Last week we discussed some basic tips to improve your writing the way a critique group would. Today we address more of those suggestions plus how to deal with reading harsh critiques you might get in a free online critique group and other not so fun things. (And some fun things, too.)
When you read a critique of your story in a free online critique group, try read it in combination with other critiques.
If three crits all point to the same thing as a problem, consider addressing at it.
Don’t change anything based on just one crit unless it’s from Stephen King or Stephen Hawking, and then be sure to mention what close personal friends you and I are.
In a critique group, look for people who want to help you improve. That doesn’t mean to seek out fans or to make friends, because that tends to lead to supportive sounding crits that mean well but aren’t necessarily truthful or helpful. Find writers who get it, and read their stuff. Look at their other crits. Develop a network through correspondence with them and look to make better stories all the time.
Nice things to say at the end of a critique if I liked it:
You have talent! Keep up the good work!
Let me know if I can help in any way.
Thanks and good luck!
Yeah, I use my real name in online critique groups – and on my blog and on my books... You should, too. That name’s gonna be on a book I’m trying to sell; I need to get past any shyness. This helps. Plus I need all the marketing I can get, and the recipient of the crit might become a fan. Plus the crit comes off as much more honest if my name’s on there. Plus you’re more likely to not be a jerk if your actual name is attached.
I really mean it when I say I want to help, too. You’d be surprised at how few people take me up on it, but I think everyone appreciates the gesture. Consider this blog. It’s usually helpful. It feels good when people tell you that you helped them. Try it.
Okay, now a few tips.
WRITING GOOD ACTION SCENES
Action scenes are tough to write. We try to put things into one long sentence to show the speed at which they happen. That tends to make us, the reader, have to think about it more, slowing things down. Our brain needs it to come to us in smaller, choppier sentences so it can digest them faster. It usually reads better that way, but only for action scenes. Chop it up and it will read better. (It will look a little odd to you, but we readers know you don’t write everything that way.)
BTW, HARSH CRITIQUES…
Harsh critiques usually come from jerks who think they know something about writing. I’m not sure they do (heck, I’m not sure I do), but I’m sure you’ll figure out which ones I mean. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID OF – PEOPLE LAUGHING AT YOU AND YOUR STORY, SAYING YOU SUCK, HUMILIATING YOU.
Critique groups are places to learn, and some very nice, very helpful people are there. Find them. Yes, some mean people are there, too, occasionally. Not many, though, and usually their stories suck, so consider that when considering their comments. Some people just have a head full of bad wiring.
If I liked their story, I’ll add:
I liked your story. So did other people. Stick with it. Put another story up soon.
Okay, more tips.
THE WORD “START”
“as she starts to sob”
Some crits have an issue with saying that characters start to do something. In reality, the argument goes, we just do something, we don’t start to do it. I can see it both ways, and I see their point as a way to make for better overall writing and a smoother story, not just an arbitrary rule. There’s a time for both. I can start to wash my car by gathering a sponge, a bucket and some soap. But the rationale is, you’re doing those things in preparation to wash the car, so say that, not that you’re starting to wash the car.
Using Canadian/British, etc., spelling, can affect the use of certain punctuation like single quotation marks, double quotation marks, and word spellings. I won’t be mentioning this unless something really jumps out at me, except to say I won’t be mentioning it. Consider Americanizing your words. There are a lot more of us and we buy a ton of books, but it annoys us when we see things we think are misspelled. Meanwhile, you guys in other countries are used to how we spell stuff. It’s not fair, I know, but aim for the biggest target.
Using colloquial terms and phrases – generally it is okay for a character to say them but not the narrator.
SHOW, DON’T TELL
Aha, a biggie. You’ll see this a lot in free online critique groups.
New writers do a lot of telling in their stories and not enough showing. Explain the scene. Let the reader see it. Describe it. When you show what’s happening, you are putting us there in the moment as readers, using our senses; we get a better feel for the story and characters. We are part of the scene as it is happening, and we immerse ourselves more in your story – making it more interesting and harder to put down. An example is when Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” If you search for the term “show versus tell in storytelling,” you’ll get a lot of articles that explain this in better detail. You’ll see examples. Then you can decide which is better for your style. It isn’t always necessary.
There are more but this is a good start. Come back again and I’ll tell you some more.
Finding these things in our story and correcting them puts you GIANT steps ahead of others, and allows crits to spend their energy helping you build a better story – or allows readers to smoothly and effortlessly enjoy your improved work.
That’s why you let it rest and take a few passes at it.
Meanwhile, SUBSCRIBE to this blog. Click the “Follow” button and never miss any of the hugely important things going on here. Think about it: if you read this far, you need this stuff. And it doesn’t cost you anything. And there are way fewer spelling errors than there used to be.