The Word-Witch

Or Wicked Witch. Whatever. I’m the witch.

It’s not a compliment, I’m sure of that. Picky, pedantic, pushy. A few other words.


Some people get offended when I give them a critique of their work. Maybe I’m not as nice as I could be, maybe I don’t want to lay on the sugar, but I try to be honest and helpful. I don’t think I’ll offer to do it for friends anymore — it’s a great way to lose friends, though, if there’s someone you’d like to remove from your friends list. Trust me, works like a charm. A wicked-witch charm. Guaranteed.

That’s why I’m the wicked witch of Fridays.

The reason: I ‘volunteered’ to do critiques of several pieces of writing each week. They come out on Thursday and I spend Thursday night reading and noting things, then on Friday I respond with the critique. It takes time, sometimes a lot of time. Okay, always a lot of time. It’s not just reading and making a fly-over comment, it’s a line-by-line, scene-by-scene, progress-by-promise deep read and notes based on the general tools for critiquing.

Those things? Okay, these things:

Open/setting: the where and when and who.

Plot: what happens in what order and who does the action to get from one place to the next in search of the ending?

Conflict: What stands in the way of the scene/story goal? How does it build from scene to scene, Act to Act, to the big moment and the end/close?

Character: This is a biggie and it’s harder than it sounds. Is the character real? Can I slip into their viewpoint/perspective and live the story as them? If not, is the story strong enough that it doesn’t need this close contact? [the answer to that is almost always ‘no’, so be prepared.]

Backstory: is it dribbled in or dumped by truck? Is it relevant and used at the right moment to create more drama and motivation?

Dialogue: another biggie. We don’t all sound the same, we don’t all use the same stylistic tics in language/speech, we don’t all have the same background that influences the way we speak/interact.

POV: My favourite. Not. The subject is too big and too controversial, and there are too many people who think they understand what it means but they don’t have to follow no damn rules, thank you very much. Now I just say how I like it, and leave it at that … but let me tell you that omniscient isn’t a third person viewpoint – it’s a god-like view and went out of fashion a long time ago. We, as human beings, prefer to get close to the characters now and not be lectured at while we read.

Theme: Not a biggie, but that’s the false effect of the iceberg, isn’t it? There’s more to it than the eye can see, and only the heart knows what it means. But not having a theme, or at least a shape that implies a theme, means a story that isn’t likely to stay in the reader’s mind for long.

Style: Individual, but still needs work. Let it flow, let the story tell the way it is, let the words shape the world like water flows down a river. Style doesn’t mean stylistic elements, it doesn’t mean voice (each character has their own voice, but the author’s voice is best as invisible). Style and voice of the author don’t matter. It will happen because if the work focusses on the character and their journey, these things grow and mature.

Characterisation: Action speaks louder than words. How the character sees the world indicates the internal world-view. It’s not about saying one word to describe her, it’s how her life to this moment has influenced everything about her. She is as her beliefs and history have made her. A person who sees with their own perspective, lies, and follies. Actions speak much louder than words. Show that in the story and you have characterisation.

Show vs Tell: This is the monster. Show all the pieces where what happens is part of the reason something else happens. Tell for the little things that don’t matter. There’s a lot more to it than that, but I leave it to you (I’m still trying to get it right).

All the work I put into these critiques is time away from my work, and I’ve had some responses I’ll use for my evil-sister/brother characters in a story, so you may ask why I do it if it causes so much grief.

Because I learn so much from seeing what the problems are in other pieces. It’s so easy to see in their work, but not in mine. The reason: when I look at my work to review it, I see what I think is there, I know the story, I can see it, feel it, smell it — so I miss the bits that break the momentum or value or belief in the moment.

I do it, despite the names I’m labelled with, because I learn from it, and more every time. And I don’t care what people call me, or say about me, I care only about making the stories as good as they can be so the next person who reads it will feel it deep in their soul. Or at least remember it for a few minutes.

