When a member of our writer's group submits a story, they are asking for feedback from us: we see ourselves as a helpful and supportive group composed of active writers, for active writers. Our purpose in analyzing and discussing a submitted story is to convey (1) our sense of what the story is saying to the reader and (2) our analysis of the techniques the author is using to create the story's meaning. We are not much concerned with grammar, punctuation, or other editing tasks. When we discuss a story our primary task is to provide feedback regarding the techniques the author is using. We try to focus on the following elements of the story:
- The narrator that the author has chosen to tell the story and the narrator's "voice" and point of view (POV). POV examples include: omniscient (third person with unlimited knowledge of the story and its characters; limited omniscient (third person, but associated with a specific character in the story); first person (told using "I").
- The overall structure (the writing methods and mechanisms the author is using to unfold the story, step by step).
- The development of the plot (the sequence of events or incidents that comprise the story).
- The portrayal of characters (descriptions and actions of the people in the story; the story's protagonist, or central character - which may be sympathetic or unsympathetic, and the antagonist or antagonists).
- The descriptions of each of the story's settings (descriptions of where and when the story takes place).
- The maintenance of a theme (the controlling idea or central insight of the story).
When discussing a submitted story, we try to remember the following:
We always ask authors to describe their intent, in terms of the story's
main devices and strategies, and then we try to concentrate on those
issues. We try to focus, at least at the beginning of the discussion,
on the simplest and most obvious elements of the story's form and
narrative techniques. Then, at the author's request, we extend the
discussion to the story's other possible points of meaning and how
the author intended to illuminate the dramatic situation. In other
words, we try to focus mostly on form and structure rather than on
- The writer is asking for our help to make it a better story, not to hear what we like and don't like about it.
- There are different kinds of stories and different ways of telling a story. Even within a genre, an author may be trying to break new ground.
- There are a multitude of different ways to tell a story and a story may rely on any of a great variety of devices.
- Although a story is a narrative, it may also be a dramatic monologue, or it may be poetic (it may poetically tell its story through images or introspective human experiences). It may be didactic or it may develop a logical argument. It may work allusively, analogically, or symbolically. The story may have a careful stanza-by stanza development, or it may depend on repetitions or images. The story could be allegorical, it might use magical realism, it might concentrate on the effects of the environment, or it might attempt metaphorically to represent the interior lives of characters.
- It is not our job to decide if the author should or should not have taken a particular approach (there is no "correct" approach), but to provide feedback regarding the effectiveness of the techniques chosen. In other words, our primary task is to provide the author with feedback as to whether we think the techniques used were effective in accomplishing the author's purpose; if not, suggestions may be offered as to how that technique could be modified or which alternative techniques might be employed.