Saturday, March 3, 2012

Good Critisism vs. Meh Critisism

Both my sister and I participated in a 100 word free write challenge last week.  This is the second time I have participated in a 100 word challenge, and the second time I didn't make it to the top twenty.  The upside to not making it is that I get feedback from the judges, which is great.  I mean, a published author actually read something I wrote, and told me what was wrong with it, how cool is that?

The two pieces of feedback I've gotten are very different in helpfulness.  The first one is very helpful, and the second one isn't.  At all.  Below are my paragraphs and corresponding feedback.

Paragraph one:  Submitted for the "Alex has somewhere to go" prompt.

Alex knew that if he wanted to reach the castle, he was going to have to do something dangerous, and most likely stupid.   He estimated that there were at least twenty guards to get through outside the castle, and he knew there were many more inside the castle guarding the girl in the stone.   All he had was a broken bow, a rusty dagger, a bag of the old inventor’s explosives, and his wit.  The rest of his unit had been captured, so he was on his own.  He smiled.  He was going to have fun.
Feedback:  I love the idea of your first sentence, but it could use some tightening. Like, “If Alex wanted to reach the castle, it would require something dangerous. And likely stupid.” By removing the “was” and the “Alex knew,” it feels more like we’re inside Alex’s head, rather than just watching him. Same with the next line where there’s “he estimated” and “he knew.” If you instead say, “It looked as though there were at least twenty guards” then it, again, feels like we’re inside his head. Very good concept, just pull the reader in tighter.

I love this advice!  This is something I can do.  I usually write in first person, so getting this feed back for third person is really helpful.  

Second paragraph:  Submitted for the free write.

“More depends upon that sheep pasture than you will ever realize.” Martha’s prophetic words came back to me as I stood in that very pasture, looking over my burning village. She had been right, mostly.  Now I knew most of what depended upon that rocky piece of land.  Even with the knowledge I possessed, it was still hard to believe that the fate of the village, the country, and possibly the world depended on a sheep paddock. But I am getting ahead of myself. I need to start on the day that the coroner came to town.

Feedback:  I think this is a creative idea, and I’m curious about why the sheep pasture is so vital. Those last lines about needing to back up the story have been overdone, I think. Both in literature ... and in this contest : )

Um, okay.   So basically I got axed because the judge didn't like it that the paragraph was a obvious hook.  I came up with that paragraph on a whim, and though I don't know how the story ends or who's in it or even what the main plot is, I know that the part after that opening would be kinda slow.  The reason that backing up the story is done is to let the reader know that something interesting is going to happen and that it's worth reading through the slowish beginning. It's been "overused" because it makes for a good hook, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

So those are my views, what do you think?  Also, if you would like to give me more feedback on my paragraphs, I'd love to hear it.  If you do, just know that one of the criteria for both challenges was that they needed to read like the opening to a story.  


  1. I thought the sheep pasture was brilliant, and anyone who would be so unhelpful as that judge must be... unhelpful. I do think, however, that the hook at the end was... I dunno, maybe just... It leads more into the rest of the story (which we don't have the satisfaction of knowing about) than in the first one. Whereas in the first it was just a sort of... concluding statement, as if that was the end of a section, leaving you wanting more but not needing more, the second ending was more of the beginning of a section.
    So what I'm trying to say is this: If you had concluded the second a bit better, as if you were concluding a very short chapter (like you did in the first paragraph), it would have been better. Better, but that doesn't mean it was bad in the first place.
    All that to say this: both are good. The pasture paragraph leads you on "pasture" end. (Bad pun.) The Alex paragraph leads you on, but gives you a feeling of finality.
    Example. The pasture could have ended like this: "...the world depended on a sheep paddock. If only the sheep knew how important they were..."
    And, hard as it is, I sort of agree with the inconsiderate judge. That line at the end is completely overused, but that's no way to judge a piece of writing.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I see what you mean about the endings of the paragraphs. That makes sense. However, one of the criteria for the contest was that it should read like the opening paragraph of a story, which works for the ending of sheep pasture paragraph. In my opinion anyway. The Alex paragraph reads more like the end of a chapter, like you said.

    2. Maybe there's a better way to back up the story than to say "But I am getting ahead of myself." Hmm... I'll have to play with that.

    3. Ah. Did not know that about the criteria. But I still think a chapter can continue even with a concluding statement, like Alex's would have been a wonderful chapter beginning. How does the 100 word challenge work? Exactly 100 words?

    4. You can have anywhere under 100 words. I think both of these paragraphs were 90 something, but the one my sister sent in was about 85.
      I just NaNo mailed you the link with the information about the challenges. (my mom said I should keep the link off my blog for reasons of being polite)

    5. I see. That's all I needed to know, actually. Thanks for the link anyway, though.

  2. Oh, darn it, my comment just got deleted! I tried to comment, and it was a long comment, and it was helpful, I think, and it wouldn't go through. It was probably for the best because of that one bad pun... I'll rephrase the comment below:
    Alex's paragraph was better because it gave a sense of finality, like that was the end of a chapter. A short chapter.
    In the pasture paragraph, you could have ended it a bit better, such as "...the world depended on a sheep paddock. If only the sheep knew..."
    If that had been the last sentence, I would have thought it the best thing since sliced bread. Sheep paddock being paramount to the survival of the world? Perfect! I'll buy the first five copies of the book! But as it is I say, "Good, but not spectacular."
    That judge should have been more helpful. He's a judge, for Pete's sake! (That's where Isaac would ask "Who's Pete?")
    I like both paragraphs anyway.

  3. Oh God, I *hate* bad feedback. When ever we do essay's at school and we're asked for a partner edit, people always say like "wow, good, I like that." But never tell me anything that would make it *better* which is why we have editing in the first place. And meanwhile I feel bad for actually * pointing out* their mistakes in their work. GRRRRRRR.

    1. Ugh, that's annoying. I just joined a critique group, and I really hope that doesn't happen.

  4. A few days ago I was thinking about this and mentally wrote another short paragraph like the sheep one. I might use it in a later chapter, but just that line: “More depends upon that sheep pasture than you will ever realize.” I took it more toward the sheep being important than the pasture, but in essence it's the same. I hope I won't be fined for plagiarism...

    1. You will not be fined for plagiarism. I've discussed this matter with the grand jury, my mom and sister, and they have given me the following answers:
      My mom says my name should be in the acknowledgments.
      My sister of doom (who is standing over my shoulder as I type this), says you should pay me one puppy. I think I agree with my mom on this one.

    2. It's still a bit much that I must acknowledge you for inspiration. But yes, I'll try. I draw the line at paying you a puppy, though.

    3. If you don't want to acknowledge me, could you change the line to something like "More depends on the sheep in that pasture that you will ever realize"? I don't care about that version. You can have it, and need not acknowledge me.

      YES, NO PUPPY! My sister has been trying to convince my parents to get another dog for the last few months, even though our current dog is still in fine working order. She brings up puppies at every possible occasion. Very annoying.