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Mar
28
2016

Want more crits? Five Tips for Beginners -- by Charlie Aylett

Want More Crits? Five Tips for Beginners.

 

 

It's one of our favourite topics for discussion: how to attract more critiques. We just love debating all the different reasons, which are many and varied. However, there's one thing most of us seem to agree on more than others, and that is readability. So, once you're out of the newbie queue, how do you turn that cursor hovering into a click-read-and-crit?

 

Focus.

Make sure your story or chapter has a focal point, usually something that changes the character's or reader’s perception, or the direction of the story. Something to build towards. By doing this you will create some basic structure in your piece and even just a little is better than none.

 

Shaping and presentation.

Take any printed book from your shelf and look at how the pages are presented (let’s keep Self-pubbed books out of this for the minute, as the quality varies so drastically). You will likely notice that each page contains different sized paragraphs, some long-ish, some short, some comprised of just a single word. The dialogue will be correctly punctuated and there may be scene breaks.What you won’t find is reams of block paragraphs taking up whole pages, inconsistent punctuation arbitrarily inserted, and characters’ speech all sitting on the same lines.

Presenting your writing in this manner is like presenting your reader with a brick wall with no apparent height limit, where the builder has stuffed the contents of the local rubbish bin in with the cement mix so that bits of bin bag, tin cans and old bed springs poke out from the mortar. Nobody wants a wall like this on their property, unless they have commissioned a New York installation artist. Writing is the same. Don’t take the attitude that your critique partner can ‘just judge the story or the characters’ and you don’t need to worry about the presentation. Installation art is not for everyone, and if it was, professionally published books would do it too.

Keep it tidy, keep it easy on the eye. Then your reader will likely afford you more time.

 

Sentence structure.

Vary your sentences not only in length but in what order you use your verbs, pronouns and adjectives. Too much he ate, he took, he walked at the beginning of sentences becomes stale and reads like a list. Try and write your sentences without starting with pronoun + verb every time.

As for length, there has been a recent trend that short sentences make for better reading, but taking this road can make your writing seem choppy and stilted. That might work fine for some stories, like if you were writing from the perspective of a robot, but usually it denies the piece of any fluidity. Also, it can imply that your capabilities can only convey concepts in the most basic form. Ouch! Did I just say that? Well…

On the flip-side, ridiculously long sentences with fancy words whose meaning you are not even sure of will see most readers hightail out of your corral in a cloud of dust. If they haven't nodded off in their hammacks first.

Variety is your reader’s friend.

 

Have something significant happen.

Yes, it’s true. Often beginner writers mistake descriptive prose for story. It is not. Something must happen that has meaning. Walking around a prettily or poetically described setting meeting some characters along the way who do not affect any change in the direction of the story, setting or character will leave your reader feeling underwhelmed and wondering what they have spent the last hour doing.

 

Filter words & verbs

Removing most filter words and choosing strong verbs will sharpen your writing. Constructs such as the following: she could hear, she could see, it seemed, he appeared to be, she started to think that, he manged to. The list goes on, but consider the differences:

 

  • She could hear screaming coming from outside, so she rushed to see what was going on.

vs

A scream peeled in the night, and Carla ran to the window.

 

  • She could see the sun beginning to set.

vs

The sun had begun to set…

 

  • It was turning into a vast, never-ending void before his eyes

vs

The void spread out before his eyes, vast and never-ending.

 

  • It seemed to be becoming a fast friendship

vs

It was becoming a fast friendship

 

  • He appeared to be skipping down the street

vs

He skipped off down the street

 

  • The maid was starting to think that her new boss was a slob.

vs

The maid thought her new boss was a slob

 

With ‘seemed’ and ‘appeared’, only use them if you want to portray something as one thing but it turns out to be something else, or if you want to create ambiguity. For instance, your narrating character isn’t sure if what they saw is correct.

 

Of course there is a plethora of techniques in fiction writing, but you can’t learn them all in a day. The above makes a good starting point and your submissions more appealing to potential readers. It's all about stepping forward on the right footing. Help your potential crit partners to navigate your prose more efficiently and they will help you onto the next stage of fiction writing.

 

 

~~

 

 

 

Charlie Aylett sometimes writes a blog at raverinretreat.wix.com/raverinretreat. She also sometimes runs a month long flash fiction challenge. She's often on Twitter cyber-stalking agents, reads a lot of short fiction for The Colored Lens, and never seems to accomplish as much as she would like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Charlie Aylett 28 Mar 2016 at 03:00
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Responses to this blog

Vkkerji 29 Mar 2016 at 01:13  
Hello, Charlie,

Thank you for reminding and alerting about these important points. You conveyed the art of story structure and sentece formation in a concise and interesting way. Examples of filtering are too interesting know where we usually fail. I've bookmarked this page to read again and again.

