1. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Style vs. Conciseness

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by aikoaiko, Mar 25, 2015.

    Hi Everyone,

    Not sure if this is an apt title for the thread, but there's something I've been wondering about.

    I recently joined a critique group made up of many genre writers (incl. crime fiction, thrillers, mysteries, etc). The novel I'm working on now is sort of a hybrid of different genres because I started it before I knew that much, and there wasn't really a plan.

    Anyway, I've been getting criticized for overwriting lately, but that doesn't upset me much because I'm a former non-fic writer and I know I push in too much detail. The thing that's got me rattled is that when they go over each of my chapters and correct them line by line, some of them trim things to the point where each sentence is shaved within an inch of its life and I barely recognize my own writing.

    Now, I understand when info. isn't needed and I am glad to have someone point that out, but I don't have a brief style. The people cutting things are mostly crime writers, etc. and their writing is very succinct. It works very well for what they're doing and I would call them good writers, but their work bears no resemblance to other writers I've read either like Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, or even Ernest Hemingway. I mean, I'm not saying most writing does bear resemblance to those folks (mine included, of course!!) but I do get the feeling I could post a paragraph by Erdrich with her long sentences and oddly placed commas and it would be cut down immediately for failing to get to the point.:(

    I don't want to sound bitter, and I really do appreciate their input because it's making me think of new things. I realize I have to trim and I am actively trying to do it, but I find myself getting frustrated to the point where I don't know what to write anymore. That if it's not short and sweet (including no more than 25 words per sentence so the reader doesn't have to work too hard, as one said) then it is just not 'good writing'.

    So anyhow, I guess my question is---when is a criticism about Style or Substance, and how do you tell the difference?

    Haha. Now I guess I could have just posted that question above and forgotten the rest, LOL. I'm sorry to go on so long, but I'm really confused right now and don't know if I should just give this up altogether. I want to write well, but nothing here seems to be working. Ugh!:(:(

    Thanks.
     
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  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I believe this is simply how a writing community works.
    Many are wanna-bes, many are newly published, and many had to swim through a ton of crap to get where they are.
    This creates the writing world of everything having to be perfect, done so and so, and of what is acceptable and what is not.

    We constantly site who did what different and got away with it.
    This is usually met with "But they're famous"

    Go to a bookstore, open a book from any small time to new author, and you will see that their writing isn't perfect.
    It's very good, talented even, but if you put your "critic" hat on you'll probably find a spot for red ink here and there.
    Not because they made mistakes.
    Because you learned to write something that can be published vs. something that is good and yours and still publishable.

    Do you feel me, bahdra?
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @aikoaiko ultimately, the decision rests with you, and that's what you have to remember. If you don't want a concise, lean piece of fiction, then you just explain that to the people in the critique book. If they can't critique the book without trying to strip it down like one of their own crime novels, then you can either find different people to review the book, ignore anything they say about lean prose and just concentrate on the rest of their advice, or look at each comment about lean prose on a case by case basis and decide whether you agree with hit.

    You don't have to, and should not, pare down the prose in your work simply because people in a critique group want you to. You have to decide what you want your work to be like in final form.
     
  4. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    How frustrating for you, especially as any kind of face-to-face critique group can be hard to find.

    I guess you'll have to decide how useful their input is over time. They might be good for helping you separate what's really your style from needless stuff that's hanging off of it and dragging it down. But if they're all trying to make your writing sound just like theirs . . . Maybe that's when you need to start looking around for a different group.
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I need specifics. I don't know what "overwriting" means. What specifically are they trimming? My critique group lines out filter words like it was a religion. Is it their genre or is it something about your sentences? Because I'm not aware that one genre is technically different from another. Yes, your writing would have a distinctly different focus, but not technically different.

    Give us an example of one sentence they trimmed and how they trimmed it.
     
