*** Beware: this review includes a few spoilers ***
If you’ve read my review of Artemis, you already have a good idea about my critique of Andy Weir’s third book, Project Hail Mary. On a positive note, I liked it better than Artemis. Perhaps because this book was written in the first person, like The Martian, and I felt more connected to the protagonist.
Returning to a tried-and-true format, Project Hail Mary features a lone character in space facing unimaginable obstacles. In this case, Ryland Grace. He has a great sense of humor, which I enjoyed. Though it got a bit immature at times and became annoying. This man didn’t take any of the deadly hurdles he faced seriously. Failed suspense of disbelief #1.
And Grace faces an endless stream of problems. One after another, and all of them, easily overcome. Despite being in a situation with insurmountable complications, he finds a solution somewhere in the recesses of his mind. Perhaps that is why he has such a cavalier attitude. He didn’t ever feel threatened by his predicament. Failed suspense of disbelief #2.
The story is loaded with science and the requisite detailed explanations in typical Andy Weir style. On a positive note, I learned that I understand physics more than biology. Regardless, 500 pages of science is too much, and yep, I stopped turning pages around Chapter 14. The story became repetitious, predictable, and boring.
I did read the last three chapters, but it was another letdown. The entire book was about Grace solving life-threatening problems. Yet, he couldn’t come up with a plan to produce food for himself at the end. It was hard for me to believe that he couldn’t simulate an environment for growing fruits and vegetables. Also, his body suffered from the effects of strong gravity on the surface of the alien’s planet. I couldn’t help but wonder why he resided on the surface when the Hail Mary orbited around the planet. Why didn’t he simply make his home on the ship and visit the surface as needed? Failed suspense of disbelief #3.
The ending was such a disappointment that it compelled me to write an alternate ending. Book club members liked it better but said it didn’t fit Weir’s style. Why? Because I made Grace’s ultimate mission, to save Planet Earth, fail and forced him to face a moral dilemma about the decision he made.
Although this selection failed to capture my imagination, it worked for a ton of other readers. Even though it was tagged as piggybacking off of The Martian, it didn’t matter to them. MGM has optioned the movie rights for the adaptation of the book starring Ryan Gosling in the title role.
Moving on, April’s selection is Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor. I’m hopeful since it’s a novella (only about 150 pages), and it doesn’t seem like it includes a lot of science. In fact, some readers question why it’s labeled as science fiction.
This month’s book club selection was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (195 pages, Goodreads). First published in 1953, this book was part of the curriculum of my college class, Intro to Science Fiction. It’s been a while since my initial reading.
The most striking aspect of this novel was the stylistic writing. Lots of fragmented sentences and figurative language are used, giving the narrative a rather abstract feel. Yet it wasn’t too weird like such writing can be. Just enough to make it poetic but not incomprehensible. Well, there were only a few places that I glossed over.
A few of my fellow clubbers felt the prose was too strange. It contradicted the hard science found in a lot of our selections. I appreciate their discontent. It’s the same way detailed scientific explanations cause me to lose interest in a story. So I get it; the writing style is not for everyone.
I listened to the audible version while I read along in the book. Tim Robbins was the narrator, and I nominate him for whatever award recognizes exceptional performances in this area. He brought the characters and the stylistic language to life. If you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend this version.
Another noticeable facet of this story was the seashell radio receivers used by Montag’s wife, Mildred. To think the rudimentary concept of earbuds as part of this dystopian world nearly seventy years ago is kind of spooky. Perhaps, the technology existed like headphones, but actual earbuds?
Finally, the social commentary that is the book’s notoriety. Again, the uncanny parallels to today’s world…burning (banning) books, the cancel culture, the powerful influence of the media, living life at 100 mph (beetle cars). It made me wonder if these paradoxes are humanity’s ying-yang. Its balance-counterbalance. The perpetual two sides of the coin. Hundreds of years from now, will readers look back at Fahrenheit 451 (or other works touching on such issues) and see similar analogies with their current culture? Does humanity need a constant push-and-pull, opposing forces to exist?
