The Write Practice

The Online Writing Workbook

Why Creatives Need to Criticize Each Other More

“Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” says Charlan Nemeth. “It wakes us right up.”

The single best part of running this blog is the amazing community that has sprung up. One reader recently told me, “I have to say your blog is the bomb. It’s got the best, most lively and connected community.” I couldn’t agree more. Our Practitioners are the coolest blog readers on the Internet.

Creatives Need Criticism

Photo by Jonathan Mueller

We tend to be some of the nicest, too. I love seeing all the nice comments after someone’s practice, “This was so great! I loved it. Thanks for sharing this with us! Yada yada yada.” Overall, we’re a very encouraging group, and I love that about us.

However, I recently read some research that has me questioning our niceness and asking some tough questions:

  • Does encouragement make you a better writer? 
  • Will being nice help us improve as a community?
  • Do we need to be more critical of each other’s work?

Brainstorming versus Debate

In 2003, a psychology researcher named Charlan Nemeth did a study comparing the effectiveness of brainstorming to debate. The results were shocking. Debate, dissent, and criticism, it seemed, produced far more ideas and far better ideas than traditional brainstorming. Nemeth says:

While the instruction ‘Do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.

Debate, dissent, and criticism might not be as nice as encouragement, especially for us sensitive writers, but it will make us more focused on our work, more invigorated by our ideas and the ideas of others, and, in the end, much better writers.

Can We Encourage and Criticize At the Same Time?

Today, in our practice, we’re going to try something new, and it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to intentionally practice encouraging and criticizing at the same time. We can still be a nice community, one that is warm and welcoming, that encourages each other to sit down and do the hard work of writing, work that is often difficult enough without criticism.

However, we’re also going to practice being a community that cares so much about helping each other succeed we’re willing to debate it out with each other. (By the way, I think I like the word debate more than criticize. Doesn’t it sound nicer?)

So yes, I think we can be nice and dissenting at the same time. In fact, providing good dissent might be the nicest thing you could do for a fellow writer.

PRACTICE

Prompt: A young man and a young woman are fighting. What are they fighting about?

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section.

After you post, practice encouraging debate with at least three other Practitioners:

  1. Give ONE piece of positive feedback
  2. Give ONE piece of negative feedback

And if this scares you a bit, just remember this is scientifically proven to make you a better writer. It’s either this or a dozen or more rejection letters!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • http://profiles.google.com/andilit Andrea Cumbo

    I like positive comments as a person and a writer, but honestly, if you care about my writing, you’ll rip it apart . . . that’s what I truly believe, and that’s why I’m a pretty harsh commenter. It’s really easy to say something is, “Good.” Much harder to explain why and then explain what isn’t good. Thanks for this, Joe.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      YES!

    • AliceFleury

      I agree. I like people telling me why my story doesn’t work. I have a habit of being quite honest, its born in me. I try not to discourage, but sometimes the writer needs to hear truth. Not a dance around what is wrong with the piece.

    • Natasha

      I totally agree. I hate when I ask someone to edit or proofread something, and all they can say is, “It’s good; I like it.” There has to be something, ANYTHING that can help make it better. I’ve just started writing, so I highly doubt I’ve reached the peak of my ability already! ;)

  • Jan Schumacher

    Interesting timing. I had the opportunity comment on an associate’s new web-based venture yesterday and was concerned that I was being too negative. (Of course I included encouragement and pointed out good aspects, too). Now I’m reminded that what I said can really help him improve his venture (which was my goal).

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Totally, Jan. It’s interesting that the study suggests it doesn’t even matter what you disagree with. The mere hint of critique raises the bar on creativity and helps people come up with more ideas.

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    Good post, Joe.

    I believe that being honest about another writer’s work is helpful to both the writer and the reader. When I began writing as a serious endeavor two and a half years ago I joined an online writing community. The pieces that received reviews pointing out mistakes, and how I could improve both the story and my writing, were not only welcome, but very, very helpful.

