Monthly Archives December 2013

Critique Technique, Part 34—Imbalance Between Narrative and Dialog

Old woman falling down

Image courtesy of Ambro /

By Ross B. Lampert

OK, I admit it: saying there’s an imbalance between narrative and dialog in a piece of writing is like saying there’s an imbalance between the ice cream and the banana in a banana split. For some people’s tastes, it’s not possible to have too much ice cream. Or too much banana.

But for most of us, there’s a sweet spot (pun fully intended), around which a little bit more ice cream or banana, or a little bit less, would still be OK.

The same is true of the balance between narrative and dialog. Except that the range is wider. Much wider.

It’s possible to write and publish a story that has no dialog whatsoever. I’ve done it. James Michener, I’m told, wrote hundreds of dialog-free pages at the beginning of Hawa...

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Critique Technique, Part 33—Contradictions

By Ross B. Lampert

Contradictions are the stuff of conflict. Contradictions between:

Angry couple standing back to back

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

  • characters’ words and actions,
  • what they say to different people and/or at different times,
  • what they do at different times or in different circumstances, or
  • the responses of different people to the same stimulus

all increase a reader’s tension and interest in the story.

At least so long as the contradictions are intentional on the author’s part.

If they’re not, that could be a problem. Or an unintended/unexpected opport

unity. Your job as a reviewer is to not only spot the contradictions, but to evaluate them for effect and intent. Sound difficult? It doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to do it.

It’s easy to evaluate contradiction...

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Critique Technique, Part 32—%*@!$#^!!!!

By Ross B. Lampert

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. This post is about “the f-bomb” and various other four- through fourteen-letter words and phrases that are generally not used in polite company. Swear words, curse words, obscenities, vulgarities, the whole lot, and the words we sometimes substitute for them. As a matter of convenience, I’ll call everything swearing.

I know you’ve all heard the usual advice to writers and their reviewers: if swear words are natural parts of a character’s way of speaking, don’t be shy about using them, even if that’s not the way you speak.

But if that’s all the advice a writer gets, it’s not enough, nor is it enough for a critiquer trying to determine if such language is being used as it should...

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Critique Technique, Part 31—The Wrong Words

By Ross Lampert

Authors can and do go wrong with their word choices, or use words the wrong way. This isn’t just a case of not understanding Mark Twain’s illustration of the difference between the right word and the almost-right word: the lightning versus the lightning bug. It is that, but it’s much more.

Pencil eraser erasing "wrong word"

Photo by ningmilo via

 There are at least three ways an author can mess things up for herself and her readers when it comes to word choice. They are: using words that are wrong for

  • The story, usually in narrative;
  • The character, usually in dialog; or
  • The reader, in either one.

We’ll save obscenities and vulgarities for next time but let’s take a look at the rest in more detail.

Narrative words that are wrong for the story are ones that don’t match what t...

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