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  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A good critiquer will always strive to preserve the original voice and style when suggesting changes. Granted, this is very tough, especially for people without much critiquing experience. This can be a touchy subject for some, but you might try bringing it up at the next meeting. Maybe get a discussion going about this issue without being confrontational about it (perhaps easier said than done). I started a thread about this issue about a year ago. Reading the responses may help some.

    I'll end by saying that it's important to have confidence in your work. If you like what you've written, you don't have to accept their suggestions. Thank them for their time, and move on to the next piece.
     
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  7. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Well, it's not just individual sentences. Entire paragraphs/sections have been deleted, or chapters ended earlier, etc. I have no problem with that in fact because I do add unnecessary details, and part of the reason I submit chapters is because I'm aware I don't always see them.

    The thing that concerns me a little is that when someone takes a paragraph (or two, or three) and condenses it down to a sentence for the sake of being concise, you've lost both information and elements of prose to a point where it's just not even your work anymore.

    I mean, maybe that's real editing--I don't know. But it does seem entirely possible to hijack a style in the name of 'trimming', and it does seem like the prose of today is shorter and tighter than ever.

    I'm not sure what you mean by 'technically different', though. I mean, if referring to the use of puncuation, filtering, and things like that then I can definitely see your point. But you might also say that genres do treat these things differently. For ex, literary writers do seem to structure sentences differently. From what I've noticed while reading, they tend to use commas much differently, their sentences are often (much!) longer, and their prose is generally more descriptive.

    A crime fiction writer, by contrast, and even political thrillers, etc, seem to narrate much differently. Their sentences are shorter and more succinct, their punctuation is more 'technically' precise, and the plots are hardheaded without a lot of emotion involved---hence less of that 'flowery' prose. I could be wrong, but they do seem different. Not better, just different. And those are differences I would describe as stylistic.

    I guess I'm just curious as to where the line is drawn. At what point is editing a stylistic decision, and when is it just technical--if technical means writing as sparely as possible?:confused:
     
  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think people go a bit trimming crazy sometimes when critiquing. They don't always recognise that wordiness, passive voice and so on have their place.
    I'd agree and say they are often worse rather than different. That sort of page turner that just feels churned out. Short. Sharp. Sentences. Action, cliffhangers, nonsensical twists. It just seems a very industrial style of writing aimed at churn.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
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  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As Ginger said, you really need to post a sample paragraph of something they trimmed. I have in the past pointed to paragraphs in the workshop that could be pared down to one sentence. It's nothing to do with style. All the sentences were redundant, added nothing new, and slowed down the flow of the story without adding anything in return. This is weak prose, not different prose.

    I agree prose today is shorter and tighter as you say, but nine times out of ten when someone tries to emulate the prose of the olden days, the results are disastrous :S
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I also want a sample. It's almost impossible to answer the question without any details. Certainly conciseness is not an inherently desirable goal for all writing. But without a sample, it's hard to tell whether this is a style conflict, or if there is material that almost anyone would agree is clutter/bloat.

    For that matter, it may be that your writing needs to be expanded more. If there are details that appear to have no purpose, maybe the solution is not to eliminate them, but to expand on them so that they do have a purpose.

    Sample! Sample!
     
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  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    We all look at a piece of work differently. Where one person will cut out your filter words and unnecessary adverbs, another will point out repetitions of the same word, or using a thesaurus to avoid using the same word so that the reader becomes aware that you're repeating it. etc.
    And we're all wrong. It's your piece of work. I might hate the way you've used 50 words to say something that needed no more than 5, but you're the one who has to make the decision to cut it. Real editing is what the author does; he may respond to a critique by changing stuff, but it's HIS decision.
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My two cents? Do one of the following:

    1. Ditch that critique group altogether. It sounds like it's filled with people who cannot separate a good critique from their own preferred style, and while sometimes that's not a problem, in your case it's clearly hurting your writing. Your writing is more precious than that. I'm not saying any of them are nasty people - they're only trying to help - but right now they're hurting more than helping. Just because it's critique doesn't mean you have to accept it, nor does it make them right. Just because it's critique also doesn't mean you have to be grateful, either. Find yourself a more suitable group.