    Some of us are more sensitive than others, and we all should be careful not to discourage anyone from writing, but I, for one, like to hear what I can do to make a story better.

    I don’t read a story with the thought in mind that I want to find what’s wrong, but if something makes me stop reading to try to understand what the writer was trying to say, or if something was just a bit jarring, I don’t mind pointing that out to the writer. But I am also receptive to that kind of review.

    I learned quickly that criticism was meant to help, not hurt or discourage. And that makes all the difference.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Good point, Angelo. Criticism should always be about encouraging each other to do better, not discouraging them to quit. I hope no one ever comes to The Write Practice and is made to feel like they aren’t a writer or that they should quit.

    • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

      Yes, Angelo. Yes! I wish I could hear more comments on how to improve mine. But at the same time I don’t want to be an imposition on anyone. It takes time to give a good and thorough critique.

    • kimberly burks

      I agree with you, if you cannot accept critique, you will not be able to improve on your writing.

  • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com/ Katie Axelson

    Since I put a Write Practice badge on my blog, I’m bragging to be part of the coolest community on the internet, right?

    When receiving feedback, I like to see the smiley faces and “great line!” next to sentences but it’s the “this doesn’t work” or “I don’t understand” or “you can do better” that really push me. Sure, they frustrate and embarrass me, too, but it’s what’s needed. When someone hands me back a piece and says, “It’s nice” that’s not helpful at all.

    Katie

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Yes, please brag away :)

      I agree. I like the exclamation marks and the smileys and the “fix this or else” feedback, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713809765 Donna Kiser

    Oh, so true Joe, and something we learned in Fiction Writing class at Columbia College Chicago immediately. Call back, showing that we actually listened (or read), then at least one thing that “worked for us,” and then what “didn’t work for us.” Facilitating adult ed writing workshops, I did this and it always got dialogue started which resulted in a much better end result. Unfortunately, not all online writing communities are like that. I followed this process on one, where I suggested more brevity for more impact, and several, not all, commented on how they personally would not like those comments posted on their writing. Sad. I, like others here, prefer my writing to be tore apart. If there is something that is not working for a reader, I’d like to know about. Of course, the ultimate decision to rewrite or not is mine, but at least my writing provoked some thought, and as a writer, isn’t that what we all want?

  • http://twitter.com/davidsaleeba David Saleeba

    The tension was so thick, you could have cut it with a knife. But it would have had to be one of the miracle knives from the late night info-mercials. That’s how thick it was as Mack and Debbie were having their latest row.
    “I can’t stand it when you do this to me, Mack!”
    “What? Call you out on how you’re the dumbest know-it-all of all time?” Mack realized as soon as he said it that his mouth engaged and said the thing that he was thinking. He had a bad habit of doing that.
    “I’m leaving! I can’t stand this anymore,” Debbie shouted. Mack was cowering at her comment but it wasn’t so much the threat as it was the knife she was wielding. Picking a fight during dinner prep was a bad move on his part.
    “Now, look Debbie… we don’t need to go and get all crazy here!”
    “Oh, so I’m dumb AND crazy, huh?” She took a step back and just laughed at the situation. It was one of those crazy laughs, kind of a mad scientist cackle.

    When Mack woke up, he was staring at the ceiling. This wasn’t the ceiling of the restaurant, though. He was in a hospital room. He couldn’t help but think, “She almost did it this time… the crazy bat almost killed me!” It was one of those out loud thoughts. Bad habit.
    “No, I didn’t just about kill you, moron” Debbie answered, “You freaked out and slipped on a dishrag and hit your head.” Round 2 begins!

    • http://twitter.com/pootlesuzie Suzie Gallagher

      Positive: funny twist at the end
      Negative: don’t have one – sorry Joe

    • Kathryn Vaughn

      Oh didn’t see that coming, I like the twist. That boy has foot in mouth syndrome. Dialogue is effective. showing not telling, which is always a good thing. On the negative, if you are a grammar bug, I did notice one place that needed a comma between two independent clauses joined by the word, “but”.

