A note from Alex: This is the second post in a 3-part series of guest posts by the ever-awesome Aimee Laine.
Sentences. Paragraphs. Scenes. Poems. Chapters. Flash Fiction. Short Stories. Articles. Novellas. Novels.
What do they share?
They are a combination of mixing, matching and the manipulation of words.
Sometimes, though, those combinations don’t work exactly like the author intends.
Last week, we discussed a critiquing process. Now, let’s look at some industry specific instruction a critiquer can use in the review of a fellow author’s works.
Keep in mind, this list is not all-inclusive and from one genre to another, there may, in fact, be disagreement as to whether it applies. There, you-the-reader must determine what is important.
Active vs. Passive writing
Look for sentences which refer to an action without showing the action. Keyword clues are let, had and felt, began and seemed. In addition: ‘was + a-word-ending-in -ed’ or ‘was + a-word-ending-in -ing’ or sentences that start with an ‘-ing’ word often lean toward passive writing.
A good rule of thumb is to use no more than two in a row.
Ah, the dreaded ‘-ly’ word. Not all ‘-ly’ words are adverbs and not all adverbs end in ‘-ly’ but it’s a great place to start. Some ascribe to the ‘no adverbs’ philosophy because it leads to telling and the use of trite verbs. Example: ‘She walked slowly.’ vs. ‘She trudged.’
The sporadic use of a line or two of incidental or tangential material is great! Paragraphs of ‘infodumping’, though, pulls the reader from the active elements of the story. Draw readers in and show them what’s going on versus explaning every question they might have. One rule of thumb says to push backstory to after the first 10,000 words.
Limit dialogue tags to ‘said’ or ‘asked’. Otherwise, action(s) should follow or precede the dialogue. Why? ‘Said’ is invisible to the reader and actions show the story.
In a single sentence, have we re-used the same word when we could be using a thesaurus for some variety? How about phrasing over the course of a paragraph or scene?
Some say use only one (!) per 100k words. If an author is using it to show emphasis, shouldn’t they describe the purpose instead?
Just, quick, simple, very and even that are ‘filler’ words that in 99% of the cases can be eliminated with no loss of clarity in a story.
Authors have a tendency to use absolutes when in fact they aren’t exactly true but more a term to describe an almost absolute. These are words that may trip up an author in longer works when the character does something to negate it.
Point of View (POV)
Some ascribe to ‘POV should be consistent through an entire chapter’ rule, but most agree, POV should be consistent within a scene. Omnicient POV detaches the reader from the story and fails to get them deep inside the mind of the narrator. Also look out for POV switches (outside of dialogue) where the author uses ‘you’ or ‘I’ or ‘he/she’ in narration inconsistently.
Keep an eye out for sentences that start the same way (‘I’ in 1st person, ‘he/she’ in 3rd person). After the second or third use, readers will see the repetition.
Telling fails to bring in emotion and grab a reader. It is a recitation of events versus describing an experience. By showing the scene through the narrator’s eyes, the reader can be right there with the characters.
Look for here, now, this, see and today, tonight, tomorrow if the writing is in the past tense. These are a few common words that are indicators of present tense. Be mindful of these words, but base the critique on the overall tense of the piece.
This baker’s dozen could be expanded into a hundred pages, especially when personal preference comes into play.
The use of the word ‘thing’, verb ‘was’, starting a sentence with a conjunction — these may be pet-peeves of a reader. They aren’t wrong, though some can argue the conjunction usage all day long. When found in a piece of writing, make note, but caveat the suggested change with the explanation that it is, absolutely, an opinion. This allows the author to consider how, or if, they will use or even learn from these changes.
In reference to our Scan. Correct. Dissect. Teach. Praise. model, the above are part of the Dissect phase. Add the explanation to fulfill the ‘Teach’ part of the program.
Whether an author chooses to accept the suggestions or not is up to them.
Next week, we’ll look at delivering the bad news when reader-as-critiquer and author just don’t mesh. As we all know, that happens. How do we deal with it?