Monthly Archives November 2013

Critique Technique, Part 30 — Too Many Words, or Too Few

In the movie My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl turned high-society woman of charm and mystery, sings to her would-be boyfriend, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words….”

For some writers, that’s not a problem. In fact, they’re too in love with words, and think the more of them there are on the page or screen, the better. Then there are the others who, Eliza-like, want no more of them. Or at least darn few of them.

The days of padding a piece with any and every extraneous available word, á la Henry James, are over. (Well, for new or getting-established writers, they’re over. For über-successful authors like Stephen King, Tom Clancy, or George R. R. Martin, padding may not be intentional, but it’s not edited out, either.)

At the othe...

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Critique Technique, Part 1B — Life on the Other Side of the Critique

In addition to taking care to develop your own skills as a critiquer, some of which I discussed in Part 1A, there’s one other person you need to always be mindful of: the person whose work you’re reviewing.

Think about how you react when your work is being critiqued. In 2012, Becky Levine wrote a blog post called Critique Comments: Remembering to Give Them Time. She advised letting a critique you receive sit and percolate, or ferment, or something (my words, her concept) before responding to it. Of course, there’s going to be the natural, defensive first response, even if the comments aren’t negative. Any suggestion to do things a different way is going to get that. That’s a reaction that needs to be put aside, taken off the hot stove and allowed to cool, as it were...

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Critique Technique, Part 29 — Writers’ Tics

Woman writing notes
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin /

Writers’ tics—those sneaky, dastardly things that slip into our writing when we’re not looking and make it go CLANK! They’re insidious and terribly hard to recognize: our eyes glide right over them when we’re editing.

And it doesn’t matter how experienced we are, we’re still vulnerable to them.

What are they? Here’s a nowhere-near-complete list:

  • Incessantly using unnecessarily intrusive adverbs excessively.
  • Clichés we’ve read a million times before.
  • The words or phrases we really like to use over and over because they really do a really great job of really capturing what we’re really trying to say.
  • Those, like, popular, y’know, empty words or phrases that are nothing but noise. I know: seriously?
  • R...
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Critique Technique, Part 28 — Awkward Dialogue

Woman talking on pay phone
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /

Ah, dialogue. It’s hard for many writers to do well. When it works, it crackles, sings, inspires, enrages, chills, thrills. But when it doesn’t, it might do that too, but for the wrong reasons! It may be stiff and stilted, choppy or verbose, confused or confusing, or have other problems. Any or all of those characteristics can be acceptable, even necessary, when they reflect the character of the speaker. When they don’t, there’s trouble.

Natural Dialogue vs. Written Dialogue

There are many reasons for this. First off, dialogue in writing—all writing: fiction, memoir, and non-fiction—is not natural, but has to sound natural when read, especially out loud...

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Critique Technique, Part 27— Narrative and Dialog

Two men talking

Image by photostock, courtesy

This post begins a series on narrative and dialog. Stated most simply, narrative and dialog are the tools writers use to tell their stories. They take different forms and serve complementary functions, but with plenty of overlap.

Writers use narrative to:

  • Describe—to show—action (“Bob ran down the street after Alice’s car”) or emotion;
  • Describe a person (“Alice’s hair was dyed souvenir-shop-coral red”), a place, or a thing;
  • Make connections between people, places, actions, emotions, or things; and
  • Provide the reader with whatever other information she might need.

It is the words not placed inside quotation marks or used for internal monolog (sometimes shown in italics).

While it’s true that dialog can do many of these...

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