writing techniques 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 Updated!

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 Goa...

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Fatigue, A Stalled Book, and Art in the House

Oy veh. What a week the last few weeks have been. Stress levels haven’t been just through the roof, they’ve been somewhere out beyond the orbit of the Moon, so my body’s said, “OK, I’ve had enough of this fun.” Welcome to knock-you-flat-on-your-back fatigue. To quote the lyrics from the ’70’s rock band Spirit, “It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong.” Boy, howdy.

That Stalled Book

I’d like to blame it all on the draft of book #3. Progress has come to a screeching, grinding halt. I shouldn’t be surprised: I knew, even as I was writing the second draft, that there were significant problems. Then my writers’ group found what they found, and my own read-through and analysis found even more.

OK, fine. I’ll interview my characters. That’s a technique that’s helped before...

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Book 3, Starting Draft 2

One of the things writer Anne Lamott is famous for is her advice, “Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.” To me that’s a kind of liberation theology for writers, but that’s a subject for another time. Today I’m going to continue to pull back the curtain on my writing process, at least as it relates to getting all the scenes in order for the second draft of this book.

So: “Give yourself permission….” Done.

“Write a shitty first draft.” Done.

OK, maybe “shitty” is a relative term, but while my read-through of the first draft got a “not bad” rating, as I wrote last time there were problems with the timeline, that is, the sequence of events in the plot. Timeline is especially critical for this book for two reasons.

  • One, it needs to end at a certain time of year in order to t...
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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 Portable American Realism Reader Review

By Ross B. Lampert

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

I was introduced to this collection of short stories about ten years ago, when it was one of the assigned books in one of my master’s degree classes. The 47 stories were published between 1865 and 1918 and were written by both famous authors—Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, and Jack London, to name a few—to writers not known outside of literary circles, like Sioux author Zitkala-Sä and Chinese immigrant Sui Sin Far.

The stories are divided into three general categories whose time-frames overlap: regionalism and local color (1865 and after), realism (1890 and after), and naturalism (also 1890 and after). As the names of the categories and their periods suggest, they illustrate the changing tenors and interests of the times...

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The Art of War for Writers

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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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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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