According to the dictionary, to critique something is to give your opinion and observations. If you are a member of a writing group that offers critiques, you can expect to hear a variety of opinions about your work. This is a good thing, as you want to know how readers are reacting to your writing. What you should not expect, however, is an edit of your writing. I have heard writers complain about critique groups because the members of the group did not understand what critique meant. Sometimes when a person is asked to critique a chapter, that person thinks he or she is expected to edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Other times the critique comes back as a completely negative commentary, taking the word critique and thinking it means critical. I have had people tell me that they dislike doing critiques because it is sometimes hard to find something wrong with the piece. A well-written manuscript deserves a positive commentary.
Of course, a critique is also an observation, so if there are many mechanical and/or structural errors in the manuscript, mention it, but not as a line-by-line edit. A simple statement something like this will do: “The overall theme of the manuscript is clearly identified; however there are several grammatical errors on page three that can be easily fixed with a line edit.” This technique, called cushioning, starts out with a positive comment, followed by a constructive comment. You can also surround the constructive comment with positive statements, thereby creating a sandwich effect in your observation. Just do not edit the work. An example of this technique is: “Although the characters appear to be very real to the reader, the typos and other spelling errors throughout the manuscript detract from the readability of the otherwise well-developed story.”
The point of a critique is to gain an understanding of how readers will react to the story and to help the writer recognize areas to make improvements as well as passages that will draw the reader in. There should be at least a balance of opinion in the critique, and the person providing the critique needs to contain his or her observations to the manuscript and not carry them over to the writer. This is not an opportunity to attack anyone personally. On the other hand, the writer must also not take the critique as a personal attack, but rather as an opportunity to learn something and even improve his or her writing. I have known writers who are so thin-skinned that they take any constructive observation of their writing personally and become insulted when someone does not like their work. That is not how to deliver or receive a critique. Think of a critique as an opportunity to teach and/or learn something.
Line editing is that time in the overall manuscript writing process where the editor takes a close look, line by line, at things like tone, consistency, and style. When you take your manuscript to someone for a line edit, you are asking that person to review the structure of the manuscript. Some questions a good line editor will ask include:
- Are there any words in the manuscript that do not add anything or lessen the impact of the sentence? For example: “This part of the process is actually really important.” There are two words in that sentence that, if eliminated, make the statement even more direct. “This part of the process is important.”
- Is the sentence or paragraph too long winded? Sometimes sentences get very convoluted, making it difficult for the reader to follow. Re-reading a sentence or paragraph takes something away from the story, causing an unnecessary distraction. Consider the readability of the manuscript. Most people, when sitting down to read a novel, do not intend to study the content, nor do they want to have to re-read something to understand it. According to the Clear Language Group, “the average reading level of American adults is about 7th to 8th grade level.”(Clear Language Group, 2014)
- What about the voice of the author? Over-editing can sometimes alter the voice and tone of the author. Make sure your editor understands your voice, the individual style you have inserted into the manuscript. Voice includes the use of syntax, diction, punctuation, and character development. Looking back at the first question, if eliminating the words actually and/or really change the voice of the author, leave them alone. Perhaps the character talks like that, if the sentence is part of dialogue.
- How about the overuse of phrases heard over and over again? This refers to those tried and true (and often trite) phrases that everyone uses. Eliminate those and make the writing your own. For example, instead of saying “… they were thick as thieves…” rewrite the phrase to something like this: “It was sometimes difficult to tell them apart, they dressed alike, talked alike, and even ate the same foods.”
If you would like to read more about line editing, there is an excellent article at the wiseGEEK website: What is Line Editing?
Next week we will explore the art of the critique. Be sure to come back then!
If a writer asks you to edit, critique, review, or beta read his or her manuscript, and you accept, what will you do? Over the next few weeks we are going to look at these terms and define exactly what they mean. Each of them creates a different expectation on the part of the writer, so it is important to know just what the writer wants you to do. If the writer asks you to critique the manuscript and you edit it, for example, you are not doing what was requested and the writer will probably not ask for your help again.
Are you being paid for this service? If so, you are probably editing. If not, it is possible the writer has asked for a beta read. Is the service being performed as part of a writer’s group? More than likely the writer is looking for a critique. Will your commentary be published? This is a review.
The first topic we will discuss in detail is editing, sometimes referred to as line editing. Both terms refer to the structural content of the writing. Editing can sometimes change the voice of the writer, so it is important to keep that in mind when suggesting changes to the mechanics of the manuscript.
If you have any editing horror stories (or good examples), please send them to me before next Sunday, when I will be posting the discussion on editing. In the meantime, keep writing!
Kindle Books Special Promo this week!
November is my favorite month and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I suspect the reason I prefer November and Thanksgiving to any other month or holiday is because I was born on Thanksgiving Day. At any rate, I decided to run a Kindle Special Promo next week to celebrate my birthday and Thanksgiving.