Hence, the thought-provoking power of this classic…
Up next, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (476 pages, hardcover). I admit that I’m not looking forward to this one. Artemis was a club selection last year, but I couldn’t get through it. Too much hard science and flat characters. For me, the protagonist was devoid of emotion, so I couldn’t connect with her. Also, I felt the pace a little slow. Almost weightless in a sense.
I was so lucky to have this class as a Humanities elective.
This month’s book club selection was Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky (549 pages, Goodreads). Published in 2021 by Orbit, it’s book one of two in the Final Architecture series.
In short, I liked it. I haven’t finished it yet, but I like it so far.
The best part for me was the created world. It’s so intricate and has such depth. The first topic of discussion at the meeting was the density of the book. Thankfully, the science is light. It’s more about the worlds on different planets and a myriad of factions in the galactic neighborhood. In fact, there are almost too many – ten planets, eight species, twenty-two characters including the eight crew members, and thirteen spaceships. I was only able to keep track of everything with the assistance of the reference guide at the back of the book. Some only had bit parts in the story, while others had more prominent roles. In general, good stuff. Though there might be too much exposition for some readers.
The action scenes are well written, and I could visualize the choreography. Unfortunately, they are starting to add up with three major fight scenes in the first 250 pages. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m not a fan of books, movies, and shows that move from one battle/fight scene to another. I lose interest in them almost as quickly as when the science is too complicated. They need to be well placed and judiciously used, and I think these rules apply to these scenes. Keeping my fingers crossed that the plot doesn’t include too many, especially because some scenes are very long.
SPOILER ALERT! At least, some of the ensemble cast don’t walk away from the fights unscathed. I mean, how unbelievable is it when characters engage in battle after battle with little or no physical impact? Even if they can regenerate, there should be some physical aftermath. The demise of the central characters was sad but refreshing. Also, I liked seeing the other characters adjust and carry on their mission afterward. Taking the helm per se.
The worst part about the book is it’s nearly 600 pages. Hence, I’m only halfway through the thirty chapters divvied up into five parts. As such, it seems like it took a lot of pages to get back to unraveling what happened at the beginning. SPOILER ALERT! First, the crew’s quarry, the Oumaru, isn’t introduced to the reader until Chapter Five. Finding this missing ship sets the story in motion. Then, a series of events happen, including the hijacking of the Vulcan God, towhich the Oumaru is tethered. Ten chapters later, the reader learns why the ship was stolen in the first place. The reason is related to the events presented in the first five chapters. Did you follow that?
One other observation – I’ve noticed some social commentary by the author here and there. In particular, during an argument between two characters, one doesn’t like the other’s species. That alone says a lot to me, but there’s more. I’ll let other readers make their own judgment about the underlying context of the character’s perspective of the other.
Overall, I like this story so far, and I promised myself that I would finish it. Like Dune, a second reading might be warranted to fully appreciate the splendor of it.
Up next, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (194 pages, Goodreads). A classic. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with the tale. It’s been a while since my last reading.
I’ll keep what kept my interest in the LOTR movies to myself. Though my preference is swords and horses rather than guns and fast cars.
Word choice is such an essential part of writing. It’s the difference between an awkward sentence and dialogue or a description that perfectly conveys the character’s emotion. I have a healthy respect for the power of them. Some of my self-imposed rules border the quirky, but I unabashedly own them.
Like do you think about when the pronouns I/me and we/us are used? I’m quite conscious about it, and I don’t mean in terms of singular or plural. When dealing with characters who don’t like each other very much but are forced to work together to save the world, I make sure that they avoid referring to themselves as we/us. Before they find common ground, they are only allowed to see the world around them in terms of themselves. They are still in the “me” stage. This difference seems like a small detail, but I think it’s an important distinction.