    • Marianne Vest

      I like the idea of the piece the way you really tell a complete story in this short amount of words and I like the ending.

      The first line is a cliche. I know you use a real knife and maybe that’s why you used it for a first line, and that’s not a bad idea really, but it would be even more effective if you never wrote the cliche completely out like that.

      I think this is very well done and might be even better if you had about twice as many words to work with.

    • Nancy

      I think I’ve been in this argument before. So realistic. Loved the miracle knife line.
      I wish the ending came slower. While he was moaning about the deadly wife with the deadly knife, he could be feeling around hid body for the stab wound.

      Fun. Thanks for posting.

    • Themagicviolinist

      I liked the details and the way it ended. But I was confused. Were they shouting at a restaurant? Near the end he said he woke up and wasn’t at the restaurant and I couldn’t understand what you meant.

    • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

      I really like how it ended. It’s the sweet craziness of fighting when in relationships. It’s how I would have liked my fights to end up, in partial humor, or maybe minus the part where they get hurt physically.

      Although I thought they were home, fighting, not in a restaurant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/seanschoff Sean Michael Schoff

    “Criticism” finds fault (with a person) while, I favor “Critique” — which looks at structure objectively… otherwise, yes. :)

    peace-
    seanrox

    • Kathryn Vaughn

      I agree with you. Critique is more accurate a word for what writers do for one another.

  • http://twitter.com/pootlesuzie Suzie Gallagher

    “Where’s my tweezers?”

    “What tweezers?”

    “Don’t you what fridge me, Josh, you know which tweezers. I only have one pair, pink, sharp ends. Always kept in the pot by the mirror.”

    “Oh, those tweezers, when are you gonna’ stop using that fridge thing, it was years ago and not very funny then.”

    “That is so typical of you, deflect from the issue. Where are my damn tweezers? And by the way, it was two years ago and it was very important to me. You know that, why do you do this? WHERE ARE MY TWEEZERS?”

    “They might be in the sink. I might have used them to get a screw out. I might need for you to buy new ones. Look I sold the fridge, we were short for the rent, I didn’t know you were given that food. It was my fault. I admitted it then, and again I admit. When will you get off my back?”

    “Josh, I need the tweezers, I have an interview tomorrow. Oh what is the point? You will never change. Remind me, why am I still here?” finally a faint smile started at the corners of her mouth.

    “Because you are crazy about my foot massages, and no one else would put up with constant job changing, mood shifting, high maintainance tush. Oh and I love you. Come here, babe, I am sorry about the tweezers.” He pulled the pliable Amy towards him.

    • http://twitter.com/pootlesuzie Suzie Gallagher

      Please be as critical as you wish, I grow through the criticism of others. :-))

      • Krista

        I like this scenario. The only thing I would say is some of the dialogue doesn’t flow as well as it should. I think sometimes dialogue flows better when its not completely grammatically correct. Maybe make the sentences a little more informal.

    • Marianne Vest

      One thing I like here (and I may have said this before about your writing) is the way you include detail, for instance when you have her describe the pink tweezers in the pot by the mirror I picture them and focus on them as they are the focus of the conversation. Then I see that although she is focused on the tweezers at the moment the argument has been going on for years and he knows that and is not really too upset about the tweezers that he lost. You lead the reader to the right places with the details. That’s harder to do than just putting in random details.

      I don’t like the line “finally a faint smile . . . “. I think it’s overkill. We know she is starting to give in from what has already been said.

      I admire you writing very much Suzie and feel kind of nit picky here, but I do think what Joe says is correct.

    • Nancy

      Love the way you weave the backstory and current issues into a tiny problem like a lost tweezers. Isn’t that always how it goes–a little thing triggers the whole past agenda of grievances.

