Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Helping Fellow Writers

Part 2 of Lisa Hannon's Guest Post on Writing Group Critiques -Reading (and listening) to help another writer.

For both the person giving and the person receiving the critique, there are a number of things that can become apparent in the necessarily short pieces that are read aloud in a read-and-critique group. No one is going to address every possible item of the following lists in a few minutes of verbal critique, but keeping them in mind allows the person giving the critique touchpoints, and allows the writer the ability to strive for the positive points and correct those that should be changed before putting their work in front of others.
For those trading manuscripts online for critique, the lists can be valuable reminders, both to the writer and the reader, as well:
What to look and listen for when writing, or when listening or reading to critique another writer.
             The villain who isn’t just a stereotype.
             The hero who isn’t a stereotype either. A hero without weakness is boring! Some weakness makes them human, and the reader needs to identify with him or her in ways that make them keep reading.
             Dialogue that works.
             Plots (and subplots) that are clear and compelling.
             In non-fiction, there should still be a story arc – you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, whether it’s a biography or a history.
Changes to look for:
             Plot – Is the plot clear, is it believable? Is the piece read out or handed out to the workshop driving that plot?
             Subplots – Are they necessary to the story? Do they drive the story, or are they distracting? Are they convincing and well-drawn?
             Setting – Does the reader know where they are? Is the setting used as another character within the story, driving the action, or is it a thruway?
             Characters – Are characters motivated, are they individual? Are you able to tell them apart by how they drive their dialogue? Or do you simply not care whether a character lives or dies?
             Characters – Does each character have a defined arc? Every major character, and any character that drives a subplot, should go through some form of change between the beginning of the story and the end, or a reader will feel incomplete.
             Names – The names of the characters are part of the overall setting—are they appropriate? Do they help define the characters?
             Consistency – Do the characters adhere to the facts we learn about them during the story?  Take a look at continuity, in the sense that a character who exhibits a trait in one part of the story still has that trait in another, unless it’s part of their own arc. A stoic may break down before the end of their arc, but a character with an amputated leg should not grow it back, unless it’s science fiction or magic.
             Length – if the piece is a short story, every word should drive the story arc. If it’s a novel, or part of a novel, there is more time and ability for character development, backstory, etc.
             Language – are some phrases confusing? Are the words chosen well?
             Lack of conflict—a story without conflict isn’t a story, it’s a monologue.
             Too much conflict – the reader needs some moments of calm in order to breathe.
             Description – Places where more description is called for (or less).
             Dialogue amount – Places in the story where more dialogue is necessary (or less).
             Dialogue attributions – Be sensitive to passages where more attributions are needed so readers don’t get lost in figuring out which character’s speaking, or fewer “he said/she saids.”
             Action tagging – Places in dialogue where an action tag would be appropriate.
             Pacing – Areas of the story where the pace is dragging, and you just want the characters to get on with it.  Alternatively, be aware of sections where pacing is racing so fast, the reader doesn’t have time to breathe, and can quickly get lost and frustrated.
             Information dumps – When a character or the narrator simply tells what’s happening or gives backstory without weaving it into the narrative of the story. This is where the person giving the critique will often say, “You need more showing and less telling in this section.” This is also often where an observer will say, “This part was a little boring.”
             Show don’t tell – Telling and not showing is also an issue when you see the word “felt.” Naming emotions can distance the reader. “She felt sad,” doesn’t give the readers what they need. But showing them will: “Covering her face with her hands didn’t stop the tears. Nothing did.”
             Dialogue reality – Unbelievable dialogue, whether it’s stilted or simply unlikely from the way the character has been drawn, is another character issue. It’s often when the person leveling the critique will say “I don’t believe the character would say something like …”
             Point of view issues – Swapping points of view mid-sentence or mid-paragraph can leave a reader confused or annoyed. No reader should ever have to wonder whose head they’re in or whose eyes they’re looking out of while they’re reading.
             Tenses – Tense confusion, from past to present and back should be noted.
Writer’s workshops can be even more valuable with a guideline to follow. Hopefully, this will help your workshop be even more valuable to its members.

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