Another rule I use is picking words associated with the metaphor or scene setting. For example, at the beginning of The Venerable Dawn, the main characters are in an airport, waiting to board a flight. During this scene, I use an occasional aviation term. Lilith, the protagonist, tries to remember something from her training many years ago but struggles to recall specific details. She searches for them in the cargo hold or belly of the plane. When she readily remembers some things, I liken their holding place to the easily accessible overhead compartment. Naturally, such references are done with nuance and not overused.
I’m careful about the terms I use for descriptions. Not every reader knows the fancy names for various references. Most know what an oak tree looks like, but not necessarily a white ash. Or they might be familiar with a giant redwood, but not the term sequoia. Use too many obscure terms, and I think you risk losing the reader. Admittedly, the dictionary feature included with eBooks is great and helps build our vocabulary. Though using it too much can take the reader out of the story. My best practice is to keep it simple but not too elementary, a delicate balance.
Another quirky rule is when to use the terms top/bottom and first/last. I associate top/bottom as vertical and first/last as horizontal. Not always, but in general. I think it’s because I’m a visual person, and I have an overbearing sense of logic. Maddening at times, figuratively, of course.
At times, I tend to be a perfectionist, and the struggle with word choice is real. Sometimes, I agonize over the right one, spending far too much time looking for the elusive word. To remedy my fixation, I’ve learned to drop in the best word that I can think of at the time and highlight it for future consideration. I also add alternative choices as a side comment. Usually, the right word will come to me when I come back to it as part of my endless editing. And it’s a beautiful thing when it does. The difference between an unremarkable sentence and a work of art that stirs the emotions or moves the soul.
I wonder if any other writers are as meticulous as I am about word choice…
This month’s book club selection was Ringworld by Larry Niven (288 pages).
First published in 1970, it is indicative of the era for a couple of reasons.
Let’s start with the story and plot. Or lack thereof. The blurb sold the book as a tale about discovering an immensely large circular space ribbon constructed by builders of unknown origins. A motley crew consisting of two humans and two aliens set off to investigate. When their ship crash lands on the said ribbon, they trek across thousands of miles of the Ring’s surface. Based on this description, I expected a story to be about the crew’s adventures during their journey, and ultimately, the discovery of the builders and the Ring’s purpose. Unfortunately, it was anything but what I imagined.
I heard that Ringworld is considered a book of ideas and a conceptional exploration. It’s a fair description because it has little to no plot. There was no conflict or dramatic question raised. No events leading to the resolution or answer. While the worldbuilding kept my interest for a few chapters, I need action to keep me turning the page. And I’m not a big action-type reader either. I prefer mystery and intrigue blended with action.
Exploring the fantastic concepts such as those put forth by Niven must have been riveting for the mid-20th century readers. For this early 21st century bibliophile, the lack of plot left me feeling unsatisfied. I wondered about some of the concepts, but whole chapters dedicated to the scientific explanations weren’t compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. The reason why I only made it through Chapter 6 (page eighty-five).
Now the characters. Some in the group felt they were adequately developed. I was not one of them. Their stereotypes were created, but not their individualism. Nothing about their backstories made them unique. Hence, I was unable to sympathize and invest in them.
The aliens were very cartoonish to me. As a visual person, I struggled with their descriptions. They were challenging to follow, and I had to read them a couple of times before I got an image of them in my mind’s eye. On the other hand, most in the group liked them because their physical appearances were not conventional. I guess I prefer my aliens to be more literal, more humanoid.
The women characters were the most problematic, the universal consensus of the group and all the reviews I’ve read. First, Halrloprillalar Hotrufan (aka “Prill”) is a surviving member of the builders. She belongs to a guild devoted to providing sexual services, entertainment, and companionship. In other words, she’s a whore.
Teela Brown was the other female character, and her role was more prominent than Prill. At least in the first eighty-five pages anyway. As one might expect, she’s portrayed as naïve and witless. Besides being the mission’s lucky charm, her primary role is Louie Wu’s sex toy. If anything, I enjoyed her “luck” trait. She was bred for it, and it was the only magical, non-scientific element in the story. It got me thinking about what if a person possessed perpetual luck, good or bad. Perhaps, there’s a short story in my future.
