Archive for category Writing Reference

How to improve your own writing – Critiquing

When I started writing, I had a huge inflated ego. I always got good grades in English. Some of my middle school and high school short stories and poems had been published. So when I wrote my first Nano length “novel,” I felt pretty smug. Having this pretty, wonderful, awesome novel, I wanted someone else to read it and praise me. So I started researching how to send my baby out into the world.

I lucked out. Instead of finding the right path to publishing, I found collections of online critique groups. It was exactly what I needed. Here’s what happened:

  • I gave the critique group my shiney new novel.
  • They tore it apart saying things like: overly descriptive, not enough conflict, the inciting incident needs to be closer to the start, reads more like a character sketch, there is no emotional feedback/reaction from the characters, the scenery is confusing.
  • I overreacted. You don’t love my novel!?!?! You just don’t know what good writing is. I rock. I am a Goddess of prose. Lay off my writing.
  • Then I went through the grieving process and decided to get even. I read what they had written. And damn. I found myself saying things like: what’s with the three paragraphs describing the space ship when the chapter is about a fight in the dinning hall.
  • Being ego centric, it was all about me. So I ran back to my own work and cut the description of non-necessary stuff down because I didn’t like it in their writing.

For me, critiquing lets me see how others approach their writing. I find myself learning from pieces I consider more polished and less polished. Here are some of the things I am looking for when I critique to help my own writing:

  • Did I get lost in a piece? What drew me in?
  • Did I find the conflict for the chapter/scene engaging or did it feel contrived?
  • Who was my favorite character and why did I pick that one?
  • Was there something I absolutely did not like about the chapter/scene? Do I do something similar in my own writing?
  • A day later, is there something I still remember about the piece that might draw me back?

I grabbed this image from http://imgarcade.com/1/shoe-polish/

But critique groups are not all about improving my own writing, here’s some of the other things I think critique groups offer:

  • Community – other writers or aspiring writers to talk with
  • Brainstorming – some critique groups are more like communities where ideas can be discussed and developed
  • Knowledge – because people tend to be in various stages of writing, critique groups offer people with knowledge on publishing, revision, editing, areas of strength in fight scenes or romance scenes or settings
  • Enegry – there is an energy about a critique group. Active ones force me to find time for my writing when all I want to do is sleep. Laid back groups don’t make me feel lazy when it takes a month for me to write a chapter or when it takes me longer to respond to a critique request.

I believe writers should be involved in critique groups, but there are varieties of critique groups. Finding the right fit is important.  The Critique Corner mentions one thing to consider is whether you are looking for line editing versus “overall editing.” Writer’s Relief indicates that finding a critique group should include finding trained critics (or critiquers). I’m not sure trained critics are necessary, but I like their advice that a good group or partner should be someone more than mom. It should be someone willing to objectively look at the piece and provide either reader or editor feedback.

Our group, Second Chapter, uses an online community called Scribophile to facilitate our critiques. This is not the only online critique group and may not be the best fit for everyone. Some other options include: the Critique Circle and Critters for Sci-fi and Fantasy (I used to use this one a lot and would continue if I had more time). The Writing World has a long list of online communities that is worth checking out.

There are also real life critique groups. Second Chapter started as an in-person critique group from a collection of Nano writers who wanted to encourage each other all year. We are located in Kansas City, Missouri. There are other real life critique groups in the area. Some charge dues to be a part of their circle, some are closed groups, and others are open to new members. My best suggestion for finding these groups it to rely on Google, local writing communities (like The Writer’s Place in Kansas City), area Art Councils (like the Kansas City Regional), local Nano groups, and area colleges. Of course, if you are in the Kansas City area, you could stop by one of the Second Chapter meetings which can be found on our calendar.