Vijay
Luvrofinfo 29 Mar 2016 at 15:48  
Charlie,

What a great blog entry. I often find myself making mention of these very issues in my critiques AND spend all my editing time trying to fix them in my own work. Hope you don't mind if I reference this entry for others.
Cmefreeze 29 Mar 2016 at 16:30  
Good points, all. I often give a 'filtering' site to illustrate one of your points. And the Nothing Much Happening chs are an important point, too—especially in those essential first 3.
Fiction 31 Mar 2016 at 07:05  
Hi Charlie,

All very good reminders to keep in mind, for sure. I struggle with filter words and verbs, focusing on adding spiciness to my writing.

Thank you for sharing and keep writing!
Rxd01 31 Mar 2016 at 08:13  
The tips in this article are really good and will help me no end with my editing writing.
But I disagree with the notion that the "better" your writing is, the more cirts you'll get. This has not been my experience with the site.
Being polite to people, open to their suggestions, and critting others has a much bigger baring on the number of crits you get.

Just to be clear, I wholly endorse the content of this article as an editing aid.
Trevose 31 Mar 2016 at 08:59  
I agree with Rxd01... I think it a thoughtful article with some good tips, but not sure how it ties to getting more crits. For getting crits, I'd suggest:

1) Crit a lot of other submissions — about 80% will crit you back. This is the most important factor in getting crits.
2) Don't have any typos or grammatical errors in your "auto preview".
3) Your start better be interesting...
4) Don't say things that signal your work is not well prepared, such as: "This is a first draft..." or "I don't really care for this story, but thought I'd throw it out to see what you all think..." or "I know this has a lot of typos, so please be sure to call out those in your crit...". I've seen all of these statements before, and many comments similar to these. Guaranteed way to make sure I won't crit a story, and I don't think I'm alone in responding this way.
5) Length is also a factor, in several ways. For one, 3,500+ words becomes problematic just due to the time it takes to crit such a long submission. Second, if you are one word above the threshold to get more credits you tend to get more crits. But be careful: Critters who are searching for the fastest way to rack up credits may not be the best critters you'll find, so I would discourage you from trying to game the system in this fashion.

Lastly, I'm not sure "more crits" is always the best thing. This may be my bias, but my perception is that after about 5 or 6 the majority of the feedback starts to feel repetitive. And I find it a bit overwhelming. My perception is that you tend to get fewer but more thoughtful crits when your submission is in the 4,000 — 5,000 word range. I don't have proof of this, of course, but that is what it feels like to me. I'm running a novel through CC for the second time right now, and I'm intentionally keeping my submissions in that range (even breaking chapters in half to do so). I'm only averaging about 4 crits per week, but the feedback has been really helpful, so I'm very happy with the overall experience.

In all events, great article with some good tips on how to improve one's writing.

__________________
Cmefreeze 31 Mar 2016 at 10:42  
Quote by: Trevose
I agree with Rxd01... I think it a thoughtful article with some good tips, but not sure how it ties to getting more crits. For getting crits, I'd suggest:

1) Crit a lot of other submissions — about 80% will crit you back. This is the most important factor in getting crits.
2) Don't have any typos or grammatical errors in your "auto preview".
3) Your start better be interesting...
4) Don't say things that signal your work is not well prepared, such as: "This is a first draft..." or "I don't really care for this story, but thought I'd throw it out to see what you all think..." or "I know this has a lot of typos, so please be sure to call out those in your crit...". I've seen all of these statements before, and many comments similar to these. Guaranteed way to make sure I won't crit a story, and I don't think I'm alone in responding this way.
5) Length is also a factor, in several ways. For one, 3,500+ words becomes problematic just due to the time it takes to crit such a long submission.



I wanna like this a couple more times. And i'll add one:

6) If someone wants me to crit the whole novel, they have to show that they're taking some of my (at least basic) advice. I might click into ch 2 of a novel after i've had to red-mark ch 1 for severe comma problems, multiple misplaced modifiers, and malaprops galore, because i really liked the characters and pacing and plot. But if ch 2 has the very same mangling, i'm very unlikely to go on to ch 3. I might go to a ch 2 even tho ch one had some larger issues—Nothing Much Happening, infodump galore, internal logical inconsistencies, white room syndrome. If the writer has been shown (by me, and usually by others) with illustrations and suggestions on how to change those things but they're not bothering to attempt to fix those before posting ch 2, i'm not going to bother to go on to ch 3. So, imho, don't post and post and shelve crits without even looking at 'em (as i've seen some folks say they do.) 'Cause i'll feel like i'm yelling into an empty tunnel and my words have no purpose.

^that, of course, doesn't apply if i've joined a private queue already in progress. I don't expect a critter to jump up and edit their already posted stuff.


Demonqueen 1 Apr 2016 at 01:17  
See? I said this was once of our favourite topics for dicussion! LOL. (Knew I'd getcha )

Glad it's of help.

Oh, BTW, Cme, 6) is actually a good point that I never realised registers with me - if I'm not helping you, why continue to crit? I hadn't thought about that before. Or maybe only on a semi-conscious level.


Trevose 1 Apr 2016 at 07:22  
#6 is an interesting point that I struggle with a little bit. Here is why: When I want to submit a novel here I don't submit it until it is "done" (that is, the story is as complete as I can make it without much feedback), has gone through 10+ "drafts", and has been read by a few beta readers. My intent, then, is to shove it through CC at the rate of a chapter a week.

Though I think the world of CC, at one-submission-a-week, a 110,000-word novel results in problematic feedback on the story. This is because, even at 5,000 words a week, you are taking ~half a year to get a novel through here. That is a long time that greatly mitigates against getting feedback on the essence and the subtleties of the story. (Yes, private queues are an alternative, but problematic in other ways, from what I hear.)

So to #6, when submitting a (long) chapter a week, I have little ability to fully respond to all the feedback I'm getting for the next submission or even the next few. For instance, it has been rightly pointed out that I overuse some words, too often I use filter words, etc. There are plenty of things I do wrong; some are bad habits that are hard to break. This feedback is not lost on me, and I work to incorporate it as I continue to rewrite. So though it may appear that I'm ignoring some feedback, it is more likely that at the pace I'm on I simply can't respond to all of it within a week or even three.

I'm sharing this not only from my own experience as a writer, but also as a critiquer here who tends to focus on novels. There have been more than a dozen times that I'll be writing a critique and say something like, "Here you are again blah, blah, blah, as I commented on in your last chapter, so just calling it out once here."

But like Cmefreeze, there have been some writers that I have given up on, especially if the errors are simple and excessive and are easily fixed with a pass through a grammar and/or style checker. So, yes, in the context of this blog, #6 is a good point. One way to lose critiquers is to appear to not be responding to the feedback you are getting even if there are mitigating circumstances...
Scila 1 Apr 2016 at 09:47  
Quote by: Trevose

So to #6, when submitting a (long) chapter a week, I have little ability to fully respond to all the feedback I'm getting for the next submission or even the next few. For instance, it has been rightly pointed out that I overuse some words, too often I use filter words, etc. There are plenty of things I do wrong; some are bad habits that are hard to break. This feedback is not lost on me, and I work to incorporate it as I continue to rewrite. So though it may appear that I'm ignoring some feedback, it is more likely that at the pace I'm on I simply can't respond to all of it within a week or even three.

I'm sharing this not only from my own experience as a writer, but also as a critiquer here who tends to focus on novels. There have been more than a dozen times that I'll be writing a critique and say something like, "Here you are again blah, blah, blah, as I commented on in your last chapter, so just calling it out once here."



This 100%! I understand both sides: sometimes I have to decide between revising one chapter till the end of times or moving on with the chapter I'm currently working on (critters are at chapter 2, but I'm focusing on revising or writing ch 10 for example), and this results in not changing things immediately after receiving critiques about it. At the same time, it does get frustrating to repeat myself sometimes while critiquing novels.

Some authors address this using their notes, such as "I know this X is happening, and will fix in the next revision, meanwhile please focus on Y instead." I think that's a good enough compromise.

__________________
Cmefreeze 1 Apr 2016 at 10:12  
Quote by: Trevose


So to #6, when submitting a (long) chapter a week, I have little ability to fully respond to all the feedback I'm getting for the next submission or even the next few. For instance, it has been rightly pointed out that I overuse some words, too often I use filter words, etc. There are plenty of things I do wrong; some are bad habits that are hard to break. This feedback is not lost on me, and I work to incorporate it as I continue to rewrite. So though it may appear that I'm ignoring some feedback, it is more likely that at the pace I'm on I simply can't respond to all of it within a week or even three.



Nodnod. I've seen folks add a note in their opening comments to that effect, and that's enough for me, many times. Unless, as you say, it's easily-changed stuff by using spell- or grammar-check or taking a few basic, online syntax lessons.

EDIT: Scila got there before me. Didn't see her post before i responded. tho i did say if i was late to the game, i understood that things might not be changed—the writer was focused ahead of me. If i'm at the cusp of where she's posting, tho, i do take my above attitude. Because even if the writer's telling me i'm helpful to her, if i dont' *see* it, it sounds hollow and i fear i'm just aggravating her and irritating myself by continuing to read.

Mayaone 3 Apr 2016 at 20:57  
I have to comment because my problem is similar. I spend so much time critiquing, I have to choose between fixing my chapters or placing one up for. I have decided not to put too many chapters up because I need to fix the error's and concentrate on my writing. But it is so exciting to have a chapter up for critique. What to do, what to d
Anberlin 3 Apr 2016 at 22:02  
Thanks for writing this! I think it is all great advice.
Forester 7 May 2016 at 14:55  
Wow, I knew this wasn't going to be easy.. But it seems the more I learn the less I know. Purple words on pink paper...

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