Also, the female versions of the aliens are non-sentient. They’re non-responsive to or unconscious of sense impressions. Enough said about the sexist characterization of women in the book. For me, the take-away was how far women have come since then. 
It must resonate with some readers. It has over 100,000 Goodreads reviews. Almost 80,000, 4- or 5-stars and another 25,000, 3-stars. Plus, it won the Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, and Nebula awards. No doubt, this favorable rating is from diehard scifi fans who like a lot of hard science.
Let me know if you’ve read Ringworld and your impression of it. Share your good, bad, and ugly thoughts about it.
The next book selections are: February – Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2021, 592 pages) March – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953, 182 pages)
We’re still not quite on equal ground as men, but it shouldn’t get in the way of any determined woman getting what she wants. Just remember to pick your battles and use the magic of grace and dignity to accomplish your goals. There’s nothing wrong with closing a door and walking away. Nowadays, many open doors are around the corner. Go find them! 😉
Have you heard the advice: learn to write by reading? I think reading is a fundamental part of the apprenticeship. To my dismay, I fail this lesson far too often. Not because I don’t like reading. To the contrary, I love books and good storytelling.
My love of reading started in elementary school. I’d rather huddle under a shady tree with a good book than play with the other kids at recess. This hobby carried into my high school and college years. Though course material took precedence, I managed to do both at the same time by taking a lot of literature classes. Way too many Shakespeare courses, and my favorite, Intro to Science Fiction. I lived the dream, getting college credit for reading the classics by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and Herbert to name a few. Later in life, my interest shifted from speculative fiction to mysteries. Martha Grimes, Dick Francis and Sue Grafton.
When career and family dominate life, sacrifices must be made because we can’t do everything. For me, reading was one of the costs. Gone were the days of curling up with a good book all day on the weekends. Instead, it was relegated to when I went to bed. And that was a major fail. Two pages in, and I was in la-la land, dreaming my own fantastical tales.
Yet, I truly believe reading is essential to learning the craft. There is nothing like a well-written and compelling story to inspire my writing. While time isn’t as much of a hurdle now, it still influences my priorities. Once I grab hold of an idea, I become quite driven, and writing takes priority now. When I do read, a lot of the material is about the craft. My solution to overcoming my bad habit – join a book club.
I found an online SciFi group. The catch is I’m more of a fantasy reader than science fiction. I tend to gloss over the scientific explanations, missing essential facets of the story. The result is I don’t always finish the monthly selections. I give it 100 pages. If I struggle to get to this point, I’m out. My library card helps me save valuable space on my bookshelves for those works I genuinely love.
The unintended benefit is listening to the other readers’ perspectives. These people are avid readers and sci-fi fans. None are writers, but they are so well-read. I love hearing their thoughts about the books. In September, we read Dune, just in time for the movie release in October. I’ve been a huge fan of this classic for too many years to admit. But I heard the strangest viewpoints. Some that never crossed my mind, and in the right forum, I’d like to debate.
If you are like me and undisciplined about reading on a regular basis – join a book club. At the very least, you’ll get to hear what works and doesn’t work for devoted readers. Case in point – hard-core scifi fans don’t like any romance in their stories. Another reason I write fantasy.
BTW, I continue to struggle with the lullaby effect of reading at night. It has to be quite a compelling story for me to get through more than a chapter. Though it is the best cure for falling asleep after those 3am sessions, dumping the ideas flooding my mind into an email. Sweet dreams, friends.
Many try, but few succeed. Pick your battles; stick with what you value the most and give it your all.
One of my favorite parts of writing fiction is putting my characters in shocking situations. To make their worst nightmare come true or make the unthinkable happen. They are key moments in the story for the protagonist like when the main character realizes her father is the villain, and she must kill him to save the world. Or it becomes clear that his lover is leaving him for a woman. In either case, these realizations rock our characters’ world.
