Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing Wednesday: On Editing and Critiquing

I've spent a great part of last year editing and critiquing both my own work and other peoples work. People seem to like my critiques of their work so I must be doing something right. I have just three rules set in stone when it comes to Editing and Critiquing everything else just comes off these three rules.

Rule #1: The story is the most important thing!
Rule #2: The story is the most important thing!
Rule #3: If in doubt refer to #1 and #2.

As far as everything else a writer needs to focus on those are secondary, the most important thing that a writer and editor must focus on is the story.

Making a great character.
Having powerful, interesting characters is great, unless it pulls the reader out of the story in which case the character needs to be written in to the story in smaller pieces that doesn't pull the reader out of the story.

Showing vs. Telling.
Arthur C. Clarke could tell a great story, he couldn't show it but he could tell it. On the other hand I read someone's short story the other day where she lovingly showed everything that was going on. Every scene was shown as if the reader was an invisible person following the main character around the house. Two-Thirds of the way through the story she wrote, “When the clock said 11:45...” It was just one sentence in the entire story that was telling rather than showing. In any other story it would go unnoticed as most writers do a little of both telling and showing, in this case as it was the only time the writer told something as opposed to showing it, it pulled the reader out of the story.

Excessive adjectives/adverbs.
A lot of agents and editors say you should use adjectives and adverbs as little as possible, I'm a little different, I feel if a writer uses a lot of adjectives and adverbs it can give the reader a greater sense of the scene, but only if they are the right ones. The wrong ones can bring the story to a screeching halt, as the reader is wondering how it can be fragrantly cold. So when editing look over your words and use Rule #3, if in doubt refer to Rule #1 and #2, if something can cause confusion and take the reader out of the story get rid of it.

Conflicts, Story Arcs, Comedy vs. Tragedy, and everything I learned as an English Major.
Can a story be interesting with no conflict, no story arc, and not fit into the classical comedy or tragedy definition? Absolutely, a great story can be written around an interesting idea, it can be someone's unique look at the world around them, it can just be someone's passionate description of something surreal. Obviously it can't hurt to know about the classical elements of storytelling, but if you try and force them on a story where it doesn't work, you will take the reader out of the story.

So when editing your own writing or someone else's work, always remember that the story is the most important thing.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Alien Thoughts

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