The Journal, Thursday, October 11

Hey Folks,

Wow. I rolled out (actually, I “sat up” as I’ve been sleeping in a recliner) really late this morning to the sounds of my wife releasing the hound and the cat from their kennel-beds at 5 a.m. I’ve usually been up an hour or two before then.

And Wow #2, I’m pretty obviously not ready to return to my usual schedule yet.

I planned to alter my routine a bit this morning. I was going to move my writing ‘puter to the outside desk instead of all the way out to the Hovel. Moving it out there yesterday took a little extra something out of me, so I thought I’d try this for the time being.

But the fact is, I just don’t feel like messing with any of it right now. The story was moving along fine yesterday, but I’m guessing maybe I pushed a little too hard. Today, I don’t feel like even looking at it.

So I guess I’ll wait it out and focus my energy and effort on healing.

Those of you who are new to the Journal, I hope you’ll hang around. I suspect your patience will pay off.

At the moment, I don’t know what to expect, but I know a “streak” of writing every day won’t be possible for awhile yet.

I realize I probably sound like a broken record here, but until I come around, the Journal might be sporadic at best.

In the meantime, here’s a topic for you to consider.

Topic: Critiques

“Critique” (n.) is defined as “a detailed analysis and assessment” of a literary work. To me, the definition implies that the critique will be honest. But maybe that’s just me.

Notice, the critique is not a criticism (good or bad) of the writer or even of the writer’s skill level. It’s a criticism of the work. Period.

And just to put it out there, I don’t care for the term “constructive criticism,” a phrase that puts me in mind of “participation trophy.”

The phrase is also redundant. All criticism is constructive, isn’t it? Everything depends on how the writer of the work takes the criticism.

Honest critique is nothing personal. It is neither an invitation to destroy a writer’s self-esteem nor merely an opportunity to pat the writer on the back. Again, it’s about the work, not the writer.

With that in mind, as a matter of discussion and thought, see “First Page Critique: Dearest Executioner” and the comments that follow at

Frankly, I was left feeling incredulous at the “critique.”

I read the submitted opening, but I was almost immediately bogged down. I was pulled into the story with the first two-thirds of the opening sentence, then shoved out by the final third. After that, I was never able to get back into the story, much less into the character’s head.

Frankly, it sounded to me like it was more important to the writer to showcase her use of formal, flowery, drama-laden language rather than just telling the story.

(Note: In certain Romance sub-genres and in certain literary fiction, this use of over-the-top language is appropriate, but this story didn’t seem to fall into any of those genres.)

The writer piled drama on drama on drama, which of course, waters down the drama. When everything’s dramatic and all-important, nothing is.

In the first paragraph, the character has “hysterical laughter bubbling in her throat” (so I could hear it). Later we learn the laughter hasn’t actually escaped yet. So how does the writer know it’s “hysterical”?

But as I said, the opening two-thirds of the first sentence (up to “executioner”) was great, even wonderful. It enabled me to see the character (sort of) and a little of the scene.

After that, everything on the page was from the author, not the character. And because it was from the author instead of the character, it was hokey. The writer forced one forearm over the character’s forehead and shoved her headlong into melodrama, never to return.

If I were asked to critique this, I would strongly recommend the author stop editorializing and allow the character to convey the horror of the scene.

For just one example, the doomed character has her hands “bound behind her back” and “heavy rusted shackles rubbing her wrists raw.” Yet the reader can’t feel the pain in her shoulders or her wrists.

Instead we get “The moon hung low. [The l]ights of the distant manor dwindling [should be “dwindled” to avoid changing verb tense] into darkness.”

Then the author wanders off into more melodramatic language with “souls” (not people or soldiers or occupants) wandering the halls and her wondering whether they would “shudder at the echoes of screams.”

(Granted, the use of “souls” is fine if only the spirits of dead people occupy the “manor,” but if that’s true, we should learn it up front.

Besides, if the “souls” would “shudder at the echoes of screams” they wouldn’t have sentenced her to death in the first place, right?

Then, in the same paragraph, we’re ripped out of the scene with “As it was,” which sets up an invalid comparison of all the stuff about screams with the fact that there’s no breeze. One thing has nothing to do with the other.

And all of that was in the opening paragraph. I won’t continue with my own critique. The “hysterical laughter bubbling” was enough to kick me out of the story. And as I said, the rest of the paragraph killed off any chance of me getting back in. Or wanting to.

Obviously the critiquer in this case would disagree with me, and I with her. When I read her critique, my jaw literally dropped open.

And the only two visitors who chimed in seemed to ape the critiquer. Which of course is fine if that’s how they really felt.

I saw a lot in all three so-called critiques that would help “empower” the writer and build or enhance or maintain her self-esteem. But I saw nothing that would actually help her improve her writing. And that’s just sad.

The whole thing reminds me of the woman who practically begged me for a critique of a short story she’d written. I’ve related that story here before, so I’ll summarize:

I finally agreed and took the time to provide an in-depth critique of the opening page. She dismissed most of what I said with a generic “I’ll take it under advisement” and spent the rest of her lengthy response complaining that I hadn’t found anything “good” to say, as “most critiquers” do.

Of course, I did not tell her I wish there had been something “good” to talk about. I just left it alone. She wasn’t looking for a critique at all. She was looking for a pat on the back.

Now, I don’t go into a critique looking for “bad” things or inadequacies. But when they pop out at me, I’m presented with a decision: I can either ignore them, tell the writer how wonderful s/he is and leave it at that, or I can explain what did and didn’t work for me (and why) in an attempt to help the writer grow in the craft.

I always take the second option. Not because I relish the idea of making a writer feel good or bad, but because I trust that the writer is seeking an honest opinion. And because I refuse to betray my own sense of professionalism.

I hasten to add, if I see nothing wrong with an opening (it happens more often than you would think), I tell the writer that. If praise for the writing is warranted, I praise the writing.

So again, critique is all about the writing, not the writer. When you seek a critique, you should demand nothing less than honesty. Then take the parts of the critique that appeal to you and leave the rest.

On that note, if any of you would like an honest critique of the first page of your story (say up to 500 words), I’ll provide that free of charge for a limited time. Email it to me at as an attached Word document. I’ll do the critique and get it back to you ASAP. You may send the full manuscript or just the first 500 words.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Business Musings: Swing An’ A Miss” at

See “Intellectual Property” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1400 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1400

Writing of Nick 3 (novel, tentative title)
Brought forward from September………… 21695

Day 10… 1736 words. Total words to date…… 23431
Day 11… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 1736
Total fiction words for the year………… 338462
Total nonfiction words for the month… 4860
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 137956
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 476168

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 7
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 33
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 6
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193