      I enjoyed your langauge. Especially, “Remind me, why am I still here.” I just wonder if the next line comes in the right place. She smiles before he reminds her of the foot rubs–or does he already know that is what she is thinking? Not clear. But that’s just a small issue because I am required to offer something. Truthfully, this is really well done.

  • http://twitter.com/davidsaleeba David Saleeba

    This is in reply to Suzie Gallagher (couldn’t get the reply function to work)

    OK, I’m glad you clarified the fridge issue… I was wondering what that was all about, but I liked the past element resurfacing. It may have been the 15 minute time limit, but Josh and Amy’s make-up was pretty quick. (I also may be jealous that it doesn’t work out that quickly in real life!)

  • Michelle

    I think there is a big difference between attacking someone in a dergatory way and critiquing someones work. Which is what is being suggested here.

    For example I read of a writing group that met physically each week and one member wrote a story about a failing marrage and how the wife found a new love in a neighbour. One of the members of the group said the story was well written but maybe the neighbour was the easy option and she challenged her to rewrite the ending with her refinding love within the marriage. Which was a challange the author at first thought was going to be pretty hard but was pleased with the result in the end and in fact like it more than the original.

    I have also heard that team of people made up of cross discpiline science teams are slower to get starter on research as you have to explain your areas knowldge and terms and preconceptions to others but tend to be more productive and faster over all in research. They are not being critical as such but by needing to explain and break things down to simple explainations to people not in your field you look at your own field in new ways and question things which tends to be productive. http://www.google.no/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=research%20multi%20field%20groups%20slow%20simple%20explain%20team%20or%20teamwork&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CB4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.stanford.edu%2Fgroup%2FWTO%2Fcgi-bin%2Fdocs%2FCohen_Bailey_97.pdf&ei=faCVT4K3KqzZ4QTQ9YjRDw&usg=AFQjCNFgv4VchOkDPWW5ov-TKGggkdOccA&cad=rja

    So enquirey and positive critiqing are useful tools I think in many fields including writing.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Hi Michelle. Personally, I’m all about constructive criticism. But there’s something about a straight derogatory attack that is thrilling and incredibly productive. For example, when you read a facebook comment or a blog post that just makes you so mad you have to reply, don’t you spend 10 times longer on that, thinking through all the ways that person is wrong, than you do when you’re responding to a nice email from your mom?

      As with fiction, conflict energizes us and makes us do things we’d never think ourselves capable of. If you can capture this energy and put it into the work it can be incredibly productive. Some of the best writing I’ve ever done has been a response to someone’s derogatory attack.

      Great study. Thanks for sharing that. :)

  • Marianne Vest

    “I wish you’d listen just once in a while, Alan. I told you to get blue towels.”

    “What difference does it make?”

    “The bathroom is blue and yellow. Green towels don’t go, at least not dark green.”

    “I like green.”

    “Take them back.”

    “You take them back. I’m not going to the mall again today,” said Alan as the picked up the remote. “It’s the weekend. I’m taking a break.”

    Jessica snatched the remote from his hands.

    “I cook. I clean. I shop. I work a forty hour a week job. I don’t get a break. Why should you?”

    “Because I don’t care if the towels are blue or not, and I don’t car if we eat hot dogs, and I don’t care if the tub is immaculate. I’m going to live my life and that includes taking weekends off.”

    “You don’t like what I cook. I’ll be damned if I ever fix turkey tettrazini for you again,” as she spoke Jessica threw the remote at the wall. A picture of them on their wedding shook off the wall.

    • http://twitter.com/KSZ714 KSZ

      Oh, can’t many of us relate to these characters. I like the simplicity of fighting over towels. I think I’d like to hear more of the argument, though. Also, I’m not sure the final “off the wall” is necessary since we know that she threw the remote at the wall. I also question whether the picture of their wedded bliss shaking during a fight is a bit cliche. I think the characters are strong, and I would love to see more development of them.

      • Marianne Vest

        Thanks I agree about the cliched ending. I appreciate you reading it in detail and commenting.

