You saved and saved and saved and finally bought your dream car, a brand new Lamborgini. Now it's time to take it to get some work done on it. You drive down the road and stop at the first dealer you see, a Ford dealer. He takes one look at your ride, wipes the drool from his chin, and says, “Uh, I can check it out for you, but I'm not going to be able to fine tune it.”
Often, as writers we do this with our stories when it comes time to have them critiqued. Only we tend to shoot in the dark. We hand our WIP out and get it back with all sorts of markups. Our hope for the future is dashed, and we then lapse into a writer coma never to produce again. Later on we find that the guy who tore apart our story was a historic fiction buff who hated Twilight, and we're a Stephenie Meyer inspired writer. Go figure.
This guide is my way of being up front with you. You're pulling into my dealership and I'm saying, “Look, these are the kinds of cars I know how to work on and what you can expect.” It's also a sort of manual. Someplace you can refer to when you need to try and decipher my comments.
I tend to be straight forward with my criticism. I'll never say, “you suck, this is stupid.” What I will say is, “This is not working for me and this is why I think it's not.” Some people still take offense to that. Whereas a lot of writers will shower you with praise, I sprinkle. I also tend to save what I liked for the end rather than noting it in line.
Know your Story-Worthy Problem. I cannot stress this enough. If you don't know what it is that motivates your characters, the deeper psychology that they have to work through in the story, I cannot possibly help you develop it any further.
If your story did not come with any kind of a synopsis as to what it is about and where it is going, I can only give you a blind read. When we go to the bookstore we at least get a chance to read about the overarching story on the back of the book and get some idea as to what lies ahead. Without this I can only make assumptions, so bare that in mind.
My Writing and Reading Style:
I am a dreadfully slow reader. I read so slow that even slow readers are amazed that I bother reading at all, let alone that I got a B.A. in English. By and large I read at the pace of spoken English. This slow pace likely causes my intolerance for excess wordage. Lush descriptions, wandering thoughts, world building, anything that detracts from the forward movement of the plot is going to draw more criticism from me. I note this because there are those readers who enjoy poetic prose. I am not counted among them and you should be aware of that if you're aiming for that market.
I like characters with strong motivations. Evil for the sake of evil does not sit well with me. Actions for the sake of the plot stand out as not being in character when I read.
My preferred reading perspective is Limited Third Person. After that it is Third Person Omniscient, then First Person, (I won't dignify Second by putting it on the list). This is not to say that I cannot enjoy a First Person story. It simply implies that it takes more to impress me with a FP.
When reading I gravitate towards the fantastic. Because of my slow reading speed, I steer clear of series; therefore, each novel that I read has to feel like it is going to end with some form of resolution. For this reason LOTR is not among my favorite works.
Books I've Enjoyed (in no particular order)
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
Dune by Frank Herbert
Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Black Company by Glen Cook
Gridlinked by Neal Asher
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
How I Crit:
I add numbered lines to all my crits so that when there is a question it is easier to direct me to the point that you are referring to. “Line 124,” is much easier than “Page 2, paragraph 3, third line down.” This feature can easily be turned on and off in both Open Office and Word.
I use the comment feature available in both Open Office 3.1 and Word. Unfortunately, OO does not highlight the commented text, it only places an arrow at the point of the cursor. If you've told me that you are using Word I will crit your story in that program and highlight my comments for you.
I also turn on “Track Changes,” another option available in both Word and Open Office. When you are going through my critique you can choose to accept or deny any changes that I've made to your text. Therefore, it is much easier to simply delete an excess word rather than make a note mentioning that I think the sentence would be tighter without it.
At times I'll be clipped with my comments. I'll use very few words to communicate what I'm thinking because I don't feel that it needs to be expounded upon in order to coddle feelings. I'm trying to save time to go deeper into other comments. Feel free to ask if any of my comments don't make sense. (then we can use that super cool line numbering)
Don't be put off by the first page or two, I tend to comment heavily in the beginning. I do this because the opening is the most important part of a piece, it is what sells the reader on continuing your story. I also note and set up patterns. An example would be a writer who tends to describe things with one sense all of the time. I'll point this out, provide an example of how it could be changed, and then not mention it again if it occurs after that point. It does not mean that it never occurs again. Just be aware of this when you go back and do your edits.
Starting consecutive sentences or more than one sentence in the same paragraph with the same word. This is a pet peeve of mine and is not shared by all writers. It was a lesson I picked up in my first university English course. The English language is wide and varied, so too should our writing be. Finding different ways to start each sentence helps to add variety to your story. When I run into a problem like this I'll usually highlight all of the instances in which it occurs just to draw your attention to it.
List of Terms:
Choose one: Often in trying to describe things as best we can, we find ourselves attaching too many adjectives to describe something. “The smooth, hard rock.” Doing this robs the description of its power. When I write “choose one” I'm asking you to pick out the most powerful descriptor.
Telling: We all know this one from our many writing classes, “Show, don't tell.” If I feel a passage is telling I'll usually note it in this way.
Awkward: I'll often highlight a section this way when I feel the wording is such that it is hard to understand.
POV switch: You've hopped heads. Description has been coming via the POV of one character and is now coming from someone elses. This might be what you want. I'm simply noting that it has happened and that I as the reader have noticed.
Obvious: Something in the story is being made into a bigger point than it needs to be.
Redundant: Information is being conveyed twice. This often happens when the writer thinks that they have found a better way to further describe something. Sometimes this works, but often times it ends up coming across like the double modifier problem. The strongest description or information should be chosen.