Okay, mostly a rant, partially a witch-woman bitch, a bit of reinforcement in the technicalities. Next week, I’ll give a story … [I do have my fingers crossed behind my back, though]. And I reserve the right to delete this post at any time without warning.

21 thoughts on “The Word-Witch

    • Not if I want to keep up my own writing. And it seems I ask a lot when I want the synopsis, character charts/arcs (and a beat sheet for every major character), subplot arcs, theme and dilemma, sometimes more. There are reader groups who do beta-reading (I can’t recall any at the moment, but often they come from the email list for the writer – ask, apparently, and they will offer).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Generally, a beat sheet is a one-page summary of the main beats in the story for that character (some people do one for the overall story as well; I do one for each major character to ensure everyone has a reason to be in the story).
        It’s basically the following:
        The open/setup to the story: the where, when, who;
        The inciting incident/catalyst that sparks the story into forward motion (the start of the dilemma for the character);
        The blockage/debate that is the argument against taking action (which is where the story stakes pop their head up to ensure the character knows there’s no going back once they take the next step);
        the first break/first plot point, which is the decision to do something, go somewhere (get/do/become), find how to reach the story goal (usually means learning something new, fighting back with the tools at hand (which aren’t good enough yet);
        the first pinch point (meet the effect of the opposition at a point where the pain is felt);
        the midpoint, where the character must see what it is that didn’t work, why it didn’t work, what the options are (may consider the option of an end that justifies the means);
        The second pinch point (where the character faces up to the opposition only to realise that they’ve become harder, faster, more dangerous), where the tide turns badly for the character and they go off to hide and lick their wounds;
        the black moment (when in hiding they see/feel the effect of their efforts to reach the goal (someone died? maybe worse?));
        the second plot point, where the character decides that even if it kills her, she’s going to do her best because if she doesn’t, so much else fails as well;
        the preparation for the showdown;
        the showdown;
        the close/end/denouement, where the world after the struggle is seen/felt/lived (often a comparison with the open/setting/setup).

        That’s just one version, and it’s quite simple. a few words, maybe a sentence or two to indicate the emotional and physical changes of the beat in the story. It’s like a view through a reversed pair of binoculars (I know you don’t have that vision, but I’m hoping you understand).
        Basically, it’s a list of the major emotional turns in the story for that character.

        Or this might give a better explanation:

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, that sounds like a lot of story dissecting. I don’t think my editor even does that type of stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think it helps find the shape of the story, and the purpose of the writer. Sometimes, stories meander like a lost goose, so knowing where it was supposed to go and what it should look like can help a great deal.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. These comments are so helpful – I don’t see them as a rant at all. I always have trouble with POV and your explanation is a good one! I don’t think I could do a critique of another person’s writing,and never for a friend or family member, but I definitely see the value in it. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Learning to hear criticism and actually use it as a tool for improvement is a fine art and one I have worked on for years. I belong to a small, not particularly critical writers group and have for probably 10 years, and I still love “loved it” far more than, “I think you should…” or “who was talking in that line…?” It’s hard. I try. But it’s still hard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I try to ask questions rather than say ‘should’ or ‘need’ or anything else with an imperative sense (not always successful). I think it’s important to get a reader perspective if that’s who the story is aimed at, but if we’re writing only to please ourselves, it doesn’t matter what someone else things/says.
      And I have six sisters, so quite good at taking a whipping, beating, tongue-lashing and every other form of punishment whether necessary, earned or just for fun.


  3. I have seen some who can’t take criticism well, who self-publish when they are not ready. It isn’t a pretty sight on goodreads or Facebook. In the first crit group I was a part of, I learned early on that you present the bad with the good. Sometimes finding the good was harder, but all of it makes us better readers and writers.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I thought it was educational as well as a moment for a venting for you. Thank you for venting so well! On a serious note, I get it. Sometimes having people label you in a negative manner for doing some thing they asked you to do it’s really disheartening. I hope it gets better for you. Keep creating! CSA

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.