    • Themagicviolinist

      I was left wanting more. I wanted more details, I wanted for it to escalate and explode into a shouting match or something. I like how you show exactly what the husband and the wife are like, though. Good job. :D

      • Marianne Vest

        Thanks! I’m glad you could see the characters easily. I know what you mean about the details too. If I work on longer I’ll put more in.

    • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com/ Katie Axelson

      I feel bad saying this because I do it all the time but Joe always tells me starting a scene with dialogue is a no-no…

      I like the conflict. She’s definitely blowing up over something simple that’s been percolating in her for a long time.

      Katie

      • Marianne Vest

        Thanks Katie. I didn’t know that about dialogue. I appreciate yourinput.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      This is perfect, Marianne. Half the married couples in the US are having this same argument right now, and yet this still feels fresh and alive to me. Great bit of detail at the end, and of course.

      You spelled care wrong in the second to last paragraph, though. Shame on you.

  • Nancy

    Cole raised his briefcase and whacked the intruder on the head over and over until his knees buckled. Dazed and confused, he fell backwards into the pantry. Cole swiftly shut the door and pushed his feet against it, bracing his back against the refrigerator. He knew his legs could hold for a little while. But once the guy became conscious enough to release his full fury, Cole’s accordion position might not be strong enough. If the police didn’t come soon, he’d need a plan B.

    “Hello? Is someone here?” Plan B shouted from the back door.

    “In here. Hurry!” What a relief to see Laura again.

    “Why is the back door broken? Didn’t you bring a key? You coulda waited, ya know.”

    “You’re assuming I broke it?”

    “Get your feet off the door. Did you lock the kids in the pantry?” Her tone was rising to that pitch that made his ears burn, irritating enough to rouse the intruder.

    He tapped a finger on his lips signaling her to talk softly. He whispered, “You’re assuming I locked the kids in the pantry?” His head dropped and he shook it back and forth. He needed her help now but could see the truth would be problematic.

    “Join me,” he said patting the floor. “We need to talk.” Her face contorted into confusion as she lowered her body. “But first, put your feet on the door.”

    “No. That’s dumb.”

    “Do it.” She did. Wow. “There’s a guy in here who is trying to kill me. But together we can hold the door closed until the police arrive.”

    Her head angled back. “What’s going on? Is there an angry husband in there?”

    “What?”

    “You’ve just come back from Paradise Island. You wouldn’t take me. You hardly talked on the phone.”

    “I can explain later. Right now a bad guy is after me. Is he angry—Yes. Is he somebody’s husband—I don’t know.”

    “What do you know?”

    I was embedded with the DEA. Top secret.”

    “You were embedded alright. I met your little top secret honey at the gun club.”
    “You mean former Sargeant Smith, my weapons trainer?”
    “A management analyst doesn’t need weapons.”
    “I couldn’t take the assignment unless I was certified.”
    “Another strange story from Langley Land.” She thumped her head back against the fridge and let her feet start to slide.

    “Don’t,” he whispered lifting her feet back up. “I’m serious. This is a drug cartel guy from the Bahamas.”

    “You couldn’t tell me about this job before.”

    “And make you worry? No.”

    “But I was worried. About an affair.” She searched his eyes long and hard. “So Cami Smith was telling the truth?” He nodded and she slowly lowered an apologetic head toward his shoulder.

    Bang! A huge force rattled their knees, and they shifted their attention to the door. “Push!” shouted Cole.

    “I am,” yelled a panicked male voice from inside.

