Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Object of the Exercise

Feeling encouraged this morning.
Reading the results of Jason's Midnight Road contest, found that the first, second and third winners were among my chosen pieces.
And, that the first, second and third winners of the Reader's Choice award were also among my favourite entries.
I did not try to rate or compare any of the entries - merely checked those pieces that struck me as damned good. Above the mean - which was high.
A seat-of-the-pants selection. A casual test of critical impression/instinct.

Writers strive for the objective view.
Perhaps I did not make it clear yesterday that I was not expressing a subjective reaction to various writing examples.
I hope I've advanced beyond condeming (or liking) a piece of prose solely on the basis of prejudice or personal taste to a treatment, topic, or genre.
Subjectively, one may find dead dogs or dead babies disgusting, but that should not affect an objective conclusion about the quality of writing.
I neither read westerns, nor admire much literary fiction and actively despise stream of consciousness - nevertheless, I would hope I'd be capable of giving each fair comment.
It was my objective reactions, my editorial skill, that had me worried.
My capacity to evaluate the elements of style and voice, use of image and description, of sentence structure, dialogue, and plot, to recognize cliche, solecisms, and inconsistencies.
In short, to recognize quality.
When you, consciously or unconsciously, critique writing what is your biggest hot-button turn-off? Your chief annoyance? Major thumbs-down damnation?
Conversely, what quality contained within a selection might override - or balance - your basic objections?

BTW: Dakota Knight's thriller Sola is out from Urban Books. Don't think I mentioned this before. Should have. Meant to. Has assassins. Am fond of assassins - being bloody minded. Make exciting protags.


ali said...

Strange sentence structure. Lots of internal monologue. Characters who are perfect or super-talented. Anything cliche. Or, in first chapters, when it takes ages for anything to happen.

I can't really pick one as a chief annoyance. One on its own can be fixed. Its when they're all together that I run and hide :).

Bhaswati said...

I agree, critiquing a piece requires objectivity, putting aside personal taste, prejudices, beliefs etc. I hope the majority of the publishing world still works on that principle. I sure hope so.

I don't think you need to worry in that regard. I wouldn't ever doubt your ability for objective evaluation--given your excellent grasp of the English language and your discerning sensibilities :)

Bhaswati said...

And I complete forgot to add:

Happy Canada Day!

Flood said...

Happy Canada Day, Bernita!

I've never had to critique work that didn't appeal to me. I'm no great fan of sci-fi though, so I imagine it would be difficult for me to decide what was good or bad about writing in that genre. (As an example.)

I know work that gives me a negative reaction altogether can still be good writing, so I hope I'm objective in that sense.

I was saying elsewhere recently that we write and hope the reader gains our message, but often the reader's frame of reference will give a new, and occasionally negative, perspective to the story. There's really nothing to be done about it, but I don't think it's a bad thing.

Bernita said...

Hmmm...strange sentence hand, can't remember seeing that too often, Ali.
Language cliches make me wince, particularly.
Am trying to learn the difference between conventions and the larger cliches of structure.
Wonder if our awareness that something can be fixed affects our assessment.

I hope so, too, Bhaswati, yet as more in the industry blog, one finds they have their subjective sides.
Thank you. Bhaswati, you are a jewel - always generous, always encouraging.

Happy Canada Day, Flood. We are fortunate in our country, are we not?

Ric said...

Happy Canada Day!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.
Happy Independence Day to you on the 4th.

Ballpoint Wren said...

One thing that turns me off is "edgy" stuff. I just tried to read a novelette written in second person present tense and it drove me nuts! "You look down at him and he smiles. Your gut clenches." Bleah!

Female authors writing unbelieveable male characters thinking female-type thoughts turn me off, too. "He wondered if she noticed his new shirt. Did she even care?"

So do male authors writing unbelieveable female characters thinking male-type thoughts, like when a balls-busting Fortune 500 executive finally meets her nemesis. "She tried to look him in the eye but discovered she couldn't. The incredible bulge in his trousers proved too powerful to resist."

