I Can Has Feedback?

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I Can Has Feedback?

Post  Seth Ruggeri on Tue Jun 15, 2010 10:46 am

I'm going to shamelessly rip the "critique my writing and give me feedback" style of thread that Ethan and Samuel have used. If you would all be so kind, I'd like some constructive criticism on my writing on the site thus far. Let me know what you like about it, if anything, and what you absolutely despise about it. If you'd rather, you can PM your thoughts.

"Four Gods wait on the windowsill
Where once eight Gods did war and will
And if the Gods themselves may die
What does that say for you and I?"
Seth Ruggeri
Phantom of the Badlands

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Re: I Can Has Feedback?

Post  Mr. Pearse on Sun Jun 20, 2010 10:13 pm

Unfortunately, the joy of ignoring your many requests for me to post on this thread has gradually diminished, while the tug of my literary duty has grown ever more insistent. So yes, you can has feedback.

I'll divide my critique into three points, because numbered lists are attractive.

1. Overlong Voice - Like most all of us, you tend to draw out your sentences. That's not bad per se (and if I said it were, I'd definitely be calling the kettle black). The important thing isn't keeping your sentences short - the important thing is keeping your sentences varied. Varying phrases and avoiding awkward compound constructions lets you "set off" your most important points by restricting them to simple sentences.

A good example can be found in the opening paragraph of your most recent post:

"(S1)Seth continues to follow his latest acquaintance through the ravaged streets of Little Bethlehem. (S2)With each step forward, the man continues to display signs of duress and stress on his injured frame, and yet makes no mention of his pain. (S3)Some unease about the man still remains in the back of Seth’s mind, however in his current state he could hardly be considered much of a threat. (S4)Thus far, the man has least been willing to help the Italian and his family, despite being in need of aid himself."

While you opened with a good simple sentence, things deteriorate after that. S2 starts dangerously (very easy to mess up a sentence starting with "with"), and cutting it into three pieces doesn't help. S3's use of "however" is problematic, and it would have been better to use S2's "yet" here. Ignoring the omission of "at" in S4, the other major problem is leaving "despite being in need of aid himself" off on the end. For me, that sentence was briefly confusing, and not a very good way to end a paragraph.

An example of what I think would be better, trying as best to retain your meaning:

"Seth continues to follow his latest acquaintance through the ravaged streets of Little Bethlehem. Despite signs of duress and stress in Claude’s injured frame, the man makes no mention of his pain. And although unease still lingers in the back of Seth's mind, he tries his best to ignore it. After all, the stranger’s generosity has given Seth no reason to be suspicious - and if worst comes to worst, the man looks too drained to pose much of a threat anyway.”

Phrasing is less awkward this way. There are still too many sentence starters (“despite,” “after all,” “although”) but there was no way to avoid them while still communicating everything you did in your version. One other thing to point out is that I used Claude’s name even though you haven’t met him yet. Given your limited number of labels (“the man,” “the acquaintance,” “the stranger”), your wording sounds too contrived if you ignore your subject’s proper name, even though I can understand the reasons for doing so.

2. Bombastical and Fantastical Vocabulary – Although I still have the occasional penchant for diarrhea of the mouth, I use fewer descriptive words than I did back in the ToP glory days. Consequently, I am also a better writer today than I was back then. Adjectives and adverbs are wonderful for setting a scene (and unless you’re Hemmingway, you do need to use them), but there’s a fine line between descriptive and pompous. An example, again from your most recent post:

“While much of the exterior and ground floor of the building were now nothing more than splintered hunks of ashen hued wood, the foundation seems to be intact.”

You told us a little too much about the building material. Stacking adjectives, especially in a “___ of ___” style-construction is not a good idea. Besides, the color of the material is superfolous and (in my mind) not very evocative anyway. “Shattered planks of wood” or “shattered timbers” would convey the exact same point more succinctly.

One more:

“The burns on the girl’s body still contained a considerable amount of heat.

Here is another vocabulary issue, although not one related to overloading your phrases (perfectly reasonable to attach an adjective to “heat” here). The problem is that you turn a fairly heart-wrenching moment (Moira is FUCKED UP!!!) into a boring and sterile assessment of her medical condition. “Considerable” is not a very exciting word, and it sounds almost silly used in this context. Why not go for a little flair, telling readers that, “even hours after the blast, Moira’s wounds were hot to the touch,” or even better, find a way to incorporate descriptors like “furnace,” “oven,” and “scalding?” This issue of detached and lukewarm word choice haunts many of your posts on this site, and you can fix it by being more passionate – and less of a professor.

3. Dialogue Say “Whaaaat” – This final point bears only an example, and (very positively) I can’t pull it from your most recent post. Instead, I need to hearken back to the cultist thread.

“’Mr. Levi, it is in your best interest not to pry into matters beyond your comprehension. If master Jeremiah says that a demon possessed his father, then who are we to doubt his word? It’s not hard to believe that a tainted, hell wrought soul could have found its way into the earthly vessel of our former leader. The old master was quite fraught with illness so even he would have found it difficult to fight against the cunning wiles of one of the Dark Lord’s spawn. We should be thankful that Master Jeremiah was there to stop the demon from spreading it’s vile machinations amongst our people. That would have been quite a terrible tragedy indeed, wouldn’t it Jack?’

