Category Critique Technique

Critique Technique Table of Contents

Here’s a Table of Contents of all of the Critique Technique posts to make it easier to go directly to the post you want to read.

Introductory Posts

Part 1: Critique, Technique, and Procedure

Part 2: Series Overview

Reader Response

Part 3: How Do You Feel?

Part 4: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

Beginnings and Endings

Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Part 6: The Wrong Beginning

Part 7: Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 8: Story Endings

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict

Part 10: Poor Characterization

Part 11: Lack of Character Development

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development

Part 13: Timing the Reveal

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals

Part 16: Unclear or Insufficient Obstacles

Part 17: Dialect, Foreign Languages,...

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Critique Technique, Part 27— Narrative and Dialog

Two people talking
Photo by Ambro, courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This article introduces a series on narrative and dialogue. Stated most simply, narrative and dialogue are the tools writers use to tell their stories. They take different forms and serve complementary functions, but with plenty of overlap.

What Narrative Does

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 monologue, that is, the character’s though...

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Critique Technique, Part 17: Dialect, Foreign Languages, and Jargon

This is the last post in the series on characterization. Next time we’ll move on to setting.

Confused person
Photo by Jeroen van Oostrom, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’ve traveled around the country, or watched TV or the movies, or done just about anything other than live under a rock, you know that people speak differently in different places. They have different accents, different slang terms, and different styles of speaking. Compare the laconic Mainer or cowboy to the fast-talking New Yorker. And that’s just in the United States! Canadians, Britons, Scots, Irish, New Zealanders, Australians, and some Indians and Kenyans (to name just a few) speak English, too.

And they all do it differently.

England’s WWII Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill famously described America and ...

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Critique Technique, part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Comedy has been defined as “ordinary people in extraordinary situations, or extraordinary people in ordinary situations.” But what if the piece you’re critiquing isn’t comedy—or isn’t meant to be comedy? When a character you’ve come to know suddenly acts in a way that makes you stop, scratch your head, and say “huh?”, maybe there’s a problem.

Maybe. That’s an important word. What does the story’s context tell you about this new behavior? If Alice suddenly starts screaming, which she’s never done before, but it’s because the car she’s riding in just went off a cliff, that’s reasonable...

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Critique Technique, Part 3: How Do You Feel?

New members of a critique or writers’ group will often say, “I don’t know how to critique.” The tendency, I suspect, is to think they have to do what they did in high school or college English classes: identify and explain the symbolism in a passage, say, or compare and contrast the use of metaphor with onomatopoeia.

Nope! Nope, nope, nope. That’s not what critique or writers’ group feedback is about. It’s about helping the author get better by identifying what worked, what didn’t, and why.

How Do You Feel?

Let’s start with the easiest thing: how did the piece make you feel? Did it:

  • excite you
  • anger you
  • make you happy
  • make you sad
  • confuse you
  • fascinate you
  • annoy you
  • thri...
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Critique Technique, Part 8: Story Endings

To quote from Ogden Nash’s puckish poetry accompanying Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, “Now we reach the grand finale / Animale Carnivale….”

The story you’ve been reviewing has reached and passed its climax, its moment of greatest tension and conflict. The good guys have won… or not. The protagonist has survived, achieved whatever she set out to achieve (or maybe something different), or gained some new understanding… or not. Now it’s time for the author to tie everything up in a shiny bow, or leather straps, or bands of steel… or not, so you, the reader feel that satisfying sense of completion… or not.

Or not?

Or not. We’ll get to that shortly.

What Makes a ...

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Critique Technique, Part 60 — The End

The End on dice

Photo by hisks via RGBStock.com

By Ross B. Lampert

I’m not sure whether I should be hearing Jim Morrison’s dark, “this is the end, my friend,” or Ogden Nash’s, “And now we reach the grand finale / Animale Carnivale.” Somehow, neither Morrison’s song “The End” nor Nash’s verse for Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” seems right.

This post does mark the end of the Critique Technique series, at least for now. But like a good ending to a short story or novel, it should feel like it wraps up the series well.

Or maybe not!

You see, endings can take many forms—happy or sad, satisfying or unsatisfying, completing or dangling—as the author chooses. There’s no single “right” kind of ending except the one that’s right (appropriate) for its story...

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Critique Technique, Part 59 — Ending a Scene or Chapter Well

saying on shirt

photo credit: Harpersbizarre via photopin cc

By Ross B. Lampert

When a writer ends a scene or chapter, he wants to do two things. He wants to leave the scene’s or chapter’s protagonist worse off than they were before. (Except at the very end of the book. More on that next time.) And because of that, he wants to leave the reader wanting to read more. Needing to read more.

The end of every scene or chapter should in some way launch the reader into the next one. That launch doesn’t have to be the equivalent of a giant rocket blasting off for deep space. It could be a gentle shove. But gentle or gigantic, it needs to be undeniable: the reader can’t say no to it.

There are lots of ways to do this, of course. The writer can:

  • Employ the classic “cliffhanger,” in which the protagonist o...
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Critique Technique, Part 58 — Magic Middles

Woman reading a book

Image courtesy of Marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Ross B. Lampert

Once a writer has convinced their reader with a great, or at least good, beginning that this is a story she wants to read, his next task is to keep her reading. That means the middle of each scene or chapter has to keep holding the reader’s interest. She has to want to keep reading.

There are lots of writing books that discuss the techniques for creating rising tension: plot twists, character revelations, obstacles revealed and overcome or worked around (or not), turning points, and so on. The purpose of this article isn’t to repeat them—there isn’t space!—but to remind you, the reviewer, that when a writer does this well, especially when they’d been struggling with this, it’s your job to point it out.

As I no...

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Critique Technique, Part 57 — Great Start!

Young woman reding a book on a lawn

Photo by lusi/RGBstock photos.

By Ross B. Lampert

Experienced writers understand that the most important chapter of a book isn’t the last one, but the first one. And that the first paragraph is the most important paragraph. And that the first sentence is the most important sentence. And that the first word… well, let’s not get carried away here.

But that understanding about the first sentence, paragraph, and chapter makes sense. The purpose, after all, of each of these firsts is to get the reader to read the one that follows: the second sentence, the second paragraph, the second chapter. Why? Because the writer wants the reader to keep reading, to keep going, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter...

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