Monthly Archives August 2013

Critique Technique, Part 21–Unclear Plot

This is the first of a 3-part series on critiquing a story’s plot.

Signpost: puzzled, unsure, confused, etc.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

The basic concept of plot is simple: it’s the series of events that the characters experience and are involved in that builds in intensity, leading to the story’s climax and resolution. Every story—fiction or non-fiction—has one. In a so-called “literary” story, most of the “action” may be internal to the characters (emotional and/or psychological) rather than external. It may seem like there isn’t much plot, but there has to be some. At the other extreme, pick up any Tom Clancy novel and there’s tons of external activity—chases, explosions, spycraft, you name it—as well as internal action.

The point of this post isn’t to examine...

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Critique Technique, Part 20—Too Much Setting Detail

Cluttered bedroom
Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /

The flip side of providing vague or insufficient setting detail is providing too much. Drowning the reader in the minutia of a setting not only kills the momentum of the story, it causes readers to lose track of the story. When they do that, they lose interest. For the lucky author, the reader will just skip ahead—a few times.

Brace Yourself

But for the unlucky author, or the one who insists on writing a description like this—deep breath—“the three green sateen ribbons on the head of the second Pekinese from the left, the one with the ghost-grey patch of fur on its back that looks just like a giraffe if you look at it from the right rear, which is hard to do because the dog insists on spinning around—always clockwise,...

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Critique Technique, Part 19—Vague Setting

Last time I wrote about authors not providing setting information at all, or not providing it soon enough. Not providing enough detail about the setting is a similar problem. Next time we’ll go to the other extreme and discuss providing too much information.

Foggy scene

Image courtesy of Dan /

It’s easy for an author to fall into the vagueness trap: after all, his mind’s eye sees the setting the characters are in. That knowledge becomes so ingrained that he can forget the reader isn’t right there with him: she doesn’t see what he sees, know what he knows, etc. In the end, details get left out, even when they’re new and important, and the poor reader becomes a member of the Fugawi Tribe. (See Part 18 for an explanation of who they are.)

Setting detail...

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Critique Technique, part 18—Lost in Space

Landing on a mystery planet
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick 

This is the first of three posts on setting.

Remember that old TV show, “Lost In Space”? Neither do I, really, but that’s OK. The title’s the important thing. I used to be in the Air Force, and there was a joke among us aviators that navigators were members of the Fugawi Tribe. (This was true for Naval aviators, too.)

“Why is that?” you ask.

“Because,” I reply, “you could often find them huddled over their paper charts [this was back in the day—today they huddle over GPS displays, mostly] with their compasses and protractors and special rulers and rotary slide rules...

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