    2. Continue going to that group, but submit something that's not your WIP. Keep your WIP to yourself and get critique for that from more suitable critics. For this group, rather submit more casual, experimental pieces. They want you to write like a crime writer? Well, what can it hurt to practice another style? It's true you may learn something. But that's for learning's sake, and not to change your style of writing. It'll be less personal when you care a little less about the piece. Try and see if you can write in a style that pleases them. If you manage, you've learnt something new. Now whether you enjoy writing in that style is up to you, and for your actual WIPs, feel free to write as you normally would. Just because you've learnt to write in various styles doesn't mean you have to write only in that style, after all, but learning never hurt anyone.

    But definitely, whatever you do, take your WIP out of the group. You're not in the wrong here. Those writers are trying to force you to conform to their own style. Well, screw them - they have their own WIPs where they can write in exactly the way that they like. They have no business trying to make you conform to their style. You have your own and if they can't understand it, ditch the group. I think it's way out of line when someone cuts entire paragraphs and ends chapters early when it's someone else's work. That's unacceptable, and you shouldn't stand for it.

    Now, of course, raise your objections in a nice way. If they listen, super. If they don't, seriously, run a mile. I maintain this: better to get no critique than to get hurtful critique, or I guess critique from the wrong person!

    And if as the others say, it's a case of your weak prose and the details are meandering and pointless, then the critic should point that out. Ask questions. Not delete entire paragraphs.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm. I really feel for @aikoaiko here, although I've not seen her writing. But it sounds to me as if she has fallen in with a group who maybe don't get what she is trying to do.

    The trick to giving good critique is to discover what the writer is trying to do. Then help them to do it. Critique is not a chance to make another writer write what you think they should write. If this critique group does not GET what she's trying to do, then they won't be much help.

    I'd say work on that angle, aikoaiko, if you're going to stick with the group. See if you can get them to articulate what they think you are trying to do, and their response will tell you how much attention to pay to their criticisms.

    "I think you're writing a romance that contains descriptive historical detail in the setting. You want us to focus on the developing relationships between the two main characters as would have happened during that period—but what is happening is all the extra detail you're including make us think more about the architecture and fashion of the times, rather than the people and their problems. Your characters should be emotionally interacting with their environment, but some of what you've written reads more like a Wikepedia entry." If you ARE actually writing the kind of story they describe, then pay attention to what the critique-givers say about the architecture, because they are on board with some good suggestions. They do 'get' what you are trying to do.

    Or: "Romance is so out of date. And who cares about architecture? There should be some kind of CONFLICT here ...maybe something involving swords? And you can make it happen so much faster if you cut all the adjectives and adverbs from your sentences..." This is the kind of response you should ignore, because this critique-giver wants you to write another kind of story altogether. You can politely tell them to steal your idea and go do it themselves!
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
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  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The thing with flowery prose, which may be what you're going for, is that it's far harder to write. If something meanders a little but reads well, paints a vivid picture, it could be enjoyed for good writing's sake, if that makes sense, even if it doesn't further the plot. Too many such instances would still not be good, but assuming a good balance of such and plot-moving elements, it would be fine as a writing style.

    But to write flowery prose, you do really have to be good at it, otherwise it gets boring very fast. If the content is insubstantial, then you've only got the strength of the writing supporting it, so it's got to be excellent.

    As others say, post a sample of the work in its original and the group's critique, so we can see for ourselves. It's good to learn to write succinctly first, and then develop it into a more elaborate style. Sorta like learning to walk before you run. Without seeing your writing, it's hard to say if your technique is off or not.

    However, what the critique group should learn to do is to help you express that complexity you wish to convey, rather than just chopping everything up and shredding it.
     
