Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wordsmith at Work: Sample Critique Process

To give you all a break from the military strategy being discussed, I thought I would provide a short example of one of my critiques. This exchange was conducted in real time with my friend Micosil from DeviantArt on his story Deathbound.

(Note: Deathbound was written in ten minutes at four in the morning and I didn't exactly do a full edit. For a real sample of Micosil’s talent, I would read the short story Solitude, which, unlike Deathbound, does not need a few more chapters that will never be written to be fully understood.)

Wordsmith: As I said, that is the worst first sentence I've ever read from you.
Micosil: Why, and how'd you fix it?

I tend to be a horribly awfully evil proofreader. For a paying customer, I will write a critique and then edit it so that I’m not being excessively evil, but rather offering helpful, creative advice to build his confidence and self-knowledge.

For my best friend whose work I am editing because it’s fun and I want to? He gets the full brunt of my cruelty. But that’s not what I want to draw attention to- rather, I would like to point out his response. Not offended or hurt, not necessarily agreeing with me, but asking why I think that and how to improve. That’s what I like to hear!

Wordsmith: It goes on and on and on and I forgot what was happening three times in the sentence alone.

The original sentence: Blood pooled, dripping slowly on the ground around the walker's boots from the corpse he carried with one hand, proving his immense strength to anyone who would be watching – in this case, the dead man's companions, surrounding him in mixed awe and fear.

Wordsmith (with commentary): "Blood pooled, [ok, that's good, nice hook] dripping slowly on the ground around the walker's ["the walker" makes me go what walker? Also, that's an awful appellation, to name him after what he's doing. Gah.] boots from the corpse [another "the". The makes me expect to have already been introduced to this character] he carried with one hand, [END IT PLEASE] proving his immense strength [DUH. He's carrying a corpse with one hand, WHY do you have to explicitly state it?!?!] to anyone who would be watching [me, the poor, suffering reader]- in this case, the dead man's companions, surrounding him in mixed awe and fear. [You're telling again, not showing. Not to mention, he clearly just killed their friend, "awe" is the last emotion I expect them to be showing.]"

The lesson to be gained here is, first and foremost, I talk a lot. But you already knew that. Second, even I like to use all-caps sometimes, even though I don’t use them in this blog. Shouting at your best friend is fine: shouting at your readers is not. Knowing your audience is key.

Wordsmith: I would, for starters, break it up into multiple sentences. At least two, possibly three or four.
Micosil: Awe fits, your expectations are irrelevant.
Micosil: Ever heard of "Shock & awe"?
Wordsmith: It so does not fit.

We then had a long argument about whether or not “awe” was an appropriate emotion for these people to show. It ended up being irrelevant anyway because we totally changed that first paragraph. I’ve spared you all but the important part:

Micosil: Then you've always been wrong.
Wordsmith: Quit arguing with the editor.
Micosil: Nope. You're a proofreader, that doesn't mean you're right all the time.

I have very definite opinions. I also have a little bit of talent and a lot of experience. However, that doesn't mean I’m always right. Stand up for yourself. If you think you’re right and I’m wrong, say so. But…

Wordsmith: Also, he went from being the "walker" to being the axeman and then the warrior. Pick one. I like axeman.
Wordsmith: I know! The very first time, you could just say "his."
Micosil: That's a horrible idea!
Micosil: Using a pronoun to refer to someone that hasn't even been introduced…
Wordsmith: Pah. You'll introduce him with the pronoun.
Wordsmith: "Blood pooled, dripping slowly on the ground around his boots from the corpse he carried with one hand. The immense mountain of a man [or whatever description] hoisted a black double-bladed axe in his other hand, the great weight seeming not to trouble him in the least."
Wordsmith: Bam. Introduced. Focus very sharp and clear on the man.
Micosil: Darn it why does it sound so good…
Micosil: Okay, I'm sold.

… I do tend to know what I'm talking about, so at least consider my opinions.

There is more, of course, but this blog post is too long already, so I'll conclude with a question. Namely, what do you learn when you edit (either your own work or other's)?

Word of the Day: Appellation (noun): An identifying name or title, or the archaic usage, "the act of calling by a name". Use an archaic word today!

Wordsmith at Work: ADHD enough to claim it as play.


  1. I learn what I value in a good story. It's too easy to forget while you're writing one, but it's fun to discover when you're editing one.

    1. That's a good point, Carl. Thanks. :)