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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Resources for Writing/Editing - Writing Class Series Week 6

I am actually vacationing in Florida with my family today. The live class at Acts 2 Church will be having a critique session. Your assignment is to share some of your writing with a supportive person or two, and ask them to evaluate it by this critique list. You could also post something you’ve written in the comment section, or email up to three pages to me at dinasleiman at gmail dot com. Type it out the normal way.

This is probably a good time to mention the importance of critique groups or critique partners. It is very helpful to find a few writers of similar expertise in similar genres to trade manuscripts with. They can help you isolate problems in your writing. They can also provide much needed encouragement. However, the wrong sort of critiquers can be discouraging, even harmful. So take time to look into your options and check out possible critiquers before jumping into anything. I wrote my first novel without critique partners. But, I paid a writing coach to critique the manuscript, which served the same purpose. Last year when I realized I needed critique partners for my new projects, I slowly courted a few women in my writer's groups until I found the right ones. I'm thrilled with my critique partners, and I've learned and grown so much through both their comments and suggestions, and through critiquing their writing. It's certainly something to look into.

Critique groups can be local or online. I like my online critiquers because they share my love for Christ, history, romance, and literature. That would be hard to find on a local basis. Also, critiques can vary from general comments and encouragement to detailed line editing, so be sure to communicate your needs and desires as well as where you are in the writing process with your critiquers. There's no point in them wasting time fixing grammar on a first draft. Finally, critiques are usually traded for critiques of similar length and scope. However, if you find the right people, you will probably become flexible on this issue.

Here's the critique checklist for this week's assignment. Since the lesson is short, I will also use it to give you my list of 20 things I wish I knew before writing my first novel, some self-editing tips, and some poetry exercises.

Critique Checklist 
Please be honest, but offer positive critique to balance negative. These are only suggested questions. Use them as a springboard for your discussion.

Is there a clear purpose?
Is there a specific audience?
Has a specific genre been chosen?
If the author offered a plot or outline, is it effective?
Where can the plot or outline be strengthened?
What do you like/dislike about the idea?
What changes would you suggest?
What step should the author take next?

Is the thesis or premise clear?
Do they introduce the idea?
Does the body follow a clear linear or weaving progression?
Could the organization be improved?
Did the author make his/her point?
How could their support or examples be improved?
Do they have a strong conclusion?
What did you like/dislike about the piece?
Did the concept interest, inform, or persuade you?
What changes would you suggest?

Fiction Scene:
Did the author pull you into a fictional world?
What genre was it?
Did the story have character in conflict?
Was there a clear point of view?
Was the scene effective?
Which fictional elements did they use?
Which fictional elements could be added?
What did you like/dislike about the piece?
What suggestions would you make?
Did the piece hold your interest?
What is the author’s plan for the plot of the entire story?
Will this scene advance the plot?

Does the poem have an appealing look on the page that fits its purpose?
How does the author use sound elements in this poem?
How does the author use imagery?
Did they engage the five senses?
Is there any symbolic meaning in the images?
Do sound, image, line breaks, and look on the page work together to form a meaning?
What meaning do you take from the poem?
What did you like/dislike about the poem?
What changes would you suggest?

Top 20 Things I Wish I Knew Before Writing a Novel

1. The 15th Chicago Manual of Style is standard for fiction.
2. Industry standards have changed. You can’t write like authors from 20 years ago.
3. Write to an attention deficit society that grew up on TV and videos.
4. Think of your novel in terms of scenes. Scenes occur in a clear time and place.
5. Scenes move the plot forward and contain visual action in a present moment.
6. Plan plot beforehand by the plot skeleton or similar model, even if it will change.
7. Every line should either move the plot forward or deepen character development.
8. Cut lines and scenes that don’t do their job.
9. The ending of each scene should thrust the reader into the next.
10. Short narrative summaries are permissible if framed within a scene.
11. Description should be shown in conjunction with action.
12. Show someone moving through a scene and describe the scene that way.
13. Show someone doing an action and describe them in the process.
14. Write your sensory details into the action.
15. Your words should pull double duty as much as possible.
16. Pay yourself $.25 for every word you can remove
17. Keep dialogue segments visual as well.
18. Use action beats in place of dialogue tags.
19. Write in a distinct genre
20. Know the standards, conventions and lengths for your genre.

For the following helpful self-editing rules apply the 9 out of 10 times caveat and remember that these rules are more flexible in dialogue.