  15. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @aikoaiko, I was thinking about this overnight and this line from your OP stood out
    (Bold emphasis mine)

    I'm the same. I've written a lot of persuasive and expository pieces in the course of my life, a lot of it in connection with what I do for a living. Usually it's essential that I establish from outside sources why something is good or useful or worth knowing. Insisting "Do this because I said so!!!" doesn't cut it: my arguments must have stable support. As I build that, my working assumption is that one example is Happenstance, two are a Coincidence, but three or more are Evidence. So as I write my nonfiction, I try to make sure every point sits on that tripod of evidence.

    It's a matter for the Debate Room as to how much objectivity is possible in persuasive and expository nonfiction; what I'm trying to show is that much of it depends on this kind of support.

    I think we can agree that fiction isn't like that. But it's easy for us nonfiction writers to treat it as if it were.

    So as you consider the critique you've received from your group, ask yourself if they're trying to tell you you're piling on the evidence as if you were writing nonfiction. For example, maybe you want to communicate that a character is happy. You don't need to write a paragraph giving the reader three or more reasons why. Just depict him springing eagerly out of bed on a glorious summer morning. And add to the picture later as you show him singing along with a love song on the car radio. You get the idea.

    This may not be what's happening with the piece you submitted for critique. Again, a Before and After example would help. But it could be the problem your partners are seeing, but can't adequately describe. Result? Mutual frustration.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
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  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would say the examples you gave are evidence of the character's happiness. The difference in fiction is: leave the interpretation, within reason, to the reader. The elements that you show should support the atmosphere/mood/event you're trying to convey, and not just there because DOUGHNUTS! :D

    So where you (OP) are trying to trim down, I'd ask yourself if this particular detail really convey what you want it to convey? If Detail A is sufficient to convey what you want, then what's the purpose of also including Detail B? Don't be afraid to trim, because if you're a naturally elaborate writer, then you'll lean towards too much detail anyway. Then look at the details you've given, and ask yourself: Is Detail A really the most powerful detail that would deliver the message I want most effectively? You see, Detail A and B and C might all convey the same thing - but do you need all 3 if only one of those details can really hit the point home?

    It also depends on your scene - if it's an action scene, then you don't want elaborate detail. If it's a slow scene where the character's musing over things, you have more room to dream and paint a colourful picture. The key isn't the way you like to write - the key really is whether what you write helps the scene move forward, helps establish the scene, helps convey the point you want to convey, and finding the most effective manner to do so.

    Also, do the details fit well with the overall tone of the scene and/or tone of the book? Are these details your character would have genuinely noticed that he would make mention of it? Do these details naturally link onto the next paragraph/action/thought? (eg. does it flow smoothly, with all the ideas connecting logically, in the piece overall?) Do you want to include the detail only because it's pretty, or because it serves a purpose?

    Cut, or keep, everything accordingly.
     
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  17. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    The thing about thrillers is their success is predicated by keeping the reader on the edge of his or her seat. If you slow the pace with anything outside of short, simple sentences, they lose the reader. And where they do slow down the pace in crime dramas or techno thrillers its to explain something in technical detail that the reader might not be familiar with - I'm thinking Tom Clancy explaining submarines or sonar in the Hunt for Red October. But when you are going into technical details, you need simple sentences because the reader needs to focus on the content rather than the writing. Someone reading technical details will get lost if you ask them to read a sentence with three clauses, an allusion, and a passive verb buried in between the clauses regardless as to how well the sentence is written. It's too much to digest.

    I had this exact thing happen recently. I was critiquing a historical fiction set in the Civil War. The scene was discussing a naval battle and the paragraph included naval and sailing jargon beyond my knowledge with complex and elaborate sentences. I loved the story, the plot, and the topic. But I couldnt read it because the paragraphs were exhausting. It felt like I was sprinting a marathon.

    This is a long way of saying you might want to think about how your writing style relates to your audience and the genre. You didnt share what genres your story crosses over so it's hard to give good feedback. If you really want good feedback here, post some of your writing. Otherwise we are giving feedback on hypotheticals.
     