Caution:

Even though I have found critique groups to be very helpful, they can be harmful too. Writer’s Digest offers two articles worth reading on choosing a critique group. The Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners adds labels to the types of critics to be weary of. Critique partners who are snobs, who don’t show up, who want their stuff read but never return a thoughtful critique, and who are always or never harsh. The other article worth reading on the topic is 5 Things to Look for in a Critique Partner. Most of their advice is about finding a partner that can help you as an individual writer, someone who is not going to over push but also not going to offer nothing but praise.

I’ve fallen into some of the negatives of critique groups. Here’s my list of cautionary tales:

  • The Frankenstein Novel — When I first started getting critiques and accepting them, I took them a lot like a teacher’s corrections. I accepted and made every suggested change. Wow! The result was a mess. The original idea and purpose was lost behind the vision of many writers who had only based their opinions on a chapter versus the full novel and such wildly different styles of writing. Even I was frightened of my own creation after that experience.
  • The Editor — I’ve run into many critique partners who edit my piece and never offer real feedback on the content. While these kinds of edits may be great, I wasn’t at the point that I needed perfect grammar. I needed tighter content. What good is the correct comma when I’d just be changing the whole sentence later?
  • Retaliation — This is a problem of my own making. When I critique I tend to focus on the negative. Even when I love a story, I am not focused on the parts I love. It’s a personal failing that has caused some of my critique partners to have their hackles up. I have had others retaliate and be overly harsh on my pieces because they perceived me as being overly harsh on theirs. My best suggestion to avoid this is to make sure when giving a critique to balance the good and bad. To find the time to note the parts or a story the do work not just the ones that do not. I have improved over time and have less of this kind of problem now.
  • Rewriters — I have had critique partners in the past not be able to continue to critique until they felt I made every change that they wanted. Ghost writing another person’s version of my story is not what critiquing is about.

Brandon Sanderson (don’t be fooled by this link. It goes back to another one of the group blog posts where Sanderson’s video is embedded) in his 2013 class cautioned that critique groups have natural pitfalls that also include obsessing on small details and feeling like there is not enough conflict. I’ve never noticed this tendency, but I can see where he might be right.

All in all, I think critique groups are worth it. They helped me grow as a writer and learn a lot more about the industry. Writing is meant to be shared. This is just one way to share and hopefully improve enough to publish. If you look for a critique group or partner and find yourself in a bad situation, my advice is to step back and find a better critique group that fits your needs. Don’t let one bad experience stop you.

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Length: Scene, Chapter, Novel

I’ve been working on my writing recently. For me, that means going over my outlines and setting things up for narrative. It got me thinking about writing and length goals. Here’s my run down of my research and some thoughts.

taken from blog indiewire

Novel Lengths:

Writers Digest Bree Ogden Literary Rejection Writers Workshop
Adult Novel 80-100k 70-115
Sci-fi 100-115k 100-115 90-125
MG 20-55k 30-40 25-40
YA 55-70k 55-90 50-80 50-70
Picture Books 32 pages 500-600 words 500-700 words 500-700 words
Western 50-80k
Memoir 80-90k 70-110 70-100
Commercial/womens 80-110 75-120
Crime 90-100 75-130
Mysteries 70-90
Romance 40-100
Fantasy 90-100 180-200
Paranormal 75-95
Horror 80-100
Historical 100-120
NA 60-85

What I learned:

  • There are no exact numbers. 80-85k feels like a pretty standard number for adult novels. Sci-fi and fantasy runs longer. YA runs shorter.
  • Although there are notable exceptions outside the norms, they are exceptions and not the standard way to break into writing.

Chapter Lengths:

All Write Karen Woodward Advanced Writing Better Novel Project
General 2500 640-1000 5000 3500-4500
Romance 3000
Thrillers 600-800

What I learned:

  • Chapters are not consistent
  • Beginning chapters tend to be longer because they have more set up but even then they vary
  • Varying chapter lengths helps build the pace and tension in a novel.
  • One website indicated that a chapter is roughly 2-3 scenes long. Another says that a chapter is a location change. A third indicates that it is a natural breath in the action of the novel. There doesn’t seem to be any specific guidance for finding a standard break.

