writing advice tagged posts

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 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 Updated!

Part 8: Story Endings Updated!

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict Updated!

Part 10: Poor Characterization Updated!

Part 11: Lack of Character Development Updated!

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development Updated!

Part 13: Timing the Reveal Updated!

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior Updated!

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals Update...

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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 Groups: Saying Good-Bye

The Cochise Writers’ Group, which I co-founded with Cappy Hanson, has gone through phases of growth and contraction, as every group does. We’ve been as small as four members, and as large as 17! We hit that number about a year ago and it became obvious very quickly that if we didn’t do something, the group was going to be unmanageable. The first thing we did was close the group to new members.

Our only saving grace was that not everyone in the group was submitting work. A lot of the new members did initially, in that burst of enthusiasm that comes with being new at something, but that tapered off over the months. Now we’ve got about half a dozen members who submit work more or less regularly, and that makes things easier to handle, both from a critique standpoint and from a management one.

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Tucson Festival of Books, Day 2

Got home late from TFoB yesterday, so now I’m catching up.

Did I say yesterday there were crowds at the Festival? Let me show you.

TFoB crowds

Did I say there was food? (And crowds)

TFoB food

That’s just one side of one of the two food courts.

And there were panels. LOTS of panels. From one on the “first folio” printings of all of Shakespeare’s plays, to Kick-Ass Women of Sci-Fi, to Surviving the Future (panel below),

L-R: Austin Aslan, Paolo Bacigalupi, Charlie Jane Anders, Jonathan Maberry

L-R: Austin Aslan, Paolo Bacigalupi, Charlie Jane Anders, Jonathan Maberry

to Ask a Sci-Fi Editor, to My Hero Can Beat Up Your Hero (panel below).

My Hero panel

L-R: Paolo Bacigalupi, Greg Bear, Sam Sykes

Did I have a good time? Writer-pal Lisa Vogel and I did, even standing in line.

Lisa & Ross

Yeah, definitely going again next year.

Save

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Writers’/Critique Groups: Right for Every Writer?

My writers’/critique group, the Cochise Writers’ Group, has been going through some changes lately and that’s gotten me thinking about critique groups in general: their puCritique grouprpose, size, makeup, and so on. This post starts an occasional series as I collect my thoughts and observations about them.

One of the most argued about questions in writer-dom is whether writers should join critique groups or not. There are some people who are absolutely certain they know what the right answer is for everyone. Multi-published author Dean Wesley Smith is death on writers’ groups. I guess he had a bad experience with one once, but if he did, that’s not a sufficient reason–not a reason at all, really–to declare all groups bad all the time for all writers.

Here’s the thing...

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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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Revision and Self-Editing for Publication Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background

Let’s get this on the table right now: Jim Bell does not write a bad craft-of-writing book. Does NOT.

In one case, however, the title of his book does not match the contents. That case is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. As K. M. Weiland noted in her 3-star review of this book on Goodreads, there’s little here about revision or self-editing. That’s too bad because what little there is clearly shows that if Bell had focused on those tasks, rather than writing yet another book about writing a decent first draft, he could have done well.

Bell divides the book into two sections: “self-editing” and “revision...

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The Art of War for Writers

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

Put James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers next to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on your bookshelf—or better, within easy reach! It’s that good.

Using famous and long-ago Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his model, Bell presents vital and valuable information for writers in bite-size chunks. These nourishing and digestible non-chicken nuggets add up to a lot of chapters, yet only two are longer than five pages.

That’s what makes them so useful: you can read a few, set the book aside to ponder them, and then come back without being overwhelmed with information. These chapter titles will give you a sense of what I mean:

  • From Part I, “Reconnaissance”: 21. Put heart into everything you write.
  • From Part II, “Tactics”: 36...
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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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