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  18. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    I'm swapping chapters with one of our fellow writers and after reading my work, she suggested cutting a big chunk out of it (a whole paragraph and self contained section of flowery prose I was quite proud of)
    The difference being, at no point did she tell me I had to; she gave her reasons (that the next section was far more compelling as an opener, among other things) and acknowledged it was my choice.
    I want her opinion because she's insanely talented and she gave it to me along with lots of helpful insight, but, rightly, she knows it's down to me whether I follow her advice or not - and no judgment was involved!
    To me, that's a helpful critique. Challenging, even painful, but meant to help not to harm!

    This!

    Find someone who understands what you're doing and whose opinion you respect and get their critique.
    Nobody likes getting feedback (no matter how helpful) from people they don't like, so get it from people you do!
    Not to mention, it would probably help if you felt you were giving critique that was just as challenging as what's being dished out to you. It's not fun being lectured to, or feeling like the idiot in the room, so find an equal and work with them [there are plenty of people around here that I'm sure you could link up with, just check out all the 'sample' requests you've had on this thread - take the offer of help and do some reciprocating in the workshop!].

    But, bottom line: It's your book. More important than comparing styles or techniques is protecting your work, and yourself, like @Mckk and various others said. If you can go back to the group with something less personal and keep learning from them, go for it. If not, bring your battered work (and ego) into the forum and let some helpful, considerate fellow-writers build it (and you) back up again.
     
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  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Critiquers can't be counted on for too much. In the end it has to be your decision. I have the darndest time trying to hold back my style when critiquing. It's like trying to adapt to someone else's voice. Usually I concentrate on what's going on in the scene, what words are being used and the over all tone. That way I can see what the writer is going for and help them more in their style without inflicting too much of my own. But it's a knife walk really.

    I've had some challenges on other sites. One opening chapter I dismissed as an all boring tell ( in politer terms ) and the writer wasn't pleased. Some other critiquers pretty much said the same but this writer got pretty defensive and was trying to say she/he was using an old fairy tale style. Style or not I wasn't sure any reader wanted to wade though pages of history before learning who the mc was. Another writer wrote so tight and so concise the transitions between scenes were jarring. I've attempted to tell that writer to add more words on many occasions. The writer has thanked me but the transitions are still pretty jarring even in future works. Critiques on my own pieces have been up and down. I take what I know helps the piece. I ignore bits that try to streamline my prose. Unless I feel ( having checked out their writing ) that they know what they're talking about.

    Maybe tell your group what you're feeling, also maybe post something here to show us a sample of what they're editing out. They could have some legit reasons. A wordy style is very hard to pull off. It might not be that they're against it but yours isn't working. Wordy writing is always in danger of being - repetitious, irrelevant, boring, uninteresting, goofy or pretentious.

    Maybe even show the group a writer whom you admire ( and are emulating ) to show them what you're going for. Just make sure it's a resent author.
     
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  20. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Hi Everyone,

    Thank you for all the input. These are really great posts.:) I should say that I really like this critique group--and I don't have any intention of leaving it. For the few (one major, really) people I have worried about there are a lot of really helpful others. One is also a crime writer who has been absolutely wonderful. He's direct, but never insulting, and his help has been invaluable. The one I'm thinking of is a good author, but he has a really brusque critiquing style. Any helpful points he makes basically get lost in frustration and anger and leave you absolutely reeling instead.:( In the second chapter I submitted he called my MC a 'defensive little bitch', and other things, and I almost quit the whole thing right there, LOL.

    Anyway, there's a sample below I got from a much more recent chapter, which was more diplomatic, thankfully.:) This time he ended the chapter early and cut out the last paragraph. He uses short sentences when he writes, and has interjected one of them here. I'm not going to post a whole chapter here so this is just the most recent example.

    I'd like to also say that there probably IS too much wording here. In going over it again (it's a 1st draft), I'll probably cut the information about exactly what she ate--I think. The story's about a girl with a difficult past who is running away from home. She's attending college on a sports scholarship and meets a guy (etc. etc.), and must find a way to confront her issues. I added the specifics at the end to sort of illustrate how alone she was and the reason she's underweight (She lost weight after a particular event and is refusing to eat very much).