In my writing group, I’ve read about characters shattered by a revelation, and within a couple of paragraphs, they have accepted it as their new reality. Then, they move on to the next plot point without a second thought. This scenario guarantees a lengthy critique comment from me. Why? Because that’s not how it happens in real life.
When someone receives life-changing news, they move through the cycle of acceptance. Think about a person’s thought process when they receive a cancer diagnosis. Anyone who’s gotten such terrible news would tell you that it took them a while to process and accept it. Likewise, the stages of grief involve a little bit more than, “Oh no, that’s awful news. I can’t believe he’s gone. Wasn’t there anything the doctors could have done for him? Too bad, I’ll miss him.” A ridiculously simplistic example, but I’ve read some stories where it’s written in such manner.
In my current work-in-progress, a pivotal moment is when my protagonist’s destiny is authenticated. In the opening scene, her potential fate is suggested to her, but nothing is certain until her fate is validated. Throughout the next 20 pages, she gathers information and learns more about her preordained role. Dread starts to settle in because she wants nothing to do with this leadership role.
Finally, the moment of truth is upon her, and her destiny is authenticated. Her initial responses include shock in the form of a panic attack, and when she recovers, a vehement denial. At the end of the scene, she accepts the reality for a split second and asks her companion, “What happens now?” The total word count is about 600 words or about 3 pages.
In the next scene, she reverts to denial until she starts bargaining with herself. She starts to think of ways to avoid assuming this role and the consequences if she throws the challenge per se. Through internal discussion and soul searching, she resolves to get on with the ritual to assume power because it’s the only way to end the nightmare. Her hope is she will fail at some point, allowing her to return to a life of anonymity and solitude.
My protagonist cycles through the phases several times on different levels throughout the book. On a macro level, her character arc. Her transformation from one person to another includes working through the stages. Also, she works through a variation of the process each time she learns something about her past. Sometimes, she gets through the process quickly. Other times, it takes her more time to reach acceptance. It depends on the bombshell dropped on her, and there a few of them.
This approach is fundamental to my writing. I believe it adds depth to my characters when readers understand what they go through when the author puts them in challenging situations. In my protagonist’s case, the poor woman gets blindsided several times when she learns about the lies she’s been living. Showing her range of emotions helps endear her to the readers, and they become invested in what happens to her.
The takeaway for this post – put your character through the paces.
Self-editing. The angst of many writers. They are more comfortable and excited about writing their first draft where they can ignore grammar rules, setting descriptions, and other fundamentals of the craft. No need to worry about showing rather than telling, info-dumping, or using ly-adverbs (yes, I ignored the rule for this post). Just let the ideas flow and get them on paper, i.e., in a Word or Google doc.
All good for those types of writers. It works for many of them. Yet, editing is inevitable, whether traditionally or self-publishing. An agent or small press publisher might bite if the story is good, and the writing is polished. A clean manuscript minimizes their cost in terms of time and money. Good editing is even more important for the indie author. Their sales depend on clean copy. Many self-published books get 1- or 2-star ratings because the writing is poor.
In either case, some effort into self-editing goes a long way. It shows traditional industry professionals that you know the craft of writing. I heard one agent say she can help an author with materials like jacket covers, but she cannot teach someone how to write. Likewise, any good hired editor charges by the hour. A lot of redlining equals a lot of money.
Here’s an overview of my process for those who dread the process or those who don’t know where to start. There are a couple phases: a developmental edit and copyediting/proofreading.
First, a developmental edit of my own work begins with a macro-analysis. I’m a plotter, so my writing process starts with an outline, which evolves as the story unfolds. Yet even as a plotter, I still perform this review because it’s more than an outline. It’s creating what I call scene summaries, and there are four key elements in mine:
Purpose The reason for each scene. I answer several questions during this analysis. First and foremost, why is it important to the plot? What am I trying to accomplish with this scene? How does it add to the unfolding of the story? Is it necessary to devote an entire scene to it? Can I slip it into another scene?
