Tag Archives: reviews

Has Writing ruined reading for other authors?

Think back to when you were a child.  An innocence, where magic investagationand fantasy filled your world.  The tooth fairy somehow always knew when you lost a tooth, and you stared in amazement (though not disbelief) how such a tiny car could fit twenty clowns in it at the circus.

Then you grow up, and you discover why.  You were taken backstage and saw how the magic was done.  And like that *snaps fingers* the magic is gone.  You can’t ignore it.  The next time you went to the circus you looked for the trap door.  Even if the magician guesses your card correctly, you wonder how he did it.  ‘What’s the trick’, you ask yourself.  Not, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’.  You want to know the trick…  Because there is no such thing as magic.

You discovered the Great and Powerful OZ was just a charlatan behind a curtain using smoke and mirrors to play God.

Okay, I’m getting a little melodramatic, I realize that.  But it makes my point.  Critiquing is habit forming.

Since I’ve joined this underground society of writers I have done a lot of critiquing.  There are days I prefer it to writing.  But it is not without its drawbacks.

Even though my daughter is in high school, I recently started to read to her again before going to bed.  Sure the titles and topics of what we now read have drastically changed.  Little fuzzy woodland critters dancing gleefully in meadows have been traded for teenagers stranded in a town entranced by some dystopian virus outbreak, but still quality time is quality time…right?

I like to think my daughter enjoyed the times I’ve read to her when she was a little girl, but I’m not so sure this is the case now.

“I looked down the street.  All the houses had the same exterior brickwork, same mailbox, same landscaping…”  I pause after reading that last sentence.

“What?  Why did you stop?” my daughter asks.

“Exterior brickwork?  The author would have been better off saying ‘façade’.  It flows better.  ‘Exterior brickwork’ drew me out of the story a bit.  Don’t you agree?”

A sigh and eye roll later she replies, “Not as much as you analyzing every sentence.”

Critiquing is a wonderful tool.  I believe it helps me improve my writing as I become aware of other people’s issues in theirs.  But I recently noticed that I can no longer just read a book for the sake of reading.  I critique as I go.

I’m not saying I’m a master wordsmith, merely that critiquing helps sharpen your skills since you train yourself to look for pitfalls even experienced writers can fall victims to.  Like ending sentences with prepositions.

But like the grown up now looking for the trap door the tiny car parks on top of, there is a part of me that misses the freedom of reading without looking at word choices and inconsistencies.  Wires, pullies, smoke machines, and mirrors have replaced magic.

I still can enjoy reading, but it has become easier to get pulled out of it now that I read it from a more technical viewpoint.  I would never have noticed that a word appeared three times within a four paragraph stretch.  Head jumping never bothered me, and I would gloss over any semi-colons barely aware they were there.

Maybe it isn’t such as bad thing.  After all, those semi-colons have no place in modern society…

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Everyone’s a critic

Muppet Critics
Statler and Waldorf, created by Jim Henson

Perhaps it’s human nature.  Although what purpose that particular instinct serves, I have no idea. Maybe it stems from the desire to be popular, to attract the best mate, or appear stronger in order to better our chances of survival and procreation. Perhaps it stems from a desire to feel superior to everyone else. Or maybe some people are just a-holes.

For whatever reason there isn’t a sport, hobby, or profession in existence that isn’t at the mercy of a critic. I don’t mean professional critics. I mean those people who, for example, walk into a room and see someone watching a game on TV. They sit for an hour watching and listening to the announcers and then see one of the players make a foul, error, or just basically mess up in some way. At that moment, they have absorb enough information about the pastime from observing for the past hour to pass judgment on that individual who has spent years, perhaps even decades, dedicated to learning, practicing, and playing that sport. They can jump right in with the announcers and click into place as easily as a perfect puzzle piece.

I’m just as guilty as the next person, I’ll own up to it. During the Olympics, I watch to make sure the gymnasts ‘stick their landing’, and when they don’t I’ll mutter a ‘tsk’ and shake my head in dismay. Never mind the fact that if I were to try as much as to walk across a balance beam the nearby hospital would have to be put on high alert.

Watching episodes of Family Feud sparks this as well. “Name something people drink at a wedding.” “KOOL-AID!” And of course the rest of the Family players jump and cheer, and pat the contestant on the back. “Good answer, good answer!” Well, no it isn’t. In fact it’s a stupid answer. (I made this example up, but if someone reading this thought it was a good answer, my apologies.)

But the truth is when you put yourself in the public eye, you open yourself up to judgment by EVERYONE. Those qualified to do so, and those who aren’t. Some will attempt to pass on constructive criticism; others will just pass on bad feelings.

The poor contestant who answers ‘Kool-Aid’ knows that isn’t a good answer, but they’re under pressure, on national TV, in front of a live audience with a microphone pointed at them. With that kind of pressure, a nice tall glass of cold Kool-Aid would really hit the spot…of course, so would hard liquor, which would be a better answer to that question, but whatever.

That gymnast has about a million things to consider when they are flying, twisting, and turning in the air. Inertia. Gravity. Momentum.   Where’s the f-ing ground? The fact they can do one-tenth of what I see is amazing to me. If they end up taking a tiny hop landing after being airborne for five seconds swirling around like a piece of dandelion fuzz in a tornado, I seriously can’t care less, I’m impressed!

Each page a writer types is a series of decisions. What their characters say and do. How they react to secondary characters. What setting should they create? Chances are some of those decisions will be bad ones. Some will be brilliant. Creating a world and populating it from your own imagination, then putting your name on it and shouting to the world ‘Hey, look what I did!’ takes a lot of courage.

With seven billion and counting people out there, it’s impossible to impress everyone. But not impossible to gather seven billion opinions. Some will share experience, and perhaps grant you some insights. Others will look for anything to pick at. The best you can do is take what you can glean from it all and move forward.