Monthly Archives March 2014

Critique Technique, Part 46—No Story Arc

By Ross B. Lampert

 Let’s begin by describing what a story arc is, since it’s a good bet new writers in particular won’t know. An arc is a curved line, perhaps a part of a circle, perhaps as part of some other figure, like an ellipse or oval. For our purposes, the best image is part of the outline of an egg, taking in the pointed end and part of the sides leading toward the flatter end. The sides aren’t even and the whole thing is tipped over, something like this (pardon my poor drawing skills).

The story arc, annotated with key pointsThis curve represents the “rising action” of the story. Going from left to right, the story begins with some “inciting incident” as Les Edgerton calls it in Hooked...

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Critique Technique, Part 45—Pop Goes the Reader!

A toy jack-in-the-box

By United States Consumer Product Safety Commission [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ross B. Lampert

This post starts a series on general story-telling problems and how to identify and critique them.

One of the worst things a writer can do is to write something that “pops the reader out of the story.” In other words, write something that distracts or surprises them in such a way that they fall out of the “fictive dream,” the world of the story, and think, Huh? What just happened?

This can happen in many different ways. The author can:

  • Use an unusual term. “Unusual” can mean any one of several different things:
    • A foreign or slang word or phrase, especially if such words haven’t been part of the story before.
    • A made up word or phrase—science fiction and fantasy are no...
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Critique Technique, Part 44—Telling, Not Showing

Hand painting flowers

Image courtesy of PANPOTE /

By Ross B. Lampert

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the oldest dicta in all of writing, although one prominent writer (Larry Brooks?) growled, “I’m a story teller, not a story shower.”

That, of course, misses the point: we illustrate or exemplify—in other words, show—a character’s emotions or attitudes by telling the reader what they did or how they behaved. Showing applies to inanimate objects as well by describing the effects that object had on the other objects or the people or animals in the scene.

Showing, then, is a specialized form of telling.

The best way to explain this, of course, is not to tell you about these differences but to illustrate them, starting with a couple examples about people.

Telling: Alice felt sic...

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