Synopsis A summary of what happens in the scene. This step helps with pacing, and it’s related to the purpose. In general, it helps me to see if the scene’s intent is clear to the reader based on what happens in it. Did the action serve its purpose? Or was it too short or too long to carry out its mission? The same analysis is done with dialogue. Does the discussion between characters reveal what the reader needs to know? If anything, writing these synopses are great practice for when I have to write them for selling or marketing my book. Another tip I found helpful: a synopsis is written in present tense like a screenplay.
Character Arcs All of us know (or should know) that our protagonist’s is not the same person at the beginning and end of the story. They transform from one person to another as a result of what happened to them in the story. This step summarizes their journey, and I complete it for every significant character to ensure they are fully developed. I even document the purpose of the flat or expo characters.
Narrative Tension This aspect is defined differently by others. In my little writing universe, I describe it as “what keeps the reader turning the page.” It includes suspense, intrigue, and speculation in the form of questions raised, questions answered, and foreshadowing. I identify the carrots I’ve dangled in front of the reader. In addition, I note when details are given to the reader to make sure I leave no questions unanswered.
Another technique I use is more creative in a sense. It involves the use of color to identify various elements in my manuscript. Using different colors, I highlight backstory, worldbuilding, descriptions, and visceral/sensory reactions. In the end, I have a visual picture of how these important components are integrated into the story. A valuable tool for identifying too much or too little of a good thing.
Finally, copyediting and proofreading. The simplest way to check your grammar is to use an online tool. There are several options available, and they are usually free. These automated tools will not catch “everything,” and you don’t have to accept “every” recommended change. Like the program I use doesn’t like my fragmented sentences, but it does keep me honest about using them judiciously. If anything, I get a refresher on the rules because grammar should be second-nature to a writer.
My all-time favorite proofreading tool is the Read-Aloud function. It is a life-saver for me since my fingers can’t keep up with my mind. It catches the dreaded missing words. Likewise, it helps me with the cadence of my writing. Parts that don’t flow well or read awkwardly jump off the page when I hear them.
I used both of the tricks to edit and proof this post. I unabashedly admit that there were lots of redlines.
This process is mine and won’t work for everyone. I’m very detail-oriented and visual. For like-minded writers, they may already use some of these techniques or have other tricks of their own. For those who loath self-editing, perhaps, one or two of my methods will help them successfully conquer this necessary evil. Because self-editing is a fundamental part of commercial writing.
Recently, I’ve been looking for guidance about writing short stories. Why? Because short stories are recommended for new fiction writers, and I’m new to fiction writing. They help us hone our skills before delving into the complex work of writing a novel. Practice makes perfect. Mistakes can be made without wasting a lot of time because writing is an investment of time. Staying true to my nature, I ignored this advice and dove head-first into a novel. I might be setting myself up for failure, but I feel have nothing to lose at this point.
So if I’m not creating short stories to practice the craft, why am I interested in learning about writing them? Simply said, to make money. According to some sources, making money selling short stories might be as improbable as a new writer tackling a novel. The trade-off is the loss of time spent on my book. But at least, I’ll be practicing my craft using the recommended approach. A win-win from my point of view. And if I’m lucky, I’ll make a few bucks, too.
During my quest to educate myself, I happened upon a book about the subject. The Write Practice Presents:Let’s Write a Short Story! by Joe Bunting. It contains a lot of great content about writing short stories and selling them, too. While I highly recommend this resource, this post is not a book review. It is about something I learned about my own writing during this exploration.
My ah-ha moment occurred while reading a segment about the literary techniques used for award-winning stories. Namely, Pulitzer and Nobel award-winning pieces. Now I am not a literary writer by any stretch of the imagination. My genre of choice is speculative fiction, urban/contemporary fantasies in particular. The style of this genre tends to be edgy; some have a noir feel to them. But my style is more characteristic of literary writing.