S. W. Vaughn said...

Breaking the fourth wall. Dropped plot threads. Bad, bad writing with certain words on the spine, such as "St. Martin's Press" or "HarperCollins" or "MIRA." Plucky ass-kicking heroines who are plucky and ass-kicking merely because those qualities are "in," not because it has anything to do with the story. And the word "juicy." I hate that word. :-)

Bernita said...

Can't say I enjoy "experimental" styles much myself, Bonnie.
I am certainly with you on the improbably gender thoughts.Breaks my suspension permanently.

I'm 40 watt and flickering this morning, Sonya.
What is "breaking the fourth wall?"
I admit a certain distaste for "jumping his bones." Gives me a WTH moment - always associate bones with making them, ie. Mafia blooding.

Bernita said...

Never mind...I looked it up.
Dislike that too.

M.E Ellis said...

I can stand anything really that can be fixed (puncs, grammar, sentence structure) but when it can't, when the author just doesn't 'have it' (voice, imagery, the ability to write!) I do tend to shout swear words.

I hate it when a piece is sent in to me at Dred and I can see it's by a beginner who thinks they are top of the pile (they usually have quite a bit to say about themselves in the email, instead of just sending in the story. Beginner writers who send them in without upping themselves don't annoy me) and I read as much as I can without shouting, 'Oh FFS!'. The 'I am the best writer on earth' and they're so clearly not - that's what bugs me the most. Especially when it's in hard or paperback.


Bernita said...

That is very interesting, Michelle.
"If it can be fixed, it's not as annoying" idea.
The news of that much arrogance out there really surprises me.
Certainly, a little tooling around writer blogs should be enough to keep one humble.
Of course, there is crap, but there is also a lot of splendid stuff displayed. I wonder if they truly believe it of themselves - that they are so great.

December Quinn said...

It's hard to really describe, but I hate self-conscious writing. Like where you can see the author thinking, "This is great!" as s/he writes it. It's usually NOT great and that's why, but there's a tone some works take where there's a sort of smugness to the terribleness. (And that was a bad sentence!)

And I agree. I hate heroines who are all tough for no reason, especially in historicals. The old "she had brothers/a father who taught her swordplay" is just so, so, SO old, and writers who use that device usually don't foloow through and give their heroines brains.

Bernita said...

I know exactly what you mean, December, saw an example of that recently. One could almost hear the writer say "must insert specific scene detail here.There, that does it. Oh, I am so good."

I prefer ye olde broken-down-former-mercenary-family retainer for that role, December! And of course, she never has to practise to keep her skills or her muscles.

M.E Ellis said...

I know a couple in particular, Bernita, that would astound you with their arrogance about their own work. No one can do better, that's what they think. They also belittle everyone else (in my crit group) and have an air about them that just reeks of 'You really can't crit me, because there is nothing to crit'.

I don't agree. The best of the best still have flaws. To think of oneself as the best, when a writer will still be learning until the day he dies, is foolish.

If these two people do have a flaw, they say it was on purpose, was what they wanted. They just can't accept being wrong.

I don't read their work anymore, or try to help. Waste of time!

And yes, we do get emails at Dred with writers giving us their life history and how wonderful their friends think they are. Bless them, eh?


Bernita said...

Incredible, Michelle.
Writing a coherent sentence is only the beginning of an endless climb, not the be all and end all.

Dakota Knight said...

I don't know if I can pick just one out. I generally try to read things with an open mind, but there are some things that truly hit a nerve. I know this probably isn't on point, but I get annoyed when I read a series of comments from reviewers about a book saying "it's great" and then I get the book and wonder if I read the same thing. I get annoyed at bad writing...writing that has no soul.

Bernita, thanks for the shout out!

Bernita said...

You're welcome, Dakota!
Your book sounds like a great read!

Re:critics blurbs -
think we've all taken a course in "Head Shaking 101."

Anonymous said...

Bernita, you're concurrence makes me feel good also. Although as a lawyer I'm used to taking positions and fighting for them, it is not lost on me that judging a contest with so much participation is a serious responsibility. I respect your judgment, and am happy to see we were of a similar mind.

Bernita said...

M'learned friend, we can approach the bench together.

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