1. Do a “Find” command for problematic words.
2. Remove as many “weasel” words as possible: just, very, rather, began to, started to, that, there was, suddenly, quickly. Sentences read better without them. Also figure out and remove any words you tend to overuse.
3. Remove all adverbs from speech tags. Make dialogue or action beats do the work.
4. Remove as many adverbs as possible without changing meaning
5. When you can’t remove an adverb, check if a stronger verb would solve the problem
6. Replace passive verbs with active ones as often as possible: was, were, is, are
7. Remove helping verbs as much as possible. Try restructuring sentence.
8. For passages full of helping verbs, consider moving to a present moment
9. Remove most hads. Only use one to enter past perfect and one to exit. Had is unnecessary if passage of time indicated.
10. Remove statements of the obvious. Ex. – stood from his chair, scratched with her hand
11. Don’t use a series of adjectives that mean the same thing. Choose the strongest.
12. Remove exclamation points. The words should do the work
13. Remove as much italics as possible, all would be great.

Poetry Exercises

1. Take a picture from a magazine and write a descriptive passage focusing on creating the emotion in the picture through tone and sound

2. Choose an interesting object and describe it using all five senses, use the details to make it a symbol for something bigger in life

3. Try writing to different styles of music, write what you’re picturing in your mind, let the music influence the rhythm and emotion

4. Have one person write the first line of a poem and pass it around the room each adding a line as you go along

5. Take a descriptive passage and rewrite it in iambic pentameter. Now try again with a different sort of rhythm


  1. If I paid myself $.25 for each word I cut, I'd so be raking it in right now. Or maybe so in debt to myself?

  2. Yes, you should be making in the thousands like I did with my first novel. Too bad we can't afford to actually cash in :) Hey that reminds me, when you get around to reading my Dandelion manuscript, keep in mind that I do have some deleted scenes still on file, especially during childhood and in London with the tournaments and stuff like that.

  3. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 28, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    Wow, not many comments. They must have e-mailed to you their submissions.
    I shall post to you a little piece I wrote for a contest. Unfortunately, membership in a society was required to enter and money was required for membership. I did not enter but the piece has rankled for an audience ever since. The given subject was the Blue Moon:

    Blue moon, Blue moon, come again, Round too soon........
    The words drift to me with the desert wind.
    My mother crooned them; the woman who sold me singing my little brother's lullaby.
    The other slave here, though she calls herself a wife, chained me to the mortar and I spent much time grinding grain. When the master did not take me.
    Its quite natural, there is no fight in me. I've learned my place.
    When I began eating more grain than I ground she chained me to the large amphora that sits outside the tent door. It always has water in it so I'm never thirsty. Sometimes she feeds me. Enough to satisfy the master's inspection. He won't take me for a little while now.
    She has no children. She is old and shriveled and ugly.
    Children take the status of their mother, not their father otherwise mine might be a great man. Perhaps he will have intelligence or beauty to raise him above his mother's chains, generations of his people have been freeborn and influential. Only his mother....
    I am a nothingness seen by the Great One by the Beer-lahai-roi three full moons ago. Slavery to Him is honour enough for me.
    The moon and I are waxing together, it rises earlier and earlier each evening and I rise not at all.... Too heavy. The child moves a great deal, a strong and adventurous soul seeking passage. Unlike his mother....
    My people are wise in the arts of Time and measure the moons against the suns. A blue moon hounds the suns until it bites their tails. I am certain my roundness shall spill at the next fullness, and I believe it is to be a blue moon. The threads I pulled from the tent hem have woven a calendar for me.
    Tail bitten, arcs served, what shall become of us under the yearning sky?
    Shall I sing to my own, Blue Moon, Blue moon, come again....?
    I cannot not be round too soon.

  4. It's lovely and very poetic. It is provocative and gets me asking a lot of questions. However, on the other hand, it leaves me a little confused.

    I guess I'm wondering what the genre is. For example, this might make a beautiful prologue for a novel, but the novel itself should probably be more to the point and easier to understand.

    Or it could be broken into lines for a poem, in which case I might suggest removing some of the narrative links and leaving it even more mysterious and symbolic.

    Right now I would probably call it a prose poem.
    In a way, it reminds me of C.S. Lewis's long narrative poem.


  5. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 29, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    Yes, definitely a prose poem. Stream of consciousness. A tidbit tossed off. A 'make of it what you please'.
    Isaiah and Paul often wandered between prose and poetry to express the complexity of God.
    I shall look up C.S. Lewis's narrative poem, do you have a title?

  6. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 30, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Yes, it is called Dymer. A first edition sells for about $2000! Somehow I will find a copy to read.
    Your confusion troubles me as a writer. I want to clear it up. Since you are an accomplished poet and used to seeing through weirdness etc. I am even more interested in how I could do that for the benefit of future readers.
    However, I don't expect you to spend time on something that won't make either of us any money. You have already been more than generous with your time! Most sincerely, Henrietta

  7. I think I was mostly confused about the purpose of the piece. I was concerned it might be a novel excerpt, but I think it works as a prose poem. Perhaps the language could be even a bit tighter.