1. ashurbanipal

    ashurbanipal Member

    Jun 20, 2016
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    Critique an excerpt from a book you are reading

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by ashurbanipal, Sep 20, 2016.


    I thought it might be a nice (and hopefully useful) idea to critique a paragraph or two from a book you are currently reading.

    The critique can point out things such as what you think works, what doesn't, techniques that are used, characterization, etc. Ideally, if a few people contribute we can have a look into the way various authors go about their writing and hopefully produce some useful ideas.

    I don't intend this to become a debate about certain books/authors as we all approach texts differently, so it would be great to stick to a paragraph or two and detail what you like/dislike about it and what techniques we could learn from it.


    I will start. I am currently reading 'The Bull from the Sea' set in ancient Greece by Mary Renault, and I can't stay it has captivated me so far. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2:

    I buried my father richly, on the slope of the Hill of Ares with the other kings. His tomb was lined with dressed stone, the nail-heads wrought with flowers and gilded. His offerings of food and drink stood in fine painted ware on stands inlaid with with ivory. I had a high and splendid death-car made, and wrapped him in a great hanging worked with lions. He had enamelled coffers, his richest dagger and sword, two great gold rings and his state necklace. When the mound was heaped above the dome, I offered eight bulls upon it, and a war-stallion for him to ride in the lands below. As the blood sank into the earth, the women keened his dirge and praised him. The boarhound Aktis followed me down; but when he whimpered at the blood, I had him led away, and two of the palace deerhounds killed instead. If he had mourned till the end, I would have sent him down to my father; but the beast had chosen me of his own will.

    My first impression was an overload of details. Details are good in historical fiction to set the scene, but I feel that Renault throws in too many, too often which disorientates me somewhat.

    Short, abrupt sentences. I understand this is a stylistic choice, but I personally prefer prose which flows a bit more. That said, her descriptions do try to bring out that ancient Greek feel.

    The chapter starts with a strong scene setting - the funeral of his father. I feel that more emotion could have been present in this scene, especially as it is in first person. Even if the character feels detached or uninterested in the funeral, this could have been brought out more.

    There is character involvement throughout the description which avoids it becoming a 'word picture' but I don't feel that the character is actually that present in the scene.

    Regarding motivation-reaction units which supposedly hold a scene together, I'm not sure how to analyse this paragraph. Could we say the motivation is the funeral, the reaction his offerings and wailing women?


    Feel free to post a paragraph or two from a book you are reading and give your comments. Comments on this paragraph are also welcome.

    (I'm not sure if this is the best place for this thread, so please move it if you feel necessary.)
  2. WhatLibertine

    WhatLibertine Member

    Jul 25, 2014
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    I like this idea. Incidentally, did you type out the paragraph or C&P from an Ebook? When I typed out mine I wondered how that might benefit me as a writer, to actually go through the motions of writing someone else's prose. An interesting idea - I think i may do it more often to analyse style!

    I'm currently reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. The following is an extract from chapter 6:

    “Because we would have had to pay the world back we owed it,” she said, raising her eyes to mine. “The pain of growing up.We didn’t pay when we should have, so now the bills are due. Which is why Kizuki did what he did, and why I’m here. We were like kids who grew up naked on a a desert island. If we got hungry, we’d just pick a banana; if we got lonely, we’d go to sleep in each other’s arms. But that kind of thing doesn’t last forever. We grew up fast and had to enter society. Which is why you were so important to us. You were the link connecting us with the outside”

    My comments:

    This passage introduces an interesting spin on a key relationship in the story, the idea that a couple are using there third-wheel friend. The thought that he wasn’t in on his role kind of turns me against the girl who is speaking. It portrays them in a slightly negative light for the first time in the novel.

    It also builds upon the complexity of Murakami’s characters, offering a depth that really makes them interesting in their own right.

    From a storytelling aspect, it builds momentum because as I read it, I am anticipating Watanabe, the main protagonist’s reaction and coming reflections on her revelation.

    In terms of style, the sentences are simple and not bogged down by excessive punctuation. They flow nicely and make Norwegian Wood an easy read.

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