Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Learning from the critiques you give.

Last night, on the FWG Telegram group, we found a bit of fiction we were basically in universal agreement was not very good. It had a few glaring flaws, and probably some more subtle ones that would’ve ramified over time (it was only the first five paragraphs or so). Several of us decided to rewrite the passage as though it had been our story. It was an interesting exercise, and taught us a lot about what, stylistically, we like to write (and rather fit in with Husky’s post on what we like about our own writing). I’d strongly recommend trying that sometime; it was a very rewarding exercise! Doesn’t need to be Bulwer-Lytton, but just something you wish was better.

So, what do you learn from your critiques of others’ works? Betas, editing, copyediting…what sorts of stuff do you pick up from picking on others*?

  • I know, I know, critiquing isn’t ‘picking on’, but I couldn’t pass that up :stuck_out_tongue:

I was surprised by one story I beta read from an experienced writer. I could tell they didn’t do any initial editing runthrough before I got it.

Myself I try to fix as much as I can before I let others see it. I still miss things but I have a habit of immediate changing typos I make if I catch it. This probably slows me down some ><.

I’m always telling people to start the story later, cut out paragraphs or even pages of introductory exposition.

Then I realise that applies to me, too.

Getting the most from least…a problem I’ve had for years was packing so, so much into paragraphs that when I started beta reading I began to become awed at how some folks could nail what they needed to say in just a couple small conjunctions and still create a visual soup of what is happening.

I still realize that packing it all in works for much longer narratives where you need that element of world building but for much shorter stuff–which I was not used to until this year–it’s totally not necessary and something I’m glad I noticed.

Oh and editing! In the past I used to be kind of a lazy self-editor, thinking I was so clever…seeing other people’s works made me realize not to mistake what might be unnecessary to the overall piece as cleverness so with a pair of sharp scissors I’m not afraid to gut it, even if it is the most flowery piece of prose I’ve ever written if I go over it a hundred times and it still doesn’t sound like it fits the story…to the bin it shall end up!

Oh my goodness, I’ve learned SO MUCH from reading and commenting on other people’s stories as an editorial assistant! I’m not even sure where to start. Looking at the decline notices I was asked to write, here are some recurring points I notice:

-Emotional resonance: Why should I care? If I can’t see a compelling reason to care about the story right from the beginning, it’s hard to get hooked. If the ending doesn’t leave me with some kind of emotional impact, I wonder what the point was.
-Character motivation: Ties in with emotional resonance. If the characters have urgent and believable reasons for doing what they’re doing, that increases your chances of making a strong emotional impact. If they don’t, well…things can kind of fall apart.
-Too much telling and not enough showing: “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” - Chekhov. If you just say things like “It was a moonlit night. The shadows were dark.” …not gonna cut it, sorry.
-Confusing plot elements: Even if you’re telling a fantasy story, the events have to make some kind of logical sense for readers to be able to enjoy them without getting distracted by a jarring detail that causes them to lose their suspension of disbelief. You shouldn’t leave us hanging or confused about what we just read. Granted, I personally think there are ways to pull off ambiguous endings without making the reader feel cheated, if that’s what the story deserves. But you shouldn’t just raise questions and then fail to answer them due to sheer laziness or forgetfulness, rather than a careful element of craft. (cough Lost cough)
-Unappealing protagonists: The protagonist is a jerk for no reason and it’s hard to sympathize with him/her/them/it. Or maybe the person/being just isn’t unique or interesting, or has nothing at stake in the story, nothing to lose.
-In general, each component of the story needs to be solid and well-thought-out, the interlocking pieces fitting together and working smoothly in tandem to make a good piece. It’s not enough to have an interesting premise. Your worldbuilding should be strong, your dialogue natural, your imagery vivid…the list goes on and on. There are just so many elements that go into making a story what it is, it’s unbelievable when you stop to think about it. And if you ignore even one of them, the story suffers. No story can be perfect, though, of course. Each story has its own strengths and weaknesses, and so does each writer. But you should strive to take as many of these kinds of things into account as possible when you’re editing and polishing your piece, in order to make it the best it can be.
^My (long-winded) 50 cents n_n;