0

How can I smooth the transitions in this text? I feel like the POVs are changed quite a lot which makes it fairly confusing for readers to understand.

To elucidate your points, please feel free to criticize the attached piece. I'm looking to learn some strategies that I can employ to refine an amateur's writing.

If you do find any other points of concern, please bring them up! I'm trying to learn the various parameters on which I must judge writing.

Thanks!

Piece:

Even years upon years of numerous failed attempts hadn’t taken away its childlike astonishment. The sheer enormity of the endless void is something her fickle mind cannot even begin to fathom. It just stood awestruck, hands clutching the windows as it beheld the wondrous sight, as though for the first time. Brilliant flecks of light spotted the ink blank expanse, illuminating it in a host of vibrant hues. It imagined that the very fabric that wove the universe together was the canvas of a meticulous craftsman: its people called him God. The pictures and lore it had heard of were incomparable to the stunning magnificence of the ethereal sight.

Report of specimen AX382’s final attempt: The vehicle grinds to a halt. The specimen seems to have decided to discover the confines of its vehicle. Its face is obscured beneath a veil of glass; its body encased in a bulky suit laden with contraptions. A tether anchors it to the vehicle, perhaps a as precautionary measure. Our calculations have determined that its present location is highly precarious. One might assert that the specimen is most certainly unaware of the impending dangers or lacks the technological expertise to foresee it. In contradiction, the specimen has previously proven its tact by evading fatal situations. We conclude that this region has been deliberately chosen by it. Estimated time to event: 120 seconds.

A dazzling bolt of white-hot energy obliterates her defenseless form. Her limbs flail and writhe for mere instants before crumbling to ash, scattering across the cosmos. Finally unshackled, she roamed the skies that she had so long yearned to. The resounding sound of silence that followed is the music in which her spirit shall be preserved for evermore.

  • Can I just clarify your goal: Are you looking to find out how to critique texts or are you looking for tips on how to improve your own writing? – S. Mitchell Apr 10 at 17:42
  • Welcome to Writing.SE! We don't do writing critiques here, I'm afraid, but "how do I critique someone else's writing" should be on-topic. Feel free to take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site and what we do here. – F1Krazy Apr 10 at 17:47
  • @S.Mitchell - I'm looking for a little bit of both actually- I'd like to see people give criteria for criticizing a text. If they cited examples from the text provided, it would help me understand the criticism better. – pard Apr 10 at 17:47
  • @F1Krazy Hey! I've altered the question now so that it's a little more relevant. Is this acceptable? – pard Apr 10 at 17:58
  • Very similar: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/6533/… – Cyn Apr 10 at 18:21
8

The main thing to remember about critiquing somebody's writing is to not critique the person. What the piece is about is not a topic for criticism; what you think it says about the person that wrote it is not a topic for criticism. If they write something dark and depressing, a writing critic must assume that this is the intended effect and critique it on that basis; how effective is it as a dark and depressing piece? Are there parts that seem out of place? Has it strayed into comic-black?

If what they write is erotically explicit homosexuality, presume that is their intended effect; it doesn't mean they are homosexual or horny. Even if they are, you aren't there to critique their life choices! You are there to critique whether their writing is effective.

Don't confuse what is written with the content or character of a person. If that is difficult (e.g. I couldn't fairly critique a racist creed) then put it down and say you cannot fairly critique the work.

That said, what you are looking for is, at minimum, the basics. Plurals and pronouns that agree, enough grammar so sentences are not confusing. You are looking for literary cul-de-sacs that did not add anything. An overuse of superlatives.

Writing that says pretty much the same thing multiple times for emphasis; e.g. "a big, huge, giant man." The same thing can be done with sentences: "I was confused. I didn't understand. I couldn't comprehend it." That is bad writing; in both cases you want something more concrete, a comparison or simile or metaphor, a more detailed description. Repetition means the writer is trying to emphasize something, or get a point across, and hasn't yet found words to convey that completely (so they try from multiple directions).

You are looking for pacing: What is the mood of the piece, and do the sentences and description fit it? If we are describing a battle, long drawn out sentences make it seem like a lazy battle. In battle things happen fast, so sentences should be short and sparse on adjectives and metaphors, to make it seem like things are moving quickly. If you are describing a person at rest watching the sun set, the sentences should NOT be short and fast, the description should be expansive, reflecting their contemplative thoughts.

You are looking for verisimilitude. When everything else is correct, do the characters seem realistic? Do their thoughts, actions and words let you sustain your reading immersion, or do they yank you out of it?

The same could be said for prose; if a piece is medieval fantasy, then saying something is going "a hundred miles an hour" is out of place. "Miles per hour" in general, much less 100 mph, is out of place in a medieval mindset.

