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.