Scene Lengths:

The Write Practice Writer’s Digest Be Kind Rewrite
Scene 750 2-15 pages 300-1300

What I learned:

  • Like scenes, there is a significant variance in the scene lengths.
  • Writer’s Digest relied on Make A Scene by Rosenfeld. I enjoyed Make A Scene but the page reference felt less useful than the word suggestions offered by the other websites.
  • Advice I really liked from Make A Scene is that scenes should vary widely throughout a novel. Shorter ones tend to speed up the pace. They condense the action. They allow character reactions and a breath. Longer scenes allow for full dialogues, more complex action, and changes in unique scenery.

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Brandon Sanderson 321 Lecture

I have been working my way through Brandon Sanderson’s 321 Lectures shared on youtube from his class at BYU.

I have been thoroughly enjoying them and thought I would share with the group.

Brandon Sanderson 321 Lecture Playlist on youtube

I think this started with the 2013 summer class when a student recorded the lectures for some other project he was working on. The syllabus for that year’s class can be found here. It doesn’t quite line up with the newer series of videos, but I thought it was nice to have.

Writing About Dragons 2013 Summer Class

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Basic Guidelines on Giving and Receiving Critique

Basic Guidelines on Critiquing:

Critiques are not editing. Don’t focus on missing words or grammar issues unless they are so obvious they interrupt your reading.

Preferably, critiques will include reader feedback such as:
Likes: the reader’s favorite thing about the chapter or what interested them the most
Characters: a statement about the characters in the chapter (if it is a new character, what did the reader think about the person’s personality/actions; if it is a character from a previous chapter, were the actions believable/consistent/developing)
Setting: was there enough/too much, was it understandable/clear/vivid
Plot: did the story move forward/was it paced well
Dialogue: did it make sense/did it develop a character or move the plot
Description: did they match the tone of the story/help tell the story
Hook: was there something that makes you want to start the next chapter
Repeating little errors: was there a repeat common error that interfered with the flow of reading
 
Guidelines on Receiving Critiques:

Ask for clarification if there is a comment you don’t understand
Don’t defend the writing. No matter how negative the critique is, don’t say it isn’t right or try to explain what the writing meant. 
Writers are not required to follow the critique advice. It’s not wrong to ignore bad advice. It is just feedback from one specific reader. 
If critiques are done in person, it is important to note that groups can fixate on small issues that enjoyment readers will ignore.



http://www.writeaboutdragons.com/brandon_w2012/2013-lecture-1-2/goal-writing-group-rules-of-thumb/
*There is about a 2 minute portion where the sound cuts out, it restarts again and I think the information after the silence is important so I thought you should know it ends.

*Note – Louise originally posted this in a page. I moved it to a post to make it easier to find in search and navigation during some reorganization of the blog.

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Dan Wells and the 7 Point Plot Structure Videos

A resource I find myself leaning on when planning out a draft is the 7 Point Plot Structure presented in a youtube series of Dan Wells. He works through the 7 points of plot structure discussing what they are and in what order he approaches them. I particularly like the section where he creates multiple plot arcs and weaves them together.

The series can be found here: Dan Wells and the 7 Point Plot Structure

The Plot Points

  • Hook – Hero has a sad and boring life
  • Plot Turn 1 – Hero becomes a role.
  • Pinch 1 – A bad guy attacks.
  • Midpoint – Hero learns the truth about something, and swears to defeat the villain.
  • Pinch 2 – Companions fall to the villain, and the hero is left alone.
  • Plot Turn 2 – Facing villain, hero discovers the power is in him
  • Resolution – Hero defeats villain.

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Deborah Chester Scene References

I follow Deborah Chester’s blog, and generally enjoy her writing advice.

She has a 7 post blog series on scene parts as of the time of this writing.

I am posting links back to her blog articles here for future reference as I find myself referencing them often.

 

I noticed she also had some older posts on scenes. I am including links to those as well.

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