Jan 192012

via Guest Post: Long Sentences.

This article is long winded and misses the point. Meandering, due to the lengthy quotes, this article presents several ideas and manages a conclusion towards the end. Despite the claims that topic is long sentences, this article’s content is really about rhythm, and how there is just as much value in long sentences as in short sentences. That Theodora struggled with the topic of her article seems evident in the structure of the article itself. She spends the first 550 words of her article quoting an article by Pico Iyer and offhandedly refuting Pico’s article (with only a 150 word response to the 242 word quotation). She then continues with a quote that formed the basis for her article, from Pico’s article, and concludes, “And you know, I see his point.” (at the 76% mark in her 1015 word article.) While there is more to the article, I’ll let you read it for yourself. The point of my article is about what drew me in, what I thought of this opinion article, and what the content of the article was (to me) versus what Theodora claimed the article was about.

The start of her article didn’t grab me at all, and it wasn’t until I reread it carefully that I realized that what really drew me in was the start of the article she spends most of her time quoting (and refuting).

“‘Your sentences are so long,’” said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn’t quite mean it as a compliment.

So says the first line of that Theodora Goss is quoting. That hook is excellent, but Theodora’s beginning: “Recently, the Los Angeles Times published an article …” is less enticing. Pico’s article (at least the part that is quoted) is flush with long, multi-clause sentences, sprinkled liberally with adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. His writing is readable and complex, bordering on being florid without being convoluted. I am certainly inspired by his style of prose; I find myself tempted to try longer sentences (Theodora felt the same way), but I also find myself thinking that Pico’s writing is too long. There is no urgency to his writing, which might be perfect for journalism, but for fiction it just does not work.

Ironically, Theodora ends her guest post succinctly (at odds with the title):

So, long sentences. But more important than that, nuance and depth. Those are the lessons for today.

So, long sentences, indeed. Which leads me to the conclusion of my article: this article by Theodora Goss is a mess. While it presents some interesting food for thought, the topic not discussed is rhythm (a topic which is currently plaguing me). Rhythm is at the heart of Theodora’s article, even if she never mentions the word. Pico’s use of long sentences, multiple clauses, and verbosity may provide the information dump (i.e., “bombardment of the moment”) that he so desperately desires, but it also creates a languid, almost soporific feeling to the prose. Amazingly, Pico’s hook is short, being a five word quote. The next shortest sentence in the quotes (provided by Theodora) is eight words.

Long sentences may communicate nuance and depth, but short sentences are like punctuation: Proper use greatly improves your writing. What’s more, sometimes the best way to say something is by not saying it at all.

And that was the lesson I learned today.

