Monthly Archives November 2013

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

By Ross Lampert

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.

Taken to extremes, neither tendency is good.

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...

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Critique Technique Extra: Life on the Other Side of the Critique

Last year, Becky Levine wrote a post called Critique Comments: Remembering to Give Them Time. I liked it so much I not only included the post on the daily Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs posts I was writing at the time, I invited Becky to guest post here. While she declined the offer (her choice; no problem), that post is a good jumping off point for this one.

Becky advised letting a critique 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 the reaction that needs to be put aside, taken off the hot stove and allowed to cool, as it were. It might be wrong.

Or it mi...

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Critique Technique, Part 29—Writers’ Tics

Woman writing notes

Image courtesy of Graur Codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 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?
  • Repeated word patt...
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Critique Technique, Part 28—Awkward Dialog

Woman talking on pay phone

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ah, dialog. It’s hard for many writers to do well. When it works, it crackles, sings, inspires, enrages, chills, thrills. But when it doesn’t, does it ever show. It may be stiff and stilted, choppy or verbose, confusing or confused, the list goes on. Any or all of those characteristics can be acceptable, even necessary, when they reflect the character of the speaker. It’s when they don’t that there’s trouble.

There are many reasons for this. First off, dialog in writing—all writing: fiction, memoir, and non-fiction—is not natural, but has to sound natural when read, especially out loud. Real dialog includes pauses, repetitions, false starts, bad grammar, slang and jargon, incomplete sentences, and other problems.

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Critique Technique, Part 27— Narrative and Dialog

Two men talking

Image by photostock, courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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