HomeWritersLiterary AgentsEditorsPublishersResourcesDiscussion
Forum Login | Join the discussion
+ Reply to Thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 15
  1. #1
    Dale Day
    Guest

    Amazing Critique and Guidelines


    I just received an amazing critique from Katrina on OneOfUs, a writer’s forum in the UK. She mentioned having written twenty books although I did not see her track record with them. Realizing that she presented guidelines appropriate to the UK, I still found them very relevant and helpful in my current writing project.

    I discovered the vagueness of the word “it” and set out to correct that. Then this lady threw “was” at me! As you will see in the following, not using this word sheds a whole new light upon writing.

    For those interested, the url is =http://www.oneofus.co.uk/forums/index.php?s=012d699d721ffdd3de4defae9dd892b1&showf orum=17

    I want to share this as it may be as helpful to others as it has been for me.

    =====================================

    Okay, glad to be of help, but you need to get things right before submitting to agents, because they can be ruthless, and if something isn't presented or written correctly, they will just throw it on the slush pile.

    So make sure you are consistent in your tense - past for everything except the synopsis.

    Here are some great editing tips -

    George Orwell's rules – contained in his Politics and the English Language (1946) – are a good starting point:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    Common mistakes – which an experienced copy-editor will be able to deal with efficiently – include:
    1. The overuse of exclamation marks and emphasis, in italic, bold or capitals
    2. Very long sentences with little punctuation
    3. Very long paragraphs
    4. Changing between the first and the third person for no good reason.

    At all costs avoid the sag into the ghastly 'ever since she was a child and her parents had moved house... try to avoid any backstory or background stuff unless absolutely necessary. With each chapter, focus on one event/point of that chapter and get on with it without distractions. No the character going to a friends for coffee etc, unless it is vital to the events happening in that chapter.

    CUT MERCILESSLY
    No, seriously. Do it. Don't mess around. If you see words, sentences, paragraphs, even whole chapters that detract from the flow of the story, excise or reshape them immediately. The worst disservice you can possibly do to your book is keep in this dead weight. Chop that passive voice — cut it off at the knees, make it squirm in a puddle of its own blood. It has no place in your book. Nor anyone else's. Its lack of immediacy drops the reader right out of the story. If you have a character walking down the street, do not say, "He began to walk down the street," just say, "He walked down the street." You don't begin to walk, you just walk — unless the action gets interrupted, in which case "began to" actually works; i.e., "He began to walk down the street when something in his peripheral vision distracted him." That's fine. Apply this to every action — walking, running, sitting up, leaning over, jumping around in pain after being kneed in the groin, whatever. Make your characters just do these things, rather than corrupting the image in readers' heads and cluttering up the flow with passivity.

    SHOW DON'T TELL
    Yes, it's the most repeated axiom in writing, I know. You know why? Because it's true. Bring the reader through the action you describe, don't just tell us about something interesting that happened to your characters in an after-the-fact fashion. Showing us rather than telling us creates immediacy and involvement. So instead of telling us that Joe Blow Character is now a sensitive, loving father who has, unfortunately, had a life of hell and torment and used to routinely wish he'd never been born, show us Joe's sensitivity by taking us through an episode in his life in which this is demonstrated. Show us through dialogue between characters — and as an integral part of the novel's story, not just an anecdote — proof that he's a loving father. Include a scene with his kid in which he demonstrates this through his actions. Include scenes that, in and of themselves, convey to the reader that poor Joe has had a terrible, miserable life, making us understand why he wished he were dead. Telling us that your characters have these important character traits is simply not enough, and it's not the least bit engaging, which leads to reader apathy and, before you know it, loss of interest to the point that we won't care what happens to your characters, because we haven't really come to know them.

    That’s Part I - Part 2 to follow.



  2. #2
    Dale Day
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    Part 2

    REALISTIC DIALOGUE
    Sure, sounds easy, but it's not. As you're going through, look very closely at your characters' dialogue, their interactions. Is the way they're speaking natural for the kind of person they are? Do you have large paragraphs of information (aka, the dreaded "info dump") spouting out of their mouths? This goes back to showing, not telling: Just because you're perpetrating the info dump in dialogue rather than the narrative doesn't make it any better. It's still a large, cumbersome chunk of information that should be revealed through character interaction and natural story arc, not in one giant chunk because you're feeling lazy. Do the extra work to reveal your plot naturally, as if it were happening in real life. Make sure your characters don't know more than they should, and aren't repeating crap that a) the reader should already have gleaned from your narrative, or the person the character is talking to already knows. These are big stumbling blocks for the reader, and you run the risk of insulting their intelligence, which is never a good thing. Don't feel you have to drive home your novel's main points in every scene, and don't underestimate your readers' comprehension abilities.
    Well, there are three things, anyway, that should help you through the editorial labyrinth that awaits.

    Does every character's actions and thoughts have a realistic motivation?
    Does every piece of dialogue sound like real people talking?
    Does every scene, even the shortest, have a reason for being there?
    Does every character have a clear personality, i.e. do they sound different, or would you not know who was talking without the 'Jane said' and 'Susan said'?