All five Kindle versions of my books will be FREE (yes, I said FREE) starting on Sunday, November 23 and ending on Thanksgiving Day, November 27.
Here are the books and links to their Kindle pages:
Writing from A to Z is from a blog series of the same title written over 26 weeks. Each week represents another letter in the alphabet, and each chapter exhibits words starting with the letter of the week – all related to writing in some way. Some chapters have many words, some just a few. It was challenging finding words starting with each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, and the result will provide some great information and resources when looking for just the right word.
A zeugma is a figure of speech in which a word, usually a verb or an adjective, applies to more than one noun, blending together grammatically and logically different ideas. Zeugma comes from Greek term for “yoking” or “bonding.” Here is an example from Star Trek: The Next Generation: “You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit.” In this case, the zeugma is “execute,” a word that applies to both laws and citizens, creating a somewhat shocking effect. Another, possibly more common use of zeugma is here: “She opened her door and her heart to the orphan.” Read more…
Yellow journalism, sometimes called yellow press, is a type of journalism based upon exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. For some interesting information on yellow journalism and how it came to be, go to the Crucible of Empire, Spanish-American War page on Yellow Journalism.
A yellowback is a cheap novel which was published in Britain in the second half of the 19th century. They were occasionally called “mustard-plaster” novels. Yellowbacks were originally developed to compete with the “penny dreadful,” another British fiction publication that featured lurid serial stories appearing over a number of weeks.
This short post brings us almost to the end of the series, Writing from A to Z. Next week’s post featuring the letter Z will explore three or four words I found related to writing that start with “Z.”
Z, along with X and Y, were the most challenging letters of the alphabet to work with in this series, but it was a fun exercise over the past 25 weeks. Now, however, I am looking for ideas for the next series of posts about writing. What would you, dear readers, like to see on these pages? Please send your suggestions either to me directly or put them in the comments below. My email address is: email@example.com.
Xerox is often used as a transitive verb describing the process of copying a document on a xerographic (copy) machine. The word Xerox is a trademark or brand name, this it is always capitalized. Some rarely used derivatives of the word Xerox include xerocopy (photocopy) xerography (photocopying).
While there are many unusual words that start with the letter X, there are very few that have to do with writing. If you are curious about other X-words, you can find a list of them, along with their definitions at X page at the Phrontistery website. For example, there are several words that start with XAN- that have something to do with the color yellow. These could be used as descriptive adjectives in your writing, although your reader might not know what you mean when you write: “She was xanthocomic, while her siblings all sported raven locks.”
But I digress. I did find a couple of words starting with the letter x, followed by a hyphen and another word that can be related to writing. Take x-height, for instance. This is a type-setting term referring to the height of lowercase letters, not including the ascenders and descenders (like y, g, b, or d). OK, I admit, that is a stretch. How about x-ref? This refers to a cross reference inside a document or book.
I was going to use xenoglossia a word that means a person’s knowledge of a language never studied, thinking I could somehow use the connection to language and writing, but when I looked for a clearer definition, I found that it means “speaking in tongues.” This could be another of those words you might, as a writer, want to use to illustrate your command of the language while describing a scene in your novel.
As it turns out, there are lots of X-words, but very few of them actually relate to writing. Unless of course you are xenocentric and prefer to write about ideas from other cultures than your own.
Happy Writing Everyone! Next week we will explore writing words that start with the letter “Y.”
Writing Process, that is what this whole series is about, isn’t it? Writing. It is what we do. The process involves the many aspects of the complex act of producing a written communication. The stages of the writing process we all go through in one form or other are: planning or prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
There are other writing words or phrases we are all familiar with: Writer’s Block and Writer’s Guidelines, for example. Writer’s Block is the inability to write for a period of time. It can be the inability to come up with good ideas to start a story, or simply not knowing WHERE to start the story. Writer’s Guidelines, on the other hand, are the rules about the writing process the publisher wants the writer to follow. It is always a good idea to read and adhere to the writer’s guidelines if one wants his or her work to be considered.
Sometimes an editor will reach out to a writer and offer him or her an opportunity to do a Work for Hire. This is a writing job where the writer is commissioned to write a piece, but does not receive a byline, and does not get any rights to the work. Jan Fields, an author who does a lot of writing for hire, provides an explanation of all the aspects of Work for Hire in her post: What You Need to Know About Work for Hire. (Fields, 2013)
Of course you know what widows and orphans are when discussing people, but in writing, a “widow” is the last line of a paragraph, printed alone at the top of a page. An “orphan” is the first line of a paragraph, printed alone at the bottom of a page. Generally, when you are formatting a book for publication, you will want to avoid widows and orphans. Fortunately, you can set a control in most word processing programs to take care of this problem. Click on Controlling Widows and Orphans for instructions in Word.
