Critical, critical

June 2, 2010 at 10:14 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


I’m going to admit it. I’m becoming very critical.

I’ve always been critical – particularly of myself – but lately I’ve been really critical of a lot of things.

Today I was given a short story to read. The purpose of the story was to demonstrate how to use descriptive language to create an emotional affect in the reader. Possibly it succeeded in that but the only emotional affect it had on me was the desire to grab a red pen and have at it – I managed to resist the urge but barely.

So what was wrong with the story?

Every single person or thing in the story was described by at least two adjectives in almost every single instance. Every single time. I’m sorry. The person is whistling. Sure, you can tell us how they are whistling and what it sounds like but the next time you feel the need to mention it you could just say whistling. You don’t then need to come up with two new adjectives (or an adverb and an adjective) to describe how the whistling is happening.

Objects were appearing ‘out of nowhere’. Umm, no. Unless they were tearing through interdimensional portals I’m pretty sure they came from somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t an important somewhere but to explicitly state they came from out of nowhere just leads the reader to wonder how that is even possible.

Characters were behaving out of character – which in a short story is really distracting because you don’t even have the benefit of later explaining the out of characterness (I know that isn’t a word).

I’ll admit it. I’m awful and I’m tearing this story to threads. And it lead me to realise some of the weaknesses I still have in my own writing. I like adjectives (not to this extent but I over use them to be sure). I may not have things appearing out of nowhere but I’m sure I suddenly have people in scenes where they shouldn’t be and have no logical reason to be and I’m sure I need to work on it. I need to turn this critical eye away from things I’m reading and apply it to things I’m writing and I need to look at what I could be doing instead.

Plenty of areas here for me to work on. What are you working on improving?

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13 Comments

  1. David Cranmer said,

    On improving?

    Describing a scene so vivid that the reader feels transported. Anyone can be a writer but being a storyteller is what I hope to achieve.

  2. Tooty Nolan said,

    I was flying recently, and chose to pass the time reading a Clive and Dirk Cussler book. I don’t recall the title – probably because I spent the entire trip seeking out repetitive writing. I don’t know how many times that the writer had unnamed characters ‘milling about’ . My wife heard me muttering, and inquired after the book. I asked her if she had ever seen a couple milling about. Did she think it was possible for two people to mill about? How many people does it take to mill? In the end I gave it up, and switched on my MP3 player. Yes – even when you’re a writer of limited talent such as I – you simply can’t help re-writing bad prose. It’s a shame: It spoils our enjoyment.

  3. Jayne said,

    Hello! I think tearing that story to threads is useful – at least you can spot these errors. That is what I always think when I see things like this, and I hope I can apply the same cool logic to my own words (sadly I fear I still have TONS to learn!)

  4. Carol Kilgore said,

    It’s always easier for me to spot things in someone else’s work than in my own. But the more I critique, the better I’ve become at self-correcting. It seems I solve one problem and develop two more.

  5. Lynn Rush said,

    It’s hard to put away the editor reading anything these days. Even highly acclaimed authors. Sure, things I find are far and few between when reading them, but still. . .

    Great post. I’m learning every time I read something, whether it’s to critique for a crit partner or just a book for fun—when I see mistakes in other writing, I learn, and hopefully it helps my writing as well!

    🙂

  6. Lua said,

    I’m desperately (see what I did there- again!) trying to STOP using so many adjectives! I don’t know what’s wrong with me, there are times I use two adjectives in one sentence… I’m thinking of getting a tattoo on my forehead or something as a last resort- ‘say no to adjectives’!

  7. Nikole Hahn said,

    Have you ever read Kathleen Woodiwiss, “Petals (by or on) the River?” She uses alot of adjectives. I like it. You can visualize it, but it can be distracting. I think we all have weaknesses and we all over do it on the editing. I just found that out. LOL

  8. AlexJ said,

    I think we are all like that to a degree. The things we dislike in others tends to be an issue with ourselves.
    Hopefully that piece has some redeeming value. Besides the whistling!

  9. Jane Kennedy Sutton said,

    I wonder why it’s easier to see mistakes in the work of others than it is to pick them out in our own writing. I’m still working on my overuse of adjectives, adverbs and gerunds…sigh.

  10. rahmama said,

    Critiquing is so helpful in the scrubbing and refining of our own writing. We are not attached to somebody else’s words, which is why I think it’s easier to see their flaws.

    I’ve become a lot more critical reader too. Sometimes I feel like I want to throw a book I’m reading at the wall. Instead, I just put it back on the shelf. There’s too much really good stuff out there

  11. Smander said,

    I loved this rant. I find it really funny when students of mine (Im an english teacher) make up adverbs like ‘he ran runningly’. That being said, it is much harder to pick up on my over use of adverbs and adjectives. Sometimes I think we really want to control what the reader sees and feels…perhaps we need to give a bit of this control back to the reader so they can decide for themselves.

  12. Corra McFeydon said,

    I think every good writer becomes critical like this. I know I am! I can’t even watch a movie anymore without editing it from Scene One.

    In my writing, I’m working on being more focused. I’m a poet at heart, so I splash a scene out without planning in advance. I’m learning a bit of thinking is an asset. 🙂

    – Corra

    from the desk of a historical writer

  13. Cassandra Jade said,

    Okay, I was definitely ranting and on reflection today the story probably wasn’t that bad – though that doesn’t yet make it good. Trying to think of a positive. You should always end on a positive. It at least plunged headlong into action and didn’t feel the need to drag itself out. Yay! Positive found.

    Turning critical eye onto myself and not criticising anyone today.

    Wishing everyone luck in their writing endeavours.

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