Monthly Archives: November 2015

November Critique

Full-on, that’s what it was: three pieces to critique with a lot of comments and heavy workshop discussion which led, at one stage, to two separate discussions; each group totally involved in the task at hand.

Sometimes this is necessary, as we have limited time and busy lives. Writers don’t have the luxury of being locked up in a turret to work without interruption, so we have learned to cope with the distractions, live our lives to the best of our ability, and to write whenever we can (it is an obsession, you know – we can’t not do it).

Three members of the group also did nanowrimo (look it up if you don’t know what it is), and this can take some commitment as well.

But would we miss our critique sessions? Not on your Nellie! Never. No way. It is too important to hear how people read our words, how they get (or don’t) the meaning behind and between the words. A writer will always read what they think is there, but only a reader can advise how they received the message and what it meant.

The three pieces had a common theme for the purpose of critique: structure.

How to put the whole story together – very much like a dressmaker puts a garment together – is a critical element. One major plot must run through the whole story; one main character gives us that story through their experiences and conflicts (etc.); one antagonist must clash with the main character; the story and plot and conflict must be big enough to carry the whole story from beginning to end; the story and plot and conflict must not be too big or have too many ‘things’ (one story at a time, please) or the flow and pattern and closeness will be lost; and, even if it doesn’t make sense at some points, it must all make sense at the end.

Many people say a writer doesn’t need to know how the story ends, but I (personally) think the three main things the writer does need to know before they go too far are: the beginning, the end, the plot.  If you know all these things in the beginning, you can walk the line from open to close, even if there are a few detours along the way.

And it’s all fun, right? It’s all good in the end?  The critique group will certainly let the writer know the impact the words of the story had on them as a reader – and that’s the most important reason to write: to open the mind and heart of the reader through a living character doing something.

And that is my opinion, what’s yours?

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November Toolbox – Critique

So, what does critique mean, especially when it is associated with writers who form a critique group?

What we came up with was the following:

Critique is the umbrella that encompasses an overall review of a piece of writing. The review needs to focus on the big picture issues first.  After looking at the issues of beginning, middle and end, the big picture issues are the arcs – plot arc and its association with the conflict arc; character arc and its association with the plot and conflict arcs. How do these arcs develop? Do things change – is this change clearly shown – during the process of interaction/movement? Is the character arc consistent with the personality of the character? Do they all work together as a whole? Is the POV main character the right one to show this story?

Then come the middle picture issues: scenes and chapters. What’s happening here – something has to happen (look at the definition of scene)? Is it relevant to the whole story? Is it deep enough to hold the whole story together? Do the beginnings, middles and ends of the scenes/chapters weave the appropriate structure? Is there a logical and emotional build to the ‘moment’ that counts? Does it work? This question relates to POV, arcs, goal, setting, etc. Is it in the right place, doing the right job, at the right time?

The small picture issues (and this is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘critique’): the paragraphs, sentences and words. This is the last piece of the critique – the editing, the proofreading, the distinctive structure of a sentence, the right word, the right grammar to produce the right emotion (nuance/subtext, etc.), the removal of redundancies/repetitions/ clichés, etc., rhythm to evoke – and always look at the consequences of having effect happen before cause!

The big questions: why is it here? what does it add? is it what this character would do/say? is it moving the story in the right direction? at the right pace? Are the verbs and nouns strong, appropriate, precise, specific?

 

You can see that the END of the critique process looks at things like spelling and punctuation – this is the end of the process. Remember the cause and effect rule (spelling, etc., are the effect, not the cause) – start the critique at the beginning – the big picture. If someone spends too much time quibbling about how things are spelled, how sentences are structured, how grammar is supposed to be used, you may lose the whole plot (story). These words may not be there at the final stages of the story, so leave them be until the big picture and middle picture issues have been discussed, considered, and decided.

Probably the most important thing to consider is: the person doing the critique will one day be on the other end – always critique the work, not the writer! Show respect for the work, ask questions, consider context, nuance, style. If you do that, it is much more likely the person who reviews/critiques your work will do the same.

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