Let’s start with a list of the techniques cited:
1. Using long sentences 2. Using short sentences 3. Lyrical prose 4. Making an allusion 5. Using an eponym for character names 6. Be specific 7. A story within a story 8. A wide scope
Using Long Sentences Whether it’s technical or fiction writing, I tend to write long compound sentences. Here’s an example of my writing:
Holding her Celtic cross necklace in the palm of my hand, I whispered a few verses of her favorite song, “Vincent,” into it and told her to wear it tonight to keep my spirit near her heart.
My sentences aren’t too long. The above example is only thirty-seven words, which is about average for my long sentences. Eleven words less than Cormac McCarthy’s forty-eight-word sentence cited in the book. Neither of them even close to the Tim O’Brien’s seventy-seven word cited example.
Another difference is both book samples are full of conjunctions whereas I rarely use more than one in my long sentences. Also, they disregard the punctuation rules whereas I’m a stickler about it, even if it’s first draft. I know it’s a fault, but I unabashedly own it.
Using Short Sentences One of my favorite techniques is punctuating my long sentences with short sentences. It’s so satisfying.
Twilight cast brilliant shades of yellow and orange bleeding into red, purple, and deep blue upon the horizon as we cruised over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the gateway to our destination, Sullivan’s Island. Red brake lights flashed intermittently.
They are great at grabbing the readers’ attention after a series of compound sentences or long run-on sentences, full of conjunctions.
Lyrical Prose My style has a lyrical quality:
A warm summer breeze scented with the sweet fragrance of nearby lilac blossoms caressed my skin. My grandpa sat next to me. With each gentle rise and fall of the swing, his voice grew stronger and louder, drowning out the static noise ringing in my ears.
I hit the jackpot with this example of my writing. It includes a long, a medium and a short sentence. More importantly, it has quite a rhythmic flow to it. I used it as my illustration because several critique partners commented on its quality. In particular, they noted my descriptive language which I think is characteristic of fantasy writing. But not so much for urban fantasies like my story. Descriptions in this genre are more straightforward, not too fluffy or willowy.
Making an allusion This term was new to me; I had not heard of it before I read this book. It involves making a reference to another literary work by using an image, a character, or even a direct quote. Most readers won’t recognize when an allusion is made, but it’s exciting for those who “get it.” It adds depth to their reading experience and makes them feel like they connect with the author on a different level.
Technically, I don’t make allusions. Instead, I pepper a lot of symbolism throughout my story. For example, the theme of my story is new beginnings, and I refer to birch trees whenever possible as they are symbolic of new beginnings. A grove of trees is described as a grove of birch trees. A character throws a couple more birch logs onto the fire. Another character makes a cup of tea with Chaga mushroom, which grows on birch trees. Most readers will miss these subtle details, but they will be really cool for the reader who picks up on them.
Using an eponym for character names Eponym, another literary term I was unfamiliar with, but its definition is simple. It means naming a character after someone famous in some manner. Oddly enough, I was very deliberate when I bestowed my characters with their names. I wanted them to have significance and mean something to the reader. Some of the names I use are Lilith, Sam, Darcy, and Damion. They are a bit cliché, but again, I proudly own it. Other names include a nod to King Arthur and Magnum PI.
I suspect I’m not unlike my peers when it comes to character names. They are something most writers are thoughtful about. If you’re a writer and haven’t thought about the role of your characters’ names, you might to think about them. On a side note, rethink using names that are difficult to pronounce. While they add nuance to your story, they can distract your readers, too.
Be specific This technique means not speaking in generalizations, and I associate it with the artful use of descriptions. Based on examples in the book, literary writers describe blue birds as blue jays and red birds as cardinals. Or the wind whipped the willow’s branches rather than the tree branches.
If one thing is consistent in my young writing career, it is my descriptions. I’m a very descriptive writer, and critique partners either love them or hate them.
A story within a story I’m not sure if my story within a story is comparable to this literary technique. Simply put, it means one character tells a story to another character. An example used in the book was from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina is a play performed for a drunkard who’s made to think he is a nobleman. A little bit of a complicated illustration of the concept, but nonetheless, illustrative.
