Thisbe Nissen is the workshop leader of the short story group I'm in and her process is so enormously helpful and supportive. First, someone reads a couple of pages of the story so that we can all get back into the piece and its world. Then we try to generate a concise sense of the story's "about-ness". Since different readers take away different things from a piece, it's instructive to hear what people may or may not be reading into a piece and what people completely gloss over or don't catch.
Third, Thisbe has people focus on the positives in the story. What really worked. A stellar piece of description or dialogue that rocks. It helps to establish that sense of trust, I think, for a writer to hear acknowledgment of what's been done right. If a writer hears that someone really "got" the good stuff, then it's easier to absorb the words about what didn't work.
Only then, does Thisbe allow criticism. And the group that we have has been remarkably articulate about doing this segment. I got wonderfully thought-provoking comments on "Out of Joint" and left the session excited to revise and eager to get back to work on it. This patient is nowhere near dead, as I'd secretly feared; it just needs a little IV and some antibiotics and it'll walk its storied ass right off my desk:).
Many people professed to like Tanner and want to know more about him. So now that novella about him (mostly), I was thinking about it has pushed to the front on my mind. Tanner's fun to write: he's not a good guy, he really struggles with being a decent human being, he sense of self is partly dependent on his looks. Not necessarily a likeable character but one who is, apparently, interesting to read about it.
It's quite the contrast from my experience at IU last summer. There, the workshop leader specifically told us "no praise", and many of us left feeling bruised and defensive. It was a good learning experience because I did, after all, learn how to *not* run a workshop.
This is such a heartening week so far. I'm still pumped up.
P.S. No interior monologue in italics!