Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Picking the Nits or Do my characters spit toothpicks at each other when they talk?

This irregular column will be more poke and jab than an actual column. I got the idea from the “Wooden Dialog” article posted here a while back where mainstream published books received negative commentary within a review. Personally, I think the negatives help more than the positives. I don’t need a pat on the back, even though praise is nice every once and while: What I need, as an artist, is constructive criticism. We here at the peeps have always attempted to provide fair and balanced reviews. So, each week I plan on dredging up some less than stellar commentary from mainstream published book reviews. I will not mention the books because I don’t want this to digress into a finger pointing exercise or a snark fest: Critical commentary is serious business, and I am hoping we can all take something away from the exercise. I am a reviewer, but first and foremost, I am also a writer. When I am doing research, for my own writing or for this site, I make time to read reviews. A lot can be gleaned from them and subsequently incorporated into our thought process as we give our own work the critical eye. Please keep in mind that while the commentary is directly quoted from Publishers Weekly, some of it is subjective reviewer opinion. After all, a critic is a reader too.

So without further ado:
[...] keeps the pace moving quickly through this brief romp of a humorous
fantasy novel, and stuffs each page with one-liners and danger. Those looking
for depth of character and intricate plotting, however, should steer
[...] readers looking for a complex mystery will chafe at the slow pace and
last-minute revelations.
[...] The simplistic storytelling and psychology don’t do the predictable
narrative any favors.
[...]Some of the exposition is slightly clunky...

Each week, as we read more such commentary, my hope is that patterns will start to emerge and that those patterns will alter the way we view our own stories -- for the betterment of our art, that is. Now I am not saying that we should write for the critics, because we shouldn't, we should write for ourselves, but that doesn't mean we can't look upon our work from an analytical and critical point of view. In these comments, I see a focus on plotting and on narrative technique. If we break it down, I see: depth of character, intricit plotting, and complex mystery as touch points, and then on the negative, I see: slow pace, simplistic storytelling, predictable narrative, and clunky exposition. When we read a review in this manner, we get an insider view of what a reader is looking for in a story and what is bothersome. It's like having a decoder ring, wouldn't you say?

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