My story involves a legend about the demise of former rulers. Throughout the tale, details about the legend are revealed, which impact the plot. To me, this scenario seems like a story within a story. In fact, a lot about my Book 2 is included in Book 1.
A wide scope The scope of most literary novels is national or international, meaning they are set in times of war like Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Toll set during the Spanish Civil War. Or other notable time periods like TheGreat Gatsby’s portrayal of the Roaring 20s.
The setting of my story is contemporary, but the legend mentioned above is rooted in the early 19th century England. A time of transition between the Georgian and Victoria eras. The culture and practices of these eras are interwoven throughout my novel. Another technicality where my setting doesn’t quite fit the definition. Yet there is a presence of a historical time period.
Literary writing is about experimental styles and breaking the rules. I’m certainly not an Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, or Cormac McCarthy. But I think I’m breaking the rules of my chosen genre by using some of the same literary techniques used by them.
More importantly, I didn’t intentionally apply these techniques; they came naturally to me which continues surprise me. It proves we learn about ourselves as we seek knowledge. The take-way is never stop learning, make it hobby.
Let me start by thanking you for your thoughtful feedback about my recent submission. It’s apparent you spent a considerable amount of time on it.
First, I hope my effort to provide a good clean copy for your review didn’t go unnoticed. I don’t believe in submitting a first draft because it inevitably includes more telling than showing, the dreaded info-dumping and careless grammar mistakes. I don’t want these obvious issues to hinder your review. I want you to focus your expertise on the story elements like plot, characters, dialogue, and worldbuilding. I think I accomplished this goal as most of your comments are related to what I’m looking for.
I noticed several of your comments were tagged “it’s only my opinion” and “it’s your story.” Yes, it is my story, and I want your opinion. I want to know what you learned about the world in which my story takes place in. Do you understand their culture and customs? Their magic system? Do my characters have depth, their own voice? Do you know what they look like? Do you care? Are my descriptions flat? Or over-the-top and distracting? In your opinion, what do you think about the pacing, dialogue, the rhythm and flow of the prose? Was there enough tension? So please, please give me your opinion.
Where you commented you couldn’t remember or recall certain details, I understand. There are gaps in time between the review of chapters. I have the same problem at times. But being a hoarder pays off when it happens to me. I think I have every critique I’ve ever written. The hardest part about looking to see if I missed something is the time it takes to find the right submission. Most of the time, it’s my forgetfulness. If it’s not, I let the writer know to make the detail in question more memorable.
Another favorite comment of mine is “I’m not very good at explaining myself.” I’m sure you’ve gotten it a time or two yourself. I struggle with this remark because we’re writers. Describing a character’s thoughts, their emotions, and actions, and the settings are the essence of our work. So, shouldn’t we be able to convey our thoughts in a critique? I know it can take some time to find the right words to express ourselves, but take whatever time you need to voice your impression. Otherwise, don’t make the comment if you can’t explain it. Right?
Many thanks for a couple of your suggestions. One of them triggered an ah-ha moment about how to fix a pacing problem that’s been testing my patience. Another inspired me to approach the description of a scene from a different angle. The result was a black and white noir-type setting. Escorted by the detective, the protag trudged down the shady hallway in a surreal daze. Nondescript gray walls, gray doors, gray linoleum. The dim overhead lights cast shadows as they marched towards their destination. The morgue. White walls, shiny white floor, bright lights, and the stark reality. A truly wonderful writing experience for me. Thank you so much for the inspiration.
Oh, and by the way, my main character is a woman, not a man. Just want to make sure you knew since you used the masculine pronoun “he” throughout your review.
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The above post is my cynical look at the critique process. It is a vital part of writing, and I honestly appreciate and enjoy the feedback I receive. But at times, I question its authenticity. Yes, we are reminded to take critique comments “with a grain of salt”, which literally means to not take something literally, but to view it with skepticism.What’s the point of the critique then?