    • http://twitter.com/KSZ714 KSZ

      “Sofie,” Damian said staring down at his feet. His hands tucked deep into his pockets so that even his wrists were hidden. His jaw twitched while his eyes blinked rapidly.
      “Damian, what is wrong with you?” Sofie asked.
      “I’m one of them,” he said. All night he practiced how he would tell Sofie that he was the son of an implant. That what the two of them feared most was actually happening
      and that Damian’s existence had been predetermined for him.
      “What are you talking about, Damian?”
      “My father is an implant.”
      Sofie dropped the notebook she was holding, bent to pick it up, then threw it at Damian.
      “Who are you? Did they send you here to spy on me? Has this all been a game to you?” Sofie’s voice elevated in octaves as she grew more afraid of Damian.
      “Oh my God, you know everything,” she said covering her face with her hands and then falling to her knees. “How long have you know?” she asked grabbing for an old rake that leaned up against the wall of the barn. She crossed the wooden handle in a defensive position against her chest and screamed louder, “How long have you know?”
      “Sofie, please. You have to trust me. Please listen to me,” Damian said.
      “Listen to you? Like they are listening to us right now? Did you bug this place? Did they have you plant a device in here?” She was hollering louder as she scrambled to the desk and rifled through the pages of their books. She overturned the keyboard, opened the drawers, searched around the ceiling for hidden cameras, then crawled under the desk intent on finding a listening device.
      “Do you have your H2 with you?” she said.
      “No,” Damian replied emptying his pockets. “You have to believe me, I don’t want this. I didn’t know anything until last night.”
      “He’s your father. How could you not know?” Sofie said charging at him ready to fight. When she was within a foot of him she clenched her fist and wound up to punch him in the gut. Damian grabbed her hand and spun it over her head, turning him into her so that her back was to him. She kicked his chin as she bent over trying to break free.
      “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you,” she repeated. She fought hard elbowing his chest and shirking herself about trying to break free, but Damian was too strong.
      “Please calm down, Sofie,” Damian whispered. “You have to trust me. I haven’t betrayed. I won’t betray you. I won’t betray the uprising,” Damian said.

    • http://twitter.com/KSZ714 KSZ

      I was hooked with the first line. I wanted to keep reading more. A few points to consider, though, are the couple cliches (searched his eyes long and hard and dazed and confused) and the clarification of who is who. Are Cole and Laura married? Are they roommates? Is this a residential home or an office? These were a few questions that popped up as I read through. I love the clincher at the end that suggests this man in the closet is not so bad after all.

    • Marianne Vest

      I love the situation here and the dialogue is funny.

      I don’t like that it’s very confusing. I’m not sure what’s going on. That might be because this is just too much and too complicated to get into such a short piece.

      I really like the idea of this kind of setup for an argument.

  • Kathryn Vaughn

    “So let me get this straight,” Mandy snarled at Peter. “You want me to tell Mr. Dickerson that I forgot to call the client about the meeting change so that you won’t look bad.”

    “Right,” responded Peter. “He likes you so much better than me. He thinks I am too distracted by other activities to concentrate on work. He told me if I made one more mistake, my only job in this building was that a barrista in the coffee house.

    “No, I refuse, and you cannot make me. I am sick and tired of carrying your ass. It is time for you to man up to your behavior.”

    “I need this job; I have thousands of dollars in students loans to pay back.”

    “Tell me one project in the last six months you have contributed anything of significance.”

    Mandy had become more annoyed than usual with Peter. She quit counting the parties and trips she had missed because of Peter’s lack of will power. Anything in a skirt and money had his head turned so fast he suffered from whiplash. Mandy didn’t remember her last date or affair for that matter. She married the advertising business and for better or worse, so had Peter.

    “You can’t be serious, Mandy. I am been on several projects.”

    “I did ask you how many you have been assigned; I asked you about your role in selling our clients our ideas. When was the last time you even had an idea worth pitching?”
    “a being an ad man. In college all the cute girls completed his assignments in exchange for doing their calculus homework. Math for him was easy. Finance and economics interested him far more that creating catchy slogans and conducting consumer research. Talking to people had never been Peter’s strong suit.

    “Okay, help me out this one last time, and I promise to put in for a transfer to accounting.”

    “And why would I want to inflict you on accounting?” Mandy thought about it and realized that Peter was much better suited to those only seen at the Christmas Party and annual Picnic.

