at the same time acknowledging the valid counterpoints they made. But the juggling act was nothing new to me, and the whole session was made light with interspersed jokes and side comments ("Dick Peck"-- really, Zarah!). And I'd like to think that everyone learned a thing or two to help their own writing and critical reading.

Thank you very much to the Manila Litcritters for critiquing three PGS stories! Hopefully, we can all do it again! This time with another batch of victims, um, writers!


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