Random Things Learned on Writing Forums

Nearing the completion of the first draft (I cannot believe I am actually saying this out loud, but, according to my calculations, I should be done in about two to four chapters—which, in all fairness, might take quite a while, considering my propensity to endless expansion), I decided to extend my web presence a little, while gaining some “credits”/”karma points” along the way, which would let me post excerpts of my own writing for critique, once I am actually finished with the first draft.

It also allows me to stall a little while pondering upon what I am to do with the next scene—whatever it is.

The sites, where I ended up registering, are:

www.critiquecircle.com, www.scribophile.com, and writers.stackexchange.com (the latter is not a critique site, it is a general question-answer site, dedicated to the craft, but a quite fascinating place to wander about—that was the place where I learned about the former two).

On Critique

The general rule of all those communities: in order to receive, one has to give. The Content Management Systems, which run those sites, track your activity and reward you with points/credits, you then spend for the privilege to post your own masterpieces to be butchered.

Which is absolutely fair, but has its implications.

The worst thing about reviewing somebody else’s writing is, of course, the fact that one has to read it first.

It is time-consuming, especially if one tries actually to help and make the critique constructive, and it can be frustrating if the source text is, for lack of better word, quite crappy.

And those sites are full of just that. While it certainly gives one a warm sense of comfort about one’s own level of literary prowess, it also makes one wonder if people even bother to read their creations in the short window between composing and publishing them. Some even do not bother to spell-check.

I do not critique works which are beyond help, of course, favoring only those which do show promise. I also resolutely stay away from commenting on issues of grammar and style (there are plenty of fellow critics who simply cannot resist rewriting somebody else’s words, as though they are unable to wrap their minds around the very concept of critique and think that they can just show everybody how to do stuff the right way), word choice and usage, etc., but even without those, there is an abundance of things on which I can unleash my vicious inner editor.

Things like worldbuilding, action choreography (I always thought I was struggling with it—oh, boy, was I wrong or what…), character relationships, Point-Of-View consistency, and everything else which falls under the common sense/common rules of writing category.

I can hardly believe the level of creativity and enthusiasm with which people mess those up on a line-by-line and word-by-word basis.

For instance: (the following quote is from a story, submitted to www.critiquecircle.com, one has to be logged in to read the whole thing, and one should—in order to keep track of what is going on choreography-wise—but my comments on this line are, I hope, clear enough).

She slapped the horse’s bottom and jumped out of the way.

Stop. Read it again. Savor it.

Now, my comments/critique (character names are omitted for the sake of preserving author’s rights):

…[She] was in front of the horse, leading the procession. Then she had to step closer, or even by the side of the horse to give [the girl on horseback] the reins. In order to slap the horse’s bottom rump, she has to make at least one more step toward the back to reach it (thus putting her already out of the way, unless she expected the horse to charge backward or sideways)…

And so on.

I am a very visual person, I visualize what I read immediately, and lines like the one I just quoted are nothing short of bliss.

I do, however, like the story in general so far (at the time of this post there were only two chapters published) and will likely follow it further in between my own writing sessions.

On Worldbuilding

I have a tendency to turn militant when writers stock their secondary worlds with clearly identifiable items from our own habitat. Shockingly, even the well-established published authors are not fault-free in that department. Brandon Sanderson‘s characters in Stormlight Archive eat curry and wield machetes, although there is absolutely no India and no Mexico in his world. Patrick Rothfuss in The Name of the Wind has a character, whose cart is propelled by two donkeys (or mules?), named Alpha and Beta, and, once again, his world is deprived of any other signs of Greece, ancient or modern. Just to make it a trio: Joe Abercrombie in The First Law Trilogy: Last Argument of Kings refers to a military operation as a crusade, and—guess what?—nobody in his universe has ever heard of neither Jesus Christ, nor the methods that ancient Romans deployed to execute criminals, nor the over-a-thousand-year delayed retaliation for that specific one, sanctioned by the Latin Church.

A little side note: Abercrombie also likes to quote famous Earth writers and philosophers at the beginning of a book or book part, which annoys me greatly, for I see no other reason for doing that than to show the readers how well-read the author himself is. I understand, when the quotes are made-up with an intent to emulate a particular style of writing and attributed to the fictional literary greats of your world (and I do that as well), but sudden ambush by a quote by Friedrich Nitzsche does kick me out of the universe I am trying to immerse myself in.

But it could be just me.

Back to the critique theme.

Aside from importing buffalos (from America, I guess?) and making the whole kingdom the size of Switzerland (because it takes two days to cross it on horseback), the worldbuilding in the story quoted above, passes; one also has to keep in mind that it is the first draft, and there is always room for improvement.

I do, and I make a conscious effort to be nice when I give notes. One of the requirements all those communities share is to be positive and encouraging in your critique, and I try my very best. Such efforts usually result in me, apologizing in advance for any possible nitpicking and hair-splitting, then proceeding to nitpick and split hairs, and then apologizing again and wishing the victim all the best from the bottom of my heart.

Surprisingly, the method has worked so far, even earning me some status in the form of “reputation points” (not to be confused with “karma points” and “credits”).

And, to be honest, what started as a quest for them, “karma points” and “credits,” did make me more aware of the flaws in my own writing, so I fully intend to continue doing that.

Good thing that critiquing is much easier and faster than actual writing.

A.T.T. This was over 1,200 words, which could have filled a whole scene in my book, were the words on-topic. Back to Stormhold, damn it, I still have to figure out how to kill the lizard.

Also published on Medium.

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