    “We’ll blame it on the client’s secretary. She’s sleeping with him and will to do anything to keep me from telling the secretary pool here.”

  • http://www.saltandsparkle.com/ Nics Cahill

    I love the idea that criticism can be invigorating. This is so very true Joe.

    This weekend I got some great criticism from an editor on I piece I was working on. It was tough love, but it was great love. THe comments were really helpful& when I’ve finished working up the piece it will be 20 times better, than my draft.

    Constructive criticism or what has been termed negative feedback is essential if we are to get better at our craft. But I think it needs to be done in a safe environment i.e. we ask someone for criticism, or to comment on our work.

    Every piece of work we put out there, we ask for comment, but we have the choice to take or leave this, as is the case with requested criticism. We need to realise when the critic is helpful, and when they are vindictive. What is the critics agenda, are they genuinely trying to help us, or are they trying to shoot us in the foot, because they have had a certain emotional reaction to our work. perhaps they are jealous they did not write it.

    In general terms I am always open to criticism on my blog if someone thinks I could write something in a more expressive way, or there is something about a photo that i could improve, or they give me a new way of thinking. This sort of criticism can be written in an encouraging way, that stimulates, and pushes. However, I don’t think general blog post is always the poster asking for criticism.

    When I write about criticism, I am generally thinking about my work – stories, photography, radio and tv scripts – I want these to be the best they can be. I want them to be brilliant, and that means I need to be able to accept genuine comment, know how to take it, and how to act on it if it is appropriate.

    When I ask for criticism, I want people to give it to me, I don’t want a tough of nicely nicely nicely. I want genuine words, that I can ponder, and consider. It is ultimately up to me, to take or leave, or develop what is given to me. But in the end I have ‘to ship’.

    I really dislike what I can namby pampy don’t hurt your feelings criticism that does not help us improve. I always want to think about how I can do things better. What can I learn, what can I do better? What can be tightened up, what can be left out. Etc. I have noticed over the past few years there seems to be a culture of bland comment. This certainly is not the case in television.

    I’m not so much talking about posting on blogs here but when we ask for critical feedback. My godfather was always amazing at giving me feedback on my work. He would give me back my essays covered in red pen. You know it made such a difference. It made me a better writer.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts. As always, I love your blog Joe.

  • Marianne Vest

    I think both criticism and compliments are most helpful if they are detailed and refer to specific parts of the text, like where a piece of dialogue is stilted, or where a descriptive analogy is particularly effective. The worst thing of all though is to hear (read I should be saying instead of hear) nothing.

    When I was an art major we put our work up each week and the class did a critique. Some comments were negative and some were positive but the artist could say “what do you mean” and the commenter would explain. It was very hard at first and many of use would have tears in our eyes by the end of a critique but we learned a lot from those critiques.

    I think you have to just take any criticism as it comes, and use it if possible.

  • Krista

    “We’re really back to the ‘boys and girls can’t be friends’ argument here?” she asks as she stares at him over the hood of the car.

    He just looks at her without answering. She assumes he has no idea what to say to her anymore.

    “How is it that for the past two years you tell me you are working on things? You’re trying to make her more comfortable with the idea of us being friends, but yet here we are. Here you are telling me you can’t come to my birthday party.”

    He exhales and she waits. She has spent the past two years offering endless opportunities for his wife to get to know her AND her husband. But he never took her up on any of them. And so here they are…at yet another impasse.

    She knows he’s not going to say anything so she tries again, this time a little angrier. “For Christ sake what decade is this? Just because I have girl parts and you have boy parts, we can’t be friends? Come on. We are both married for crying out loud.”

    “I don’t know what to say,” he finally mumbles.

    “Of course you don’t. You never do.”

    She goes to turn away and head back to her car when she hears him say, “Don’t go. You just have to give me a little more time. Come back to the car please.”

    She opens her car door and just before she climbs inside she looks back at him for the last time. “It’s too late,” she says.

