On Critiquing and Rewriting, Part 2

In my last blog, I made suggestions for critiquing the first three pages.  Now for the rest of the story.  Does the plot  work? The reader expects conflict in both fiction and nonfiction. Personally, I detest stories with too much sunshine. I want the protagonist (main character) to have obstacles to overcome or difficulties he can learn to live with. Go easy with the sugar. Too much sweetness will rob your writing of vim and vigor. Life is, after all, a rollercoaster, with many ups and downs. Describe the wild ride when you put words on the page. When critiquing, pay attention to tensions. What helps the protaganist get what she wants? What stands in her way?Most stories are a marriage between narrative and dialogue. Use narration for accurate descriptions and observations of places, people, and feelings. Enliven the narrative with figurative language such as metaphors (comparison of two unlike objects), personifications (describing inanimate objects as if animate) and alliteration (repeating initial word sounds) to add lyricism. Balance the telling by including bits of dialogue. The use of dialogue serves one of two purposes: carries the story forward or helps characterize the person speaking. The trick for effective dialogue is making the conversation sound natural without its being natural at all.  To be effective, dialogue needs to be pared down from the way people actually speak.

Though it’s permissible to add a bit of hyperbole or exaggeration to make your story more dramatic, make sure what you write conveys truth.  Get the facts right.  In a novel I wrote, I described a gingko tree in the backyard of my protagonist’s home. If a botanist hadn’t read my chapter, reminding me that gingko trees didn’t exist in North American during the 1800’s (when my novel took place), I would have made an embarrassing boo boo. If  writing about a train or horses or pole dancing, or whatever your particular topic might be, find an expert on that particular subject and ask him to read what you’ve written.

In a traditional story, the protagonist changes. The change might be prompted by an epiphany or by the passage of time. In coming-of-age stories young people learn by several experiences or the influence of others. When a moment of clear realization is reached, the story is essentially finished. But most writers add falling action. Here’s a corny example to illustrate what I mean: Two people meet and gradually, after many ups and downs,  decide they’re meant for one another, but skillful writers add something else such as the wedding or the honeymoon, so the ending isn’t too abrupt.

Last check the title. Does it  add something relevant which doesn’t appear in the story? Make your title a tease or a hint or simply interesting enough to be memorable. “Grandpa” isn’t a suitable title. Instead let your title reveal some secret about Grandpa or about your relationship to him.

Keep editing and keep letting others critique what you write. Like the best silver, manuscripts, if they are to shine, require a great deal of polishing.

Have a question about writing? Send it to on my Feedback page.   I’ll attempt an answer in a future blog. In the meantime, keep writing; keep loving to write.

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