Jan 152012
Forty Questions to Test Your Manuscript
  1. How can I make the protagonist likeable or at least relatable?
  2. Are both the protagonist and the antagonist extraordinary in some way?
  3. Do they both care passionately about something?
  4. Is what they care about at the heart of their opposition?
  5. Is the antagonist just as strong or even stronger than the protagonist and just as compelling or intriguing?
  6. Do all the main characters have genuine flaws and eccentricities?
  7. Is there opposition between what the protagonist wants, her external goal, and what she needs, her internal goal?
  8. Is the protag going to experience a change of fortune: from good fortune to bad, from bad fortune to good, from good to bad to good, from bad to good to bad?
  9. How can I use the setting and season to make the situation worse for the protag?
  10. How can I make the setting more interesting and challenging?
  11. Are the protag and antag struggling within a situation readers haven’t seen before?
  12. How can I elevate the concept?
  13. What extra coolness factor can I add?
  14. What twist can I add to make this unusual?
  15. Are there logical connections between characters, plot, and theme(s)?
  16. Is the theme universal?
  17. Does the protag’s struggle exploit a universal fear?
  18. Are there high stakes–terrible consequences–if the protag fails?
  19. Does she have to make an impossible choice or sacrifice that will make her pay personally before she can win against the antag?
  20. How can I provide a test at the beginning of the manuscript to show off the trait the protag needs to change before she can win?
  21. What makes her the way she is, and how can I show that to make her initial failure understandable and relatable?
  22. How can I make the stakes even higher at every turning point while keeping them relatable?
  23. Have I got enough of a coolness or fun factor in the mid section to sell the premise and carry the second act?
  24. How do I keep the protag in conflict between two emotions so she has to fight to resolve her feelings?
  25. How can I exploit the situation and main conflict to force the characters to make active choices?
  26. How can I limit each of the character’s choices to force them to choose between something bad and something worse, force them into bad decisions, or push them into doing what they least want to do?
  27. How can I make characters behave in the most unexpected way that fits within their motivation, personality type, and background?
  28. How do I introduce a new conflict before resolving an existing one?
  29. What danger can I keep threaten, what information can I promise, what expected emotional crisis, confrontation, loss, or decision can I foreshadow to keep the reader eager to read?
  30. How can I push an expected outcome into an unexpected direction?
  31. Before the climax, how do I make it clear why the antagonist is the way he is, and how do I make him sympathetic?
  32. How can I apply lessons the protag has learned and show her character growth in the climax in a way that will echo the test she failed at the beginning?
  33. How do I make it clear enough why she has changed enough to choose differently than she did in the initial test?
  34. Can I make every conflict in a subplot real and hard to overcome?
  35. How do I resolve all the subplots and weave them together more tightly?
  36. How do I show the arcs for each of the main characters?
  37. How do I most smoothly delivere all the missing information before the climax scene?
  38. How can I the climax the toughest challenge in the manuscript?
  39. How can I make the resolution truly satisfying?
  40. How do I make sure I’ve kept my covenant with the reader?

via A Writer’s Pre-Flight Checklist.

Jan 132012

Why do I critique other people’s work?

I do so for a couple of reasons:

  1. To train my internal critic to quickly recognize the difference between good prose and bad prose, hopefully so that he’ll shut up about good prose and let me get on with writing.
  2. To establish a reflexive reaction to the use of bad prose. If I see something that doesn’t work often enough, then I hope not to have blinders on when I’m writing my own stories. (i.e., I’d rather learn from someone else’s mistakes. I’m sure I have enough of my own to make, as it is.)
  3. To build a platform. Building a platform requires taking risks, putting yourself out there. Rob Hart recently started a monthly journal covering his journey to becoming published through traditional channels. He’s putting himself out there, taking risks, and he’s going to receive rejection as he shops his story. (Maybe not, I just assume that rejection is the norm, even for great authors. I’ve never read his work, but I’ve seen rejection letters for some of the great authors in my genre.) Sharing his journey means sharing his vulnerability. Everyone gets the chance to be either an inspiration to others, or a cautionary tale. Often times, you get to be both. This blog, and my journey, is probably both. I’m OK with that.
  4. To improve my skills as an editor, so that I can better edit my own work. (I like the public critiques because I can see what other people think, which helps me see things I might not otherwise see.)


Jan 042012

I never thought I’d have cause to refer to this, but just in case I ever do again: I present, “Peter’s Evil Overlord List“. When writing, always double check to make sure that your bad guys aren’t doing something obviously cliched and stupid.

Dec 262011

Melodie Wright posted another very interesting article about writing characteristics of emerging writers (which is a nicer way of saying someone who still has a lot to learn about putting words on paper.)


  1. A whole lot of nothing (i.e., copy that doesn’t move the plot along.)
  2. Rambling/useless chapters (i.e., Chapter 3 of Paolini’s book, Inheritance. No, that’s not Melodie’s example, that’s mine.)
  3. Overwriting (which is how I found the previous post I talked about.)
  4. Not enough tension (This section links to another post which has the catchy “don’t leave any place for the reader to put a bookmark”, such as putting your character to bed without introducing the next problem.)
  5. Grammatical errors (Besides the bland and generic spelling mistakes, also watch out for proper spelling but improper word use, improper contractions or use of possessives instead of plurals.)
  6. Thin Skin (Send your work out, get critiqued. Nothing is perfect, and every critique gives you fertilizer to grow your story. Change fertilier for another synonym as needed.)