Monthly Archives February 2014

Critique Technique, Part 43—Too Many Notes

Violin bow over music score

Image courtesy of Luigi Diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Ross B. Lampert

Perhaps you remember this exchange from the movie Amadeus:

Emperor Joseph II: “My dear young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.”

Mozart: “Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?”

Wow. Talk about a perfect response to an ignorant critic—never mind that the critic happened to be an Emperor! (I guess that would qualify as a 3-star review.) And yet….

The truth is, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. In writing, that “good thing” can be descriptive details. Last time I wrote about the expository lump (a.k.a...

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Critique Technique, Part 42—The Dreaded Expository Lump

Old car stuck in the mud
photo credit: Toronto History via photopin cc

By Ross B. Lampert

Ah, the dreaded expository lump, that moldering mass of minutiae, that exhausting example of authorial excreta, that soggy swamp of supercilious sentences that sends the reader straight into the Slough of Despond. (Yeesh, enough with the purple prose.)

You know what the expository lump is, of course: that paragraph or page—or worse yet, pages—in which the author stops the story to tell you everything he knows about a particular character, setting, situation, etc. His intent is good—there are things the reader needs to know—but not all of them, not right now. And not all at once.

Unfortunately, this lump, also known as an info- or data-dump, isn’t the exclusive province of the novice writer. We all risk writing it...

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Critique Technique, Part 41—What Was That Again?

Confusion!By Ross B. Lampert

Ever had one of those moments when you’re reading through a story or article and the author’s description of a place or event or person makes you stop and say to yourself, “Wait, did I miss something?” Sure you have. We all have.

It’s okay to confuse a reader if it’s done intentionally and in a way that makes them want—no, need—to read more. But confusing descriptions that stop the reader and in so doing, interrupt the flow of the story, are another matter.

When these kinds of problems show up, it’s a good bet the author either knew what they meant and didn’t realize it hadn’t come out that way on the page, or they had no idea what they were trying to express...

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Critique Technique, Part 40—The Gray Haze

By Ross B. Lampert

Fog over villagePainters have a lot of different tools at their disposal to create an image: oils, water colors, acrylics, computer graphics. Photographers have light, angle, framing, the capabilities of their camera and film or electronics, and of course Photoshop® and its cousins. Sculptors have stone, wood, found objects, metal, even sand.

We writers have words—hundreds of thousands of them in the English language alone—so there should never be a problem with creating a clear image, right?

Alas, we know that’s not true. It’s not how many or how few tools we have at our disposal, it’s how we use them that matters...

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Critique Technique, Part 39—Pace: Speed It Up, Whoa It Up, or Change It Up

Horses racing

photo credit: dawvon via photopin cc

By Ross B. Lampert

Last time we identified the general questions critiquers want to ask about scene and story pace—does it vary, is it appropriate, and if not, what needs to change—and eight factors that affect pace: sentence and paragraph length, active or passive voice, dialog versus narrative, tone, language, description, complexity, and what’s happening.

Now let’s apply the factors to the questions.

Does the pace vary? As I noted last time, even the shortest piece may have a varying pace but once you get beyond the flash-fiction story or filler article, it has to change. Readers need changes of pace to keep their interest...

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