Sometimes it may become necessary to craft a politely worded letter to a publication or publishing house withdrawing a manuscript from consideration. This is called a withdrawal letter. Curious about doing this? Here is some good advice: Withdrawing Your Book from Consideration.
Finally, let’s talk about words. Words are what we as writers work with. (See all the “W” words in that sentence?) We have word count, which is the number of words in a manuscript. Word count can be dictated by the publisher, or provided by the writer. This is not to be confused with word choice.
Word choice is the use of rich, colorful, precise language that communicates in a way that connects the reader to the writing. Strong word choice can clarify and expand ideas. Strong word choice does not necessarily mean an exceptional vocabulary that impresses the reader, but more by the skill to use everyday words well.
Fields, J. (2013). What You Need to Know About Work for Hire. Retrieved from Institute of Children’s Literature: Rx for Writers: http://www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/ws06/work4hire.shtml
Verisimilitude: What a great word! In a literary work, verisimilitude is likeness to the truth, for example the resemblance of a fictitious work to a real event even if it is a far-fetched one. Presenting the theme of a fiction work in a way that connects readers to real life is the essence of verisimilitude. For example, Amy Lowell uses verisimilitude to construct an analogy in her poem “Night Clouds.”
“The white mares of the moon rush along the sky
Beating their golden hoofs upon the glass Heavens.”
Continuing with our writing words starting with the letter “V,” we need to discuss voice. Voice is the style, tone, and method of writing used by an author to tell the story. Voice gives the writing personality and helps build a relationship between the story and the reader.
Vanity Publishing is a form of publishing in which the author pays a publisher to publish his or her work. This type of publishing has been around for a long time, typically for those who wish to publish personal collections of poems, recipes, or even family histories. Now there are print-on-demand (POD) publishers like Lulu and CreateSpace who do not require the author to purchase any copies up front the way vanity presses do.
A traditional form of poetry, one that has been around for over 300 years, is called the Villanelle. A type of fixed form poetry consisting of nineteen lines of any length divided into six stanzas. If you would like to try writing a villanelle, read Conrad Geller’s post on poetic forms for some excellent examples and guidance into this fun and interesting method of writing poetry. (Geller, 2001)
And, speaking of poetry and “V” writing words, we cannot forget verse. The lines in a poem composed in a measured rhythmical pattern, that are often, but not necessarily, rhymed are called verses.
Of course, no post on “V” writing words would be complete without mention of verbs and vowels. Verbs are necessary parts of sentences; verbs need nouns and nouns need verbs. Verbs perform the action or relate the state of being in a sentence. Two words can be considered a complete sentence as long as one of the words is a verb and one is a noun: “Sally ran.”
I’m sure you all remember this little ditty from grammar school: a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y. Those are the vowels, of course. These five (sometimes six) letters in the alphabet are essential to forming words. If you are an avid Scrabble player, there are actually some words without vowels listed in the Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, 4th Edition. You can find them listed here: Words With No Vowels. However, for most writing, most words will need vowels to be considered real words.
Geller, C. (2001). Author’s Best Friend. Retrieved from Poetic Forms: The Villanelle: http://www.writing-world.com/poetry/villanelle.shtml
Unsolicited Manuscripts are those articles, stories, or books that a publication did not request. It is not easy to get your manuscript read if you send it in unsolicited, but there are some publishers that do accept unsolicited manuscripts. Do your homework and follow the writer’s guidelines when submitting unsolicited manuscripts. If you are interested, this blog by Erica Verrillo lists six publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts: Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity.
Another writing related word starting with the letter “U” is understatement. An understatement is the opposite of hyperbole. Understatement refers to a figure of speech that says less than is intended. To see some great examples of understatement, go to the Figures of Speech website on Understatement.
If your story projects the notion of a perfect society to your readers or your characters embody a perfect moral code, you are writing about an illusionary place called utopia. A utopian society is one where all social evils have been cured or are severely punished. The book 1984 by George Orwell and the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson are both examples of utopian literature.
Sometimes an author tells a story through a narrator. Sometimes that narrator describes what he or she witnesses accurately, but misinterprets those events because of faulty perception, personal bias, or limited understanding. This technique is called an unreliable narrator. Often the writer or poet creating such an unreliable narrator leaves clues so that readers will perceive the unreliability and question the interpretations offered. Examples of unreliable narrators include “Geoffrey the pilgrim” in the Canterbury Tales and the character of Forest Gump in the movie of the same name. This technique is also known as fallible narrator.
To add a bit of writing style to the discussion, there are two terms that come to mind when thinking about the letter “U.” Uppercase (sometimes written as UC when editing) refers to writing in capital letters. Then there is unnumbered list, a vertical list that has neither bullets nor numbers in front of each line.
Can you think of any more words related to writing starting with the letter “U?” Let me know.