    Again, I don't mind trimming for clarity. Really. I just have questions about axing something that is important to the plot later and things being reworded completely. This last chapter just made me wonder about where (or if) a line gets drawn between editing for clarity and editing for style, if that even applies here.

    --the phrases in ( ) are sentences added by the critter. Those in [ ] have been taken out. Also, the verb 'giant-ed' at the end is a gymnastics term mentioned earlier that would have been recognized by the reader.

    I halted in my tracks and stared(. How did he know?)[, unsure if


    he was kidding or telling the truth. He shot me a playful grin and drove


    off.]


    /Said chapter should end here/


    [I watched him leave before continuing home. Back in the dorm I


    changed to a worn-out jersey and arranged myself on the bed, propping


    pillows under my ankle and levying a wall of icepacks around it. I assembled


    my leftover food from lunch including a roll, apple, and some yogurt, then


    wolfed the bread and yogurt hungrily and laid the fruit atop my bookshelf


    alongside the bottle of water for breakfast. When the meal was over I read


    for awhile until fatigue overwhelmed me, then giant-ed away to the land of


    dreams.]
     
  21. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Hi Catrin,

    Yes, exactly! I wrote non-fic articles for twenty years before trying fiction, and it's the bane of my existence now, LOL. The biggest problem is what you've mentioned--pushing in too much detail in an order that's too sequential, with too much repetition.:( It's getting easier to weed out the problems, but you have to change the way you write to a style that's the polar opposite. Argh!
     
  22. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is hard to say without context, but this final description (although pleasant and well-written) seems largely redundant. Then again it might be there to show a recently acquired contentment/ tranquility in her state of mind, which is important at this particular juncture in your novel (this is how it came over to me anyway). Context is everything.
     
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  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the aim of trying to show how alone she was and how little she was eating is good - I think the way you've done it isn't working.

    Go back to what I said: Is Detail A the most powerful detail you can give to convey what you want in the most effective way?

    For example, how does her lying on her bed and arranging icepacks around around her ankle tell me she's lonely? It doesn't. This piece of detail might have been interesting if you brought us closer to the character (for example, does the ankle hurt? Is she cursing herself for her carelessness that she twisted her ankle, or cursing whoever she blamed for it? Is she thinking of all the things she should have or would have done next time so it doesn't happen again? Is she thinking of how she regrets - or perhap wanted to - miss her next gymnastics practice because of the swollen ankle?)

    It's written in first person and yet it reads like an observer making a factual observation of her actions. That, in my opinion, makes it bad writing, because it shows you're not getting the voice quite right. Unless of course the distance is put in there deliberately - but if so, what's the purpose for that? None that I can see from the passage.

    Your writing is strangely confusing here:

    What do you mean she "assembled" it? Did she choose these items from a cupboard as her lunch? No - you tell us it's leftover from lunch. So what's she doing with the food? I don't know.

    You say "leftover from lunch" - that doesn't tell me how much she did eat, only what she did not eat. It's not a natural assumption that she didn't eat most of her lunch. For all I know she had a fried chicken and a baguette plus milkshake and chose not to eat the rest of it. Again, this piece of detail is weak for the purposes of showing how little she ate, because it's too open for interpretation and your choice of words does not firmly convey that she ate little.

    You finish the detail with "for breakfast" - on first reading, I thought she had all that food for breakfast. Now I know it's leftover food from lunch. She then ate the bread and yoghurt as a meal - I'm wondering which meal. Is she having lunch, breakfast, dinner? The wording here is confusing. You use the word "wolfed down" - that doesn't quite convey someone who does not want to eat to me. It does convey she's hungry - but how does her being hungry mean she has eating problems? I get hungry too - I don't have eating problems. Again, the detail is weak for the point you're trying to convey.

