Writing Critique for Brenda.

Brenda over at The “Not So” Daily Nitty-Gritty has posted Chapter 1 of her writing project which I’ve read through and offered to provide her with feedback. I didn’t think a reply box was the right place to do that so I’ll lay it out here. For the record I’m not a professional writer but I have been writing for a long time and like to think I have a fair bit of knowledge about writing which I’m always happy to share with others.

I’m not going to worry about spelling or grammar here. This is more about the overall flow and how the reader can get as much enjoyment out of it as the writer put in.

First here’s Chapter 1 – untouched as posted on The “Not So” Daily Nitty-Gritty:

“How could I have missed the signs? I knew Matty always joked around with me but never guessed he was interested in me that way. Why did all the other students see it but not me? What business is it of theirs anyway? I don’t understand it but no matter, I am with Geo now. Geo has stood by me throughout this entire retreat and finally on the last day, we “get together” and then this crap about Matty comes out? What I really don’t understand is why the other students think I should just drop Geo and fall all over Matty. I mean, yes, Matty is captain of the football team, blonde, buff, and blue eyed but he doesn’t have a good track record with the girls and seems to have a different one every other week. Geo on the other hand, is more of a jokester, tall, slender, brown wavy hair, and very cute. What’s most appealing about him is his attitude. He may not be “Mr. Popularity” but, he is very funny and a great friend so people better just get over themselves already!”

As the day went on, it was apparent that Matty must have said something to the guys on the football team, who in turn, must have said something to their friends, and well, you know how gossip spreads. So why did the looks and whispering bothering me so much? I ran into Geo in the hallway on the way to my locker.

“Hey Geo! Do you know something I don’t?” I said.

Geo smiled and said “What? About Matty? Oh yeah, he’s all bent out of shape because he bet the guys on the team that he could get a date with you. I actually find it humorous.” he chuckled.

“What do you find so humorous about it? The fact that they are talking about US or the fact that I didn’t see it coming?” I said glaring at him.

“Oh come on” he says “Don’t let those guys get to ya. You know they always have some kind of bet going on. Just so happens that you were part of this one. Don’t sweat it hon. Just let em talk all they want.”

Somehow Geo reassured me that it was no big deal and that all would be alright. But in the back of my mind, I almost wanted sweet revenge for them wanting me to be part of the bet. That really tweaked my nerves. How dare they bet on me?

I put my stuff in my locker, grabbed ahold of Geo’s arm and walked out the retreat doors. I was getting a ride home in Geo’s Challenger. How I loved that sexy looking muscle car. Totally not what you would think he’d drive but he had saved every bit of money cutting grass and side jobs and restored this car to, in my eyes, a pristine state. Absolutely beautiful!

“Let’s get outta here.” Geo said to me. So we both got into the car, and drove out of the parking lot……………

Feedback.

1. Opening line.

Let’s start with the first line. Opening with a question is a good hook. It gives the reader a reason to keep going so they can find the answer to the question.

2. The First Paragraph.

The first paragraph is contained within speech marks which leads the reader to believe someone is talking. Though the second paragraph is not in speech marks. If it is intended to be part of speech then try to break up that first paragraph, maybe the character is talking to someone, or talking to themselves or recording themselves – video or audio for example. Whether it is part of speech or not it you can give the reader subtle slices of information about the person talking.

Find a good breaking point and say what the character is doing. For example:

How could I have missed the signs? I knew Matty always joked around with me but never guessed he was interested in me that way. Why did all the other students see it but not me?

[insert] My phone beeped, another text from Matty. I didn’t reply and set the phone to silent.

What business is it of theirs anyway? I don’t understand it but no matter, I am with Geo now.

That way you break up the speech or thought pattern with information about the character. It’s not important to stop and start every few lines but provide the reader with bits of information about that character will encourage them to stick with the story as well as build up a mental image of that character.

3. Commas.

When reading back through your writing read it out loud and not in your own head. This will show you were the pauses should or shouldn’t be. Remember using a comma is generally like pausing to take a breath.

Original:

Geo has stood by me throughout this entire retreat and finally on the last day, we “get together” and then this crap about Matty comes out?

Changed:

Geo has stood by me throughout this entire retreat, and finally on the last day when we “get together” all this crap about Matty comes out?

I changed the comma and removed a couple of words to make it flow better. When we write we often tend to get sucked into the moment and use too many words. Reading out loud can help highlight those unneccessary words.

Original:

As the day went on, it was apparent that Matty must have said something to the guys on the football team, who in turn, must have said something to their friends, and well, you know how gossip spreads.