    You have to keep asking these questions through each read-through and rewrite, as changes you make will keep them pertinent. While you are asking yourself these questions, also do these:

    Remove all eating and drinking, or even references to a meal, unless something really important hangs on it, e.g. a boy inadvertently reveals that he is starving by the careful way he searches for crumbs.
    Remove all narrator's 'voice over', the author acting as God or the grown-up John-Boy voice commenting on the action, e.g. 'She was a girl half-grown into womanhood, and yet somehow she seemed to have the wisdom of Eve in her eyes.'
    Remove all interior monologue, e.g. 'He knew it was time to go, but why should he have to be the one? Hadn't he sacrificed enough? Hadn't his heart bled enough for this family?'
    Remove all transitions, e.g. 'They settled down for a long night's sleep and rose refreshed the next morning' or 'Later that year, when the maple leaves finally spattered the ground with their scarlet farewells, he returned to the farm.' If you need to add some transitions back in, add them, but try the story without them first to test whether they are part of the vigorous, healthy story, or deadwood.
    Remove all description, unless it is vital to the plot. Description should assist the action or reveal character or a change in character, e.g. 'The granite column's carved words read 'worship Baal or die'. It was alone, the only upright in an undulating desert of half-buried stones and ancient temple steps awash with sand.'
    Remove all repetitive adjectives', as in 'dark night', 'white snow', 'yellow daffodils'. The only adjectives remaining should be those which are essential: 'blood-black snow', an 'ivory lake', but only if the snow is the scene of a battle or the lake is passed by a girl running away from home on a moon-lit night.
    Remove all brand names, e.g. 'He strapped on his Rolex and fastened the collar-pin of his Brooks Brothers shirt before stepping into his Porsche.' These are not substitutes for characterisation, insight or irony.

    Remove all waste words (e.g. about, after, all, along, and, away, before, down, even, ever, in, just, little, now, only, out, over, really, so, some, sort, such, there, up, very) and see if any need to be added back in. You'll be surprised how few do. Change ‘ing’ words or rephrase them – the sun was rising, could be changed to the sun rose.

    Avoid dialogue tags like – he complained, she moaned, they teased. Apparently it looks amateurish and editors don’t like them. You can occasionally use whispered/shouted to show the tone. He said, Emily said is fine, as they are more or less invisible. You don’t need tags if it is obvious who it talking. You can also use actions instead - "Hi." She put down her book and turned around. "What are you doing here?"

    Good writing streams from beginning to end without reminding readers of your construction. But both beginners and seasoned writers sometimes sabotage that flow when they allow in a writer's nemesis—The Viewpoint Intruder.
    When you constantly reinsert the point-of-view character into the narrative, you make readers feel as if they keep going back to "Start." Read the following two examples of the same scene to see what I mean:
    Sally sits at a table in the restaurant, hoping her boyfriend, Jeremy, won't be late again. She notices the waiter looks tired. She turns to see a pair of Japanese men talking quietly in a booth near the corner. She watches as a baby in a high chair flings a spoonful of rice onto the carpet and sees the waiter sigh.
    Take a look at this version:
    Sally sits at a table in the restaurant, hoping her boyfriend, Jeremy, won't be late again. The waiter looks tired. A pair of Japanese men talk quietly in a booth near the corner. A baby in a high chair flings a spoonful of rice onto the carpet, and the waiter sighs.
    When you allow viewpoint intrusion—letting Sally see the waiter and notice the baby—you haven't moved the reader into the story; you've diverted the narrative and shown the reader that someone is writing. Remember, it's understood that once you're in a character's viewpoint, you stay there until the end of the scene, and there's no need to place her in every sentence. With that in mind, here's how to find and eliminate The Viewpoint Intruder.

    TAKING NOTICE
    The word that opens the door to viewpoint intrusion most often is "noticed." Recently I read a student manuscript that said:
    The others were laughing and talking as they sat down at the table. As Kirk reached across the table for the bread, he noticed his hands. His fingers were long and brown, and he noticed how the light gleamed on his wedding ring.
    The writer has inserted not one, but two intrusive "notices." He noticed his hands and noticed the gleam on his wedding ring. Was that the first time in his life Kirk realized he had hands? The scene would be smoother if she wrote it more like this:
    Kirk reached across the table for the bread. His fingers were long and brown, and light gleamed on his wedding ring.
    The Viewpoint Intruder doesn't attack only fiction. Here's another example, this one from an essay:
    I looked over at Jenny propped up on the hospital bed. I could see her bright smile, but I knew she was in pain.
    "I looked" and "I could see" are both unnecessary intrusions (and we might even include "I knew"). The point-of-view character had been in the hospital room for some time, thinking about Jenny's circumstances. So all she needed was, "Jenny was propped up in the bed. She was smiling, but I knew she was in pain." Or even, "Jenny was propped up in the bed, smiling in spite of her pain."