    So, I would disagree that all the detail needs to be cut. I would however agree that your writing is very weak. You need a better choice of examples to show what you want to show.

    For example, this is how I'd write it if my character had eating problems: (dashed it off just now unedited so I'm not saying it's great lol)

    "My stomach twists, bile rising in my mouth from the hunger pains, but I resist - only I can't take my eyes off the plain bread roll on my dresser. And the apple too, deep crimson just tempting me to bite. I shake my head and focus on the throbbing pain from my ankle. Anything to distract me from the food. But torture is what I'm good at - what good am I if I cannot resist temptation?

    In the end, I throw both bread and apple to the bin and take a swig of water instead. It's cold and pools in my stomach, soothing it. Hunger is false - I'm sure I'm just thirsty, really. I drink till I can't drink anymore, and smile at my victory."​

    For something closer to your very minimalist style, I might have written:

    "I play with my food, arranging and rearranging them into different patterns. Apple in the corner, bread roll below. I nibble a piece of the bread roll. It's dry in my mouth."
    For the briefer version, you'd have to have established beforehand that this was her lunch but now it's evening and it's obvious from the items that she hadn't eaten her lunch. With that established, over the course of the narrative, it should become obvious she has an eating problem. The little detail "It's dry in my mouth" conveys how she doesn't enjoy the food. If the reader knows she hasn't touched her lunch, now it's evening and she still doesn't enjoy the food she's eating, it should start to plant doubt in the reader's mind that there could be an eating problem.

    To be yet briefer, you could write:

    "I eat nothing but a bite of the roll, leaving everything else untouched."​

    I'm not saying you need to write like me - but I believe better word choices on your part could help you greatly. Why do you think I added the clause "leaving everything else untouched"? Why do you think I wrote "eat nothing but" rather than simply, "I eat the bread"? (in fact, why do you think I said "a bite of" and not just "the roll"?) They serve as emphasis because I'm trying to draw the reader's attention to the fact that she's not eating much at all. You'll want to highlight different details, depending on your style - but highlight details you should.

    You claim you like elaborate writing but your writing is not elaborate at all - it lacks emotion and it lacks colour. Everything is very brief and simple. If anything, I'd say your writing is a little too clean. It's not your detail that's the problem - it's how you're conveying the detail.

    What you've done reminds me of Henning Mankell's crime novels - he often liked to include maybe 1-2 sentences at the end of his scenes detailing what his MC Wallander might be eating, or doing alone in his flat, precisely to convey his loneliness. But these blander sorts of details only work when you've built it up in advance - in Mankell's case, it's clear that Wallander is diabetic and has a problem with connecting with people. To then see him ordering pizza for takeaway (to eat alone) right after his daughter telling him to watch his health emphasises a known problem, and is thus effective. If the problem was not known beforehand and all I see is Wallander eating pizza, it would not be effective. Same goes with your writing.

    Edited to add: another reason why it fails to convey her eating problems - she eats the bread and yoghurt, and she wolfs them down. For someone who doesn't want to eat, that's a lot of food and she's clearly enjoying it. If you don't want "wolfed down" to be mistaken for enjoyment, then you need to expand on how she's feeling.

     
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  24. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting. The slightly cozy descriptions led me to believe it was supposed to show contentment. She sat back on her bed, compiled a lazy dinner and then read until sleep, which seemed to arrive rather easily. I had the impression she had hurt her ankle, but met someone who improved her frame of mind and retired in an improved mood. Whereas @Mckk assumed the intention was to show loneliness.

    Re-reading it I imagine @Mckk is correct, but which is it, out of interest?
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd also say that they're crossing the line between critique and editing--which is, admittedly, a line that I tend to cross myself, but I try to control myself.

    If I were critiquing, I would say that the last paragraph feels a bit like a catalogue of detail with insufficient (or at least insufficiently clear) purpose for being. But it's your call whether to cut it altogether, trim it, or lengthen it to give it a purpose for being. Or, of course, declare that I don't get it and leave it alone.
     
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