Beginning writers may have a tendency toward ignoring refractory or recovery periods; people don't go from angry with each other, to happy with each other, in a minute or two. Strong emotions, particularly negative ones, take time to get over.

A great deal depends on the level of the writer you are critiquing; if they are a beginner, stick to basics, like "show don't tell", and getting the spelling and grammar right, and making the piece less confusing. On the border, verisimilitude.

If the technical aspects are good, then step up. Look for the fine differences in word choice and connotations of the words chosen: did they pick the perfect word? Look at the pacing and atmosphere of the piece, whether transitions are smooth. Whether scenes have a beginning/middle/clear end. If questions are raised in your mind that deserve answers. Is the writing "tight", packing punch in a few words, or is it too loose, using more words than it needs?

When it comes to description, what is missing? Not every sense needs to be described; we don't have to tick off all of them. But are we missing color when we could have described it? Are we missing sounds that should be there? How about the temperature, the humidity, and what it feels like? In most descriptions we only want to read about two or three elements, not a long list. But it should not be the SAME two or three senses every time. (I saw this, I heard that. I saw this, I heard that.)

It is easy to forget that characters have bodies and bodies feel things. Discomforts, like hunger or thirst or tired legs. Warmth from the sun. Pain in the face from a frigid wind, aching fingers from the cold.

Seeing what is missing can be a real service to the writer.

  • 1
    "getting the spelling and grammar write", was this error intentional to make a point with the irony? – Artsoccer Apr 11 at 16:32
  • Artsoccer: Ha! No, I admit it was not. A hilarious true error. Corrected, but I gave you credit in my "reason for edit." – Amadeus Apr 11 at 16:38
  • 1
    This is really true and important. When I was in a poetry class, one of the most disheartening things someone said was, "the ending should be happier". Given that the poem was about one of the low points in my life, it wasn't exactly a helpful or even positive critique. You never know the inspiration behind the piece, and should never assume that the piece is randomly dark, giddy, etc. – N. Dosker Apr 11 at 22:21
1

The first thing I would do would be to remove unnecessary words. Without over trimming, try to make the sentences more manageable. For example:

"Even years upon years of numerous failed attempts hadn’t taken away its childlike astonishment. The sheer enormity of the endless void is something her fickle mind cannot even begin to fathom. It just stood awestruck, hands clutching the windows as it beheld the wondrous sight, as though for the first time."

Could be edited to read:

"Years upon years of failed attempts hadn't taken away its child like astonishment. The enormity of the endless void is something her fickle mind cannot begin to fathom. It stood there, awestruck, hands clutching the windows as it beheld the wondrous sight, as though for the first time."

I would also ask the author if there is anything he/she wants you to look out for. As a writer, I am aware of some of my bad habits, so I would ask a beta reader to keep an eye out for those.

After that I would apply everything @Amadeus mentioned.

1

How to critique a piece depends on what stage the writer is in the process and what they are looking for.

If this is a back and forth exchange with someone I've never worked with before, the first thing I look for is obvious grammar and spelling errors in the very beginning. For example, in this piece the second sentence is in present tense while the rest is in past tense. I'll say it looks good in general, point out the most obvious issues I found, and ask if that's the kind of feedback they are looking for. This is a way of establishing how much I know about editing, how much they know about writing, and if they really want feedback after all.

If they want general feedback on structure, I'll do a full read-through and try to understand what the general plot and setting of the story are. Can I figure out what is going on? Does the story make sense? Are there obvious plot holes? Are there large sections where I am incredibly bored? For example, in the first paragraph of this story it's not clear to me who "it" and "she" are, and I never really figure it out. Are they the same thing? Who or what is observing them? In this example the root cause is still a grammar issue, but it makes everything very hard to interpret and therefore hard for me to figure out what else needs to improve.

If they want more specific feedback on what works and what doesn't, I'll look for specific places where the flow is poor, or the descriptions could be improved. Does the action flow quickly? Do the intermediate scenes feel rushed? Are the characters believable? Is the writing repetitive? In this piece the PoV seems to jump from the entity to a scientist and back with no clear explanation. That's the root cause of the jarring paragraph transitions. For a short piece I would stick to one PoV.

If the piece goes through multiple edits, eventually I'll do a through pass of spelling/grammar.

The most important point of any critique is suggestions of how to improve. Amateurs especially may need explanations of common terms you don't expect, as well as why certain issues need fixing. For example, jumping between different points of view frequently is bad because it may confuse the reader.

A good critique also points out what the writer is doing well. This is particularly important if the best part of the piece still needs work, so the author doesn't lose sight of what makes the work great. Even if there are clearly separate good and bad parts, positive reinforcement is still important for amateur writers. This piece does a really good job of making the alien feel alien.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.