Saturday, June 22, 2013


I was asked to critique a story the other day. By the time I'd covered like half a dozen pages, I'd come to the conclusion that this author might need a little help. I know full well that the way I write, and the way I tell a story is only one of probably as many ways as there are writers, but I also know that readers have been inundated with less than good books. Not that there's anything wrong with the story, but that the writer rushed to publish before learning as much as they could about the craft.

I did not study writing in any of my schooling. My attitude toward schooling was to endure a necessary evil, and when I got to college, it was a means to an end, but the end was taken away so it became a search for some way to make a living. So much for college - I joined the army. What I've learned about writing, I've gleaned only since being online. I avidly followed several bloggers who I considered knowledgeable. I learned my particular weaknesses and found the answers on how best to correct them.

Because I found it so easy (relatively) to educate myself, I would like to pass on what I learned. I mean, even educated writers might have many of my same weaknesses, and it's really hard to see your own mistakes, and I'm not talking about typos, though they can be sneaky enough.

What does all this have to do with heavy-handedness? Many readers form an opinion of a book (and by association, the writer) within the first few pages, if not the first few lines. If you tell the reader all the tricks of the story in the very first paragraph, what's the point of writing the rest of the story?

Many stories start out with a bang. The big scene that sets the stage for the whole story, and then they go to some point in the past and take the reader to that point throughout the rest of the book. Though not really my thing, I've read some fine big-bang starts and have enjoyed the rest of the book, but in truth, I've taken a look at many more that were what I consider heavy-handed. In the first paragraph you know the crime, the perpetrator, and the reason. So-n-so didn't want to do such-n-such, but he just had to because of thus-n-so.

This particular writer that prompted this post then proceeded in a logical step to the police who would be investigating this crime, and informed us that they were incompetent. Okay so they were the only police force in the area, and maybe they were complete dufuses, there's nothing wrong with that concept, but the last thing you want to do is tell your reader that fact up front. After that, I wasn't willing to go any further, and since it was a 'test critique' issue, I said there mostly what I've said here.

This all took place in a Facebook group I'd been invited to. They were struggling to gather reviewers to post reviews on books, and I think they were planning to start a web page to assemble them. The reviewers weren't to know who the writer was so there could be no bias. In a way I can understand the caution, but I think the precaution was a little much.

There's another issue I read on another blog I follow bringing up the idea of how it might not be such a good idea for a writer to write reviews on books. The meaning, and I can see it, was that another writer knows or can guess at all the behind-the-scenes issues that go into a story. The end result could very well be the writer being the heavy-handed one.

Am I being too heavy-handed in my different reviews? I have always said that my reviews would be from a writer's perspective, and I especially point out issues that just hit off wrong with me, be it some sort of structure, formatting, or even blatant 'telling' rather than 'showing'. These are all issues I went to great lengths to figure out.

I have also believed in treating the entire manuscript as a whole document, I mean why polish only the first three chapters to impress an agent or publisher and then leave the rest of the document to the mercy of their editor? Such a strategy only leaves your book sounding as if it was written by two different writers. (Yes, I've read some books like that too, surprisingly enough) Besides, if you can polish the first three chapters, you can polish the whole thing.

Yeah, I know the feeling of impatience, but at my age I don't have the time nor inclination to collect rejection letters. I just want to do my level best, and believe me, I am my own worst critic when it comes to such things as appearance, structure, ease of read, and logic, and it is this that I apply to the books I read.


Willow Drake said...

Excellent post!!

William Kendall said...

It happens with writers who are too quick to move forward without being ready, too impatient, and they won't listen to advice to slow down.