Critique #3

If you’re new to this critiquing business, check out Critiques #1 and #2.

If you’re not new, perhaps you’re wondering why I keep posting critiques. Several reasons why: 1) Generous people keep offering me excerpts—thank you!  2) I haven’t received any questions to blog about, so I’m working with what I do have—critiques!  3) critiquing is more of a left-brain activity, whereas creating a topic stems from the right brain. I think my right brain is on vacation right now, and 4) critiquing is a valuable part of writing.

As I told my friend Ellie this week, writing is HARD. Really, really hard. Sometimes the only thing to make writing bearable is connecting with other writers. If a writer helps me, I want to pass that knowledge on to other writers. Call it Writing Karma, or the Circle of Writing, or whatever you want. I’m still learning everyday, but at least others can learn along with me!

We all want to improve our writing skills, but it takes so much work. Just when we’ve finally figured out characters, voice, and plot . . . darn, now we have to remember grammar and mechanics. And while concentrating on grammar, we lost track of our plot. Throw in the fact that we’re unavoidably biased about our own stories, and it’s a wonder we manage to create anything worth reading!

That’s where critiques help—unbiased readers can offer you new outlooks and suggestions. For an unpublished writer, it’s also a first taste of rejection if someone doesn’t like our story. I’m all for dealing with rejection . . . but that’s not the main objective of my critiques. I just want to provide a fresh view of your excerpt, give you something to think about. And if I can convey anything about grammar in the process, all the better.

So please, offer helpful feedback to these brave souls! Encourage them to keep writing, but also give them the tools to improve!

All right, enough rambling from me. Let’s get to this week’s critique—featuring Ann! This excerpt is from the first draft of Ann’s YA novel, a work in progress. In the story, Sean is sixteen and Clara is fourteen. Ann’s major concern is that Clara sounds younger than fourteen. She’d appreciate any of your thoughts about Clara’s “voice.” I know at least two fourteen-year-olds who read this blog, so I hope they chime in, too! The excerpt:


“Awwwwww, don’t cry, c’mon…….there’s enough salt water out here.”

“You want to know why I did what I did at your stupid party? Well, I’ll tell you why,” Clara said through clenched teeth, turning again to look at Sean. “It was because…because I thought your crazy aunt was going to…going to stab you with the cake knife…so there.”

Sean stared at her.

“You thought Maeve was going to knife me? You gotta be kidding!” Suddenly he was laughing, and just as suddenly, Clara was laughing with him.

“Whoa, I really am crazy,” she gulped, subsiding into a fit of giggles.

“So, are we friends again?” Sean asked, grinning at her.

“Yeah, guess so. I still think your aunt is weird though!”

“Well, she’s a bit strange sometimes. But I like her enough,” he said, a bit defensively.


Disclaimer:  I am not an expert. These are just my opinions and thoughts.

Overall, very clean writing and few mistakes! I laughed at the line, “there’s enough salt water out here,” (because they’re on a boat). I like the back-and-forth between Sean and Clara, how it goes from tense to humorous. I think Clara’s honesty with Sean makes this an important scene.

Point #1: Let’s talk about ellipses for a minute. I love ellipses, but I always have to remind myself not to go overboard. The ellipsis mark should be written as three spaced periods, with a space before and after the ellipsis. Example:  C’mon . . . there’s enough salt water. Also, like most special punctuation (dashes, semicolons, etc), you don’t want to use it too often. Three times in one sentence is probably too much.

Point #2: Check out the last four lines of dialogue—they all start with an introductory word, comma, and short phrase. It’s a mechanical type of repetition. For the most part, I don’t think those introductory words are really necessary. See my rewrite example below.

Point #3:  I’m easily confused (and pulled out of a story), when a character’s action and dialogue are separated into two paragraphs. Example:  Sean stared at her.  *new paragraph*  “You thought Maeve . . . ” At first, I assumed Clara was the one speaking, until I read the rest of the line and figured it out. But why risk even a moment of confusion? This could be a matter of personal taste, but I would write it as one paragraph.

Point #4: I’m undecided about the many w‘s in Awwwwww. Sometimes you can get away with this in first-person narrative (like in Meg Cabot’s PRINCESS DIARIES), but dialogue is trickier. All those w‘s put a lot of emphasis on the word. So think about whether Aww would work, or if you really do need to draw it out.

Point #5: I’m also undecided about the last word, defensively. I doubt this is a necessary adverb. Can’t we assume that Sean is defensive, based on his words and the context? But the excerpt isn’t full of adverbs, so I’m tempted to let it stay.

Point #6: After combing my manuscripts for passive tense, I now hate the word “was.” Don’t write “was” unless you have to!

Point #7: The main concern is Clara’s dialogue—too young or not? Maybe it depends on Clara’s maturity? I do notice a few choice words that make her sound young:  whoa, so there, weird, stupid. People over fourteen use those words of course, but maybe not all the words in a short amount of time. Still, I think Clara might pass as fourteen, especially if you changed a word here and there. Try to avoid a large amount of slang words or filler words (such as “like”). Make every word of dialogue count. Clara’s rant in the second paragraph is wordy . . . but I can imagine all those words spilling out in a rush, so I kinda prefer it that way.

Sorry, didn’t mean to make seven points. Ann’s excerpt got me thinking—in a good way! Just as an example (not as gospel), I’ll try a rewrite:


“Aww, don’t cry. C’mon . . . there’s enough saltwater out here.”

“You want to know why I did what I did at your stupid party? I’ll tell you why,” Clara said through clenched teeth, turning again to look at Sean.  “It was because . . . because I thought your crazy aunt was going to . . . going to stab you with the cake knife. So there.”

Sean stared at her. “You thought Maeve was going to knife me?  You gotta be kidding!”  Suddenly he laughed. Then Clara laughed, unable to stop herself.

“Whoa, I really am crazy,” she gulped, subsiding into a fit of giggles.

“Are we friends again?” Sean asked, grinning at her.

“Guess so. I still think your aunt is weird though!”

“She’s a bit strange sometimes.  But I like her well enough,” he said defensively.


This doesn’t seem much different than the original, just a few minor changes. I’m not even sure the changes I made are right! So I’m curious to hear opinions from everyone else! Feel free to offer constructive criticism (paired with praise!).

Ann, thank you so much for sacrificing your excerpt! It was a pleasure to read your story! Let me know if you have any questions, okay??


2 thoughts on “Critique #3

  1. Great comments, Erin. They are well put, as usual. And encouraging to hear! Especially #6. I use WAS way too often.
    Ann’s writing is happy and effortless (which means it took a lot of effort). And a pleasure to read.
    There was one thing that I noticed. I want to correct this in my writing, also.
    2nd paragraph Clara -turns again to look at Sean- then -Sean stared at her.-
    To me, if Clara turns to look at Sean, then Sean is probably looking at Clara. Leave these little details to the reader’s imagination.
    Use small actions to portray something more about your character or setting (she played with the lace on her shirt, he crumbled a dried leaf in his hand, she picked at her nails, he studied the light in her hair, etc.)

    • OH, nice catch, Ellie! I like your point; I didn’t even notice it. I think I assumed Sean wasn’t just staring . . . he was probably GAPING at her, LOL. As in, mouth hanging open, are-you-crazy look. So maybe if Ann rewrote it that way, with some more detail? But I agree, Ellie, that small actions work better for portraying character or setting. Which is easy for us to say, but not so happy and effortless to write, LOL.

      Thanks so much for your comment, Ellie! 😀

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