Changed:

As the day went on it became apparent that Matty must have said something to the guys on the football team, who in turn must have said something to their friends, and…well you know how gossip spreads.

Again it’s all about using commas not only to break up the text but to give the reader a chance to mentally take a breath. Commas are a great way to stagger the narrative but using too many in a very long sentence will give the reader too much information without pause, or using irregular pauses causes the sentence to jar. You’ll notice this more when you read out loud, the bits that jar will be obvious.

Original:

“Let’s get outta here.” Geo said to me. So we both got into the car, and drove out of the parking lot…

Changed:

“Let’s get outta here,” Geo said to me. We climbed into the car and drove out of the parking lot…

In this instance it’s not necessary to use the words “we” and “both” in the same sentence. I used the word “climbed” but any other word would do – jumped, slid, dropped, sank, hopped in etc..

Remember the full stop rule.

“Let’s get outta here.” This means the sentence has come to an end.

Geo said to me. If you think about the statement above this sentence shouldn’t make any sense. Full stops usually mean the information and context of that sentence are rounded off neatly.

4. Speech.

I’ve found that it makes for better reading when you show a characters mood/actions/expressions etc actually inside the speech rather that at either end.

Original:

Geo smiled and said “What? About Matty? Oh yeah, he’s all bent out of shape because he bet the guys on the team that he could get a date with you. I actually find it humorous.” he chuckled.

Changed:

“What? About Matty?” said Geo with a smile. “Oh yeah, he’s all bent out of shape because he bet the guys on the team that he could get a date with you. I actually find it humorous,” he added with a chuckle.

This flows better and it’s easier to picture Geo speaking and smiling at the same time. Always remember that unless there is a full stop the sentence hasn’t finished. At the end of that line: “…I actually find it humorous,” he added with a chuckle. There is a comma after humorous and a full stop after chuckle.

Also the reader will see a visual break between speech marks and anticipate some sort of action or indication who is talking. Interesting note: We don’t read with our eyes sweeping along the words in one continuous motion. It’s not apparent to us but our eyes take in the words in bits and pieces as they flicker back and forth along the lines of text.

Original:

“Oh come on” he says “Don’t let those guys get to ya….”

Changed:

“Oh come on,” he said. “Don’t let those guys get to ya….”

Missing a comma after the word “on” is likely to be a simple typo. No big deal, everyone does that. But remember the perspective is in the first person telling a story about events that have already happened. Using the word “says” indicates present tense not past tense which has already been established.

Just a side thought here but I would have said “…I actually find it funny…” instead of “humorous, but then again I’m not the one defining and creating the character! The fact that Geo used the word humourous instead of funny could be an indication of his personality rather than using an oddly placed word.

Quick Note: The word “alright” is often used when “all right” should be. It is used as people consider it to be the same as “altogether” or “already” but it isn’t the same.

5. Plot & Flow.

Aside from a few quite minor punctuation issues this piece of writing is actually quite good. Two main characters have been established along with a 3rd minor character (for the moment at least) mentioned. The key to story telling is about the struggle or conflict and maintaining that throughout the story, whether that is via a huge epic plot or between characters.

Conflict has been established here, the main character seems ticked off that Geo may have said something to the guys on the football team that he shouldn’t have, thus creating an element of conflict.

There’s also a slice of back story there, just enough to give the reader an insight into the main character’s past or possible relationship with Matty. The chapter moves from a question to conflict and resolution (of sorts) and it does leave the reader with a sense of possible things to come – where are they going to in Geo’s car? What will happen between the main character and Matty in the future?

6. Conclusion.

I love reading raw stuff like this, it’s like seeing a beautiful statue half chiselled away, I can see how the sculpture is going and how the writer can work on those awkward bits until a solid and polished piece of writing is revealed.

Brenda, keep it up. Don’t let the fact that you haven’t written for many years bother you, it’s all about practice and learning how to improve bit by bit. Above all just enjoy it! Hope this little critique wasn’t too harsh. Negativity isn’t worth the effort of putting finger to keyboard so I always strive to provide good constructive feedback.

Keep writing and you’ll improve with every word!

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2 thoughts on “Writing Critique for Brenda.

  1. I found this really interesting thanks Noob.
    Punctuation is not my forte and examples such as this are really helpful. I wish I’d sent you the article I had published recently.
    Brenda the story line is good and you have imagination. 🙂
    PiP

  2. PiP, thanks for the comment. If you ever want me to cast an eye over something for you just say the word, I’d be happy to give you some constructive feedback.

    Brenda’s additional chapters have been much improved, and her cliff hangars are keeping me interested!

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