Monthly Archives January 2014

Critique Technique, Part 37 — The Pieces of Pace

The pace of a story is how quickly or slowly it seems to pass for the reader. It may flash by like a fighter jet at an airshow, crawl along at a speed that makes glaciers seem quick, or do something in between.

Fast carnival ride

You already have a sense of pace as a reader, even though you might not be thinking about it. This article and the next one will help you be more aware of a story’s pace so you can evaluate it as you critique the work.

Genre and Pace

While we can make some general statements about pace in different genres in fiction and types of work in non-fiction, at best they’re poor guidelines...

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Critique Technique, Part 36 — “As You Know, Bob…”

Two people talking
Photo by Ambro, courtesy

Whenever characters speak, they’re transmitting information, to one or more other characters and/or to the reader. That information can be truth, lies, or something in-between; it can be emotional (a state of being or feeling) rather than factual; it can be directive (an order or warning) or informational; it can be direct or indirect; it can be any combination of these. This is nowhere near a complete list.

It can also be boring as hell.

What happens is that sometimes, with the best of intentions (or maybe just not knowing any better), an author will use a character to dump information on the reader, rather than doing it himself through narrative. No matter how it’s done, info-dumping isn’t a good technique.

This probl...

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The cover image for The Eternity PlagueI am thrilled to announce that The Eternity Plague has been published! Here’s the blurb:

In 2035, Dr. Janet Hogan makes a stunning discovery: infected by five species of naturally-mutated viruses, every one of earth’s nine billion inhabitants has become immortal.

Or have they? By the time Janet learns that this immortality is an illusion, it’s too late to change people’s beliefs. Some love her for creating this miracle and the coming paradise they long for. Others hate her for what they see ahead: immoral behavior without consequence, overpopulation, famine, and worse. Zealots demand that she save people’s souls, humanity, the earth… or the viruses. Or else.

Janet realizes this awful truth: no matter what she does, no matter what anyone else wants, sooner or later, billions will ...

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Critique Technique, Part 35 — Name-Calling

This article and the next one will focus on problems that are specific to dialogue.

Women pointing at board with names on it
Image courtesy of photostock /

Sometimes characters addressing each other by name is a problem, sometimes it’s not. It’s important to be able to tell the difference. Name-calling is more likely to be a problem in fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction than in other kinds of non-fiction, because reportorial non-fiction generally uses direct quotes in a non-conversational context.

When Name-Calling Works

Let’s begin by identifying the situations where one character calling another by name is appropriate.

  • One character needs to get another’s attention, such as:
    • In a moment of danger: “Bob! Run!” Alice shouted.
    • In a noisy or crowded location: “Alice, over h...
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Critique Technique, Part 1A — The Critiquer’s Mind

Before we get to the specific tasks and techniques this series will cover, I want to talk about something that is central to your success as a reviewer: your mind. To an extent, this means your memory, but it also has to do with your attitude about and approach to critiquing, and your level of commitment to the task.


Pages of book shaped like a heart
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 /

It’s important that you have a good but specialized memory. You can’t let the words just flow in one eye and out the other, the way someone who’s reading for pleasure can. The words have to stop and make your acquaintance. Or, to put the focus in the right place, you have to make theirs.

It’s very helpful if you can recall specific kinds of details—about what a character did or said before, fo...

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