    SENSORY OVERLOAD
    When you write about sensory impressions, the Intruder might try to take over the text. Look at this example:
    Rob opened the door. He could smell fried chicken and onions, and he heard the butter crackling in the skillet. His mouth watered from hunger.
    Rob's senses are great in the narrative, but you can use them better by implying, not reminding us of, his presence until you need it: Rob opened the door. The aroma of fried chicken crackling in the skillet with onion slices made his mouth water.
    This way you begin and end with Rob, but you take him out of the description.

    End of part 2

  3. #3
    Dale Day
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    Part 3


    SENSORY OVERLOAD
    When you write about sensory impressions, the Intruder might try to take over the text. Look at this example:
    Rob opened the door. He could smell fried chicken and onions, and he heard the butter crackling in the skillet. His mouth watered from hunger.
    Rob's senses are great in the narrative, but you can use them better by implying, not reminding us of, his presence until you need it: Rob opened the door. The aroma of fried chicken crackling in the skillet with onion slices made his mouth water.
    This way you begin and end with Rob, but you take him out of the description.

    MEMORY LANE
    When writers allow their characters to remember the past, Viewpoint Intruders can run rampant. To catch them, be on the lookout for adverbial phrases. For example: "As I stopped in front of the old house, my mind reeled back to how hard it rained the day Jim shot me." That passage would be stronger as, "I stopped in front of the old house. Rain had fallen in torrents on the day Jim shot me." This passage has more zip and we don't notice the author creeping around in the bushes near the old house.
    Avoid the phrase "I remember" whenever possible:
    I remember that when I was five, I used to hide from my father in the linen closet. I crawled under an old lavender quilt on the floor, and I could hear his angry footsteps.This passage has some good elements in it. But if you take out "I remember," you have a stronger scene: When I was five, I used to hide under an old lavender quilt in the linen closet, listening to my father's angry footsteps.We don't have to see inside her head with every move or sound.

    IT DOESN'T STOP HERE
    Don't assume you ever outgrow the tendency to intrude. The first draft of my 20th book, Beyond Words, was full of intrusions:
    I took a break at a retreat in northern Idaho. I walked outside and sat on a log, where I watched a fat honeybee roving around a big blue pasqueflower. I could see her tasting its petals, and I heard
    her buzzing around the opening. As I watched, she drew back and literally hurled herself at the flower's center.
    After recognizing the intrusions, I edited it down. The final copy read:
    During an afternoon break at a retreat in northern Idaho, I sat on a log and watched a fat honeybee roving around a big blue pasqueflower. She tasted its petals, snuffled at the opening, and then drew back and hurled herself at the flower's center.
    That second version uses stronger verbs, and I've also eliminated my first-person viewpoint intrusions.
    You may continue to write with Viewpoint Intruders, but with practice, you'll be able to weed them out. Once the "notices" and "remembers" are gone, you—and readers—can focus on your story.

    Was is a passive, lazy bum that hangs around your writings, eating all the snacks and drinking all the beer. It should be avoided as much as possible. Several agents hate the word so much, they will reject a manuscript outright if they see it overused in the first chapter.
    Seek out and destroy every weak was you find, and replace it with a strong, active verb.
    EXAMPLE:
    He was proud and strong in the sunlight.
    CLEANED UP:
    He stood proud and strong in the sunlight.
    EXAMPLE:
    The room was cold and dark when Billy came back.
    CLEANED UP:
    Billy walked into a cold and dark room.
    EXAMPLE:
    Laughter was in her throat.
    CLEANED UP:
    She laughed.
    EXAMPLE:
    The door was slammed before she finished her sentence.
    CLEANED UP:
    He slammed the door before she finished her sentence.



    The end.


    I hope this is as helpful to others as it has been for me,

  4. #4
    Clayton Lindemuth
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    This is the most concise and powerful advice I've seen. Quick. Get rid of it.

  5. #5
    mar quesa
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines


    Dale,

    Thanks.

    Mar

  6. #6
    john palmer
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    Cool!

  7. #7
    Cathy C
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    Glad these aren't being promoted as U.S. guidelines, because a number of them are wrong for the genre I write. Still, some of them are quite good, so worth the post.

  8. #8
    Ray Veen
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    I was really enjoying this until I realized its implications; I now have to go back over every word I've ever written, weeding out waste words and evicting the viewpoint intruders.

  9. #9
    Savannah Thorne
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    Awesome stuff, Dale. Much/most of it I've done to my own works, but there were some tips that were new even to me.

  10. #10
    amy gill
    Guest

    Re: Amazing Critique and Guidelines

    While I agree with most the points, this one stumps me:

    Remove all interior monologue, e.g. 'He knew it was time to go, but why should he have to be the one? Hadn't he sacrificed enough? Hadn't his heart bled enough for this family?'

    Remove all interior monologue? I could give thousands of examples of interior monologue in bestsellers from the US to Britain. In fact, many great books on writing (KINGS "ON WRITING", MAASS "WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL") encourage it.

    Isn't it a good thing to be in the character's mind? Sure, some of it can be broken into "he thought" type sentences, but too much of anything is a bad thing. So, a mixture of internal monologue and thought tags usually gets me far into the character's POV, which is what I like as a reader and strive for as a writer.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts