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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?
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.
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:
A scream peeled in the night, and Carla ran to the window.
The sun had begun to set…
The void spread out before his eyes, vast and never-ending.
It was becoming a fast friendship
He skipped off down the street
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.