Jack Levi swallows hard before stammering a reply. ‘Ye…yee…yes it w…wo…would have.’”

Ignoring content entirely, this is not a good way to write dialogue. 120 words of continuous speaking is boring, and you run the risk of casting your characters as mouthpieces rather than human beings. Ideally, you would have communicated this same sentiment in a more conversational form. Were that not possible, you should have made this speech a true monologue, occasionally interrupting the speech to describe Jack Levi’s reaction and your own character’s expression. Furthermore, these breaks would give you the opportunity to sort the speech into multiple paragraphs. Dialogue should be in short paragraphs! My average paragraph length on this site has been around 70 words, and my average dialogue paragraph length has been well less than 40.

Those are some of my thoughts on your stylistic and mechanistic challenges. I’ll leave it to others to critique any issues you may have with content and actual characterization. As a final note, I’d also strongly suggest you switch tenses. Given this site’s increased post length and sophistication, writing in the present tense looks a bit hokey, particularly since everyone else now casts their actions in the past tense.

You do many things right, and if I didn’t mention it here, I probably don’t have a problem with it. That said, I usually perceive “critique” synonymous with “criticism.” I believe that if you’re truly doing something right, you don’t need other people to tell you what you know anyhow!
Mr. Pearse
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Re: I Can Has Feedback?

Post  Ethan Ramey on Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:35 pm

Seth Ruggeri wrote:Seth rummages through various cabinets and desk drawers in search of medical supplies and vittles. After a few minutes, he comes across a small medical chest with a variety of tonics, medicine, gauze and bandages. Taking the chest over to the bed, Seth prepares to clean Moira’s wounds. While his medical knowledge is inferior to that of a trained physician, Seth’s time spent in the war provided him with the opportunity to learn about different medicinal techniques and method for treating wounds. The burns on the girl’s body still contained a considerable amount of heat. Seth gingerly applies different salves from the chest on the wounds and binds them in gauze in hopes of preventing further infection.

I'll use this recent entry as a bit of a jumping off point. I'll also be upfront and say that there are quite a few things that keep your writing from drawing me in like some does, but that they're almost all correctible with just a little bit of effort.

Exposition. Like shit, it happens. But the best writers avoid it if they can, and disguise it when they can't. It is possible to write expositive entries without the reader realizing that they're being handed a ton of information that doesn't immediately pertain to the story, but is necessary context to understand it. One of the final chapters in the seventh Harry Potter book is almost entirely exposition, and I'll be damned if anyone ever stops and realizes that because they're so riveted.

The reason I chose this particular paragraph is because of the fourth sentence, which I'll quote alone for easy reference:

Seth Ruggeri wrote:While his medical knowledge is inferior to that of a trained physician, Seth’s time spent in the war provided him with the opportunity to learn about different medicinal techniques and method for treating wounds.

It would be much easier to disguise this in a bit of dialogue and instantly making it more intriguing. Instead, it reads like an uninteresting factoid from a history textbook, instantly pulling the reader out of story-mode and putting them into rebellion-against-learning-mode.

This simple idea can be applied to the majority of your writing. In the post that the above paragraph was plugged from, you tend to state things simply and directly, with colorful albeit not-very-original adjectives. You take a good chunk of time to describe some fairly small actions, and while not necessarily a bad thing, it reads like an informative document rather than fiction writing. You simply throw information upon information upon information at the reader, but it's not all necessary.

Now the easy fix? More character. When you break down the information, Seth Ruggeri is in there. He's an interesting man with an an easy-to-get-affixed-to name, and he's dealing with some potentially heartbreaking and terrifying circumstances. But you don't give us his impression of the events around us, nor does that impression directly or indirectly effect your writing. You tell us about the wood and the rooms and the buildings and the arms and the legs, but where the fuck are the people? You're telling me about all of the things that directly impact them, but they're barely present.

Color up your writing some. In fact, take a hint from Shakespeare: if you don't have an appropriate or interesting adjective, make one up. Give less information, or give more information in few words. Much like I told Kircher, one of the best things you can do is to let your character seep into your writing a little bit. Don't tell me what the room looks like; tell me what Seth Ruggeri thinks the room looks like. There's a distinct line between wooden characters and quiet or stolid characters, and it all lies in what's underneath. And while that doesn't mean that you should spend every post weeping and sobbing with a whirlpool of emotion, it does mean that we want to get into your head a little bit.

Now I realize that I picked one of the same samples as Mr. Pearse, and for some of the same reasons, so hopefully I've reinforced what he had to say and added a bit of my own. But unlike Mr. Pearse, I would like to point out what you're doing right, because you're not as bad a writer as a long critique might make you believe.

I personally dig your character. I'm caught up in the mystery of why he's here and why he's searching for Ethan Ramey. He has a few tagalongs that are obviously important to him, and there's a past there that I think will come to light at some point. I think all of this good stuff is in your head, with arcs and development that will lead to some cool writing. And the writing so far isn't bad, but I'm leaving it thinking about the physical attributes of things and trying to recall little facts instead of feeling any sense of the events or the characters.

There. I've been promising I'd get some feedback to you, so I hope that's a bit to think about and I hope, above all else, that it serves as constructive criticism and not just criticism. Also, let me reinforce before I go that the imagination is the key to good storytelling, and I think you have that. The execution just requires tweaking.
Ethan Ramey
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Re: I Can Has Feedback?

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