    • Marianne Vest

      I like the intensity of this argument and think that friends who can’t be friends anymore is certainly a situation that warrants that kind of intensity.

      I don’t like that some much of this is an explanation of what they think. This is too intense for that kind of description. That said, your topic is big and hard to cover in so few words without summarizing.

      I like the line about boy parts and girl parts. I’ve heard people talk like that when they’re really being sarcastic which she is.

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    Okay, here’s my aguement.

    “Gregg, you never have been good at matching colors.” Carol turned and placed the paint color sample against the bare wall and tilted her head as she examined it, ignoring her husbands frown.

    “Maybe not, but I know that red sample you’re holding looks horrible next to the green tile.” Gregg took a yellow paint sample from his shirt pocket and held it up to the light. “Now this color goes very well with the green tile you insisted on.” He held the square against the wall and smiled. “See?”

    “I like the red paint with the green tile better.” Carol walked to the phone. “I’ll call the paint store and order a gallon of the red.”

    “You have the color coordination of a color-blind person, you know that!” Gregg walked into the living room and flopped heavily onto the couch and reached for the TV remote. “And you’ll have to drive to the paint store to pick it up, because I’m not going.”

    “Suit yourself,” Carol said as she dialed the phone. As she listened to the store’s phone ring in her ear, Carol mumbled to herself. “The color blind, indeed! He’ll see once the wall is painted, it matches perfectly! What does he know about it anyway?”

    She gasped suddenly. “No, no, not you, sir.” Carol said apologetically. “I was just talking to myself.”

    Carol walked to the kitchen counter and picked up the color sample and turned it over to read the order number. “Yes, this is Carol Rembrandt,” she said into the phone. “I’d like to order a gallon of paint.” She listened for a few seconds. “Yes, I’m the customer who bought the green tile.” She listened again. “Yes, I know it was an unusual color, a special order I was told.” She hesitated again, then said. “Yes, it looks very nice on the kitchen wall.”

    Carol gave the color mixture numbers to the paint store employee and then waited while he checked his stock. After a couple of minutes Carol spoke again.
    “Yes, that’s right, it’s red. I want to order a gallon.” She hesitated while she listened, then said in reply. “Yes, I said I know the paint I’m ordering is red. And yes, the paint is for the kitchen wall.” Carol fell silent for a minute and began tapping her foot as someone began talking to her from the store.

    Suddenly she gasped and said into the phone, “No, I’m not color blind, thank you,” and slammed the phone down.

    • Marianne Vest

      Ha! That made me feel like I was watching a sitcom.

      I like that you took a fairly common (I think) spousal argument about decorating and worked it up so the ending was comical.

      I think “flopped heavily” could just be flopped.

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      I like the flow of the dialogue between husband and wife (I presume?).

      Though this part, for me anyway, felt a bit off:

      “I’d like to order a gallon of paint.” She listened for a few seconds. “Yes, I’m the customer who bought the green tile.” She listened again. “Yes, I know it was an unusual color, a special order I was told.” She hesitated again, then said. “Yes, it looks very nice on the kitchen wall.”

      Maybe because of the pauses in between? I know they’re necessary but maybe you can show what Carol’s doing at that moment when the pause happened instead of just saying “she listened again” “she hesitated again”.

      P.S. I hope I didn’t sound bossy :

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      I like the flow of the dialogue between husband and wife (I presume?).

      Though this part, for me anyway, felt a bit off:

      “I’d like to order a gallon of paint.” She listened for a few seconds. “Yes, I’m the customer who bought the green tile.” She listened again. “Yes, I know it was an unusual color, a special order I was told.” She hesitated again, then said. “Yes, it looks very nice on the kitchen wall.”

      Maybe because of the pauses in between? I know they’re necessary but maybe you can show what Carol’s doing at that moment when the pause happened instead of just saying “she listened again” “she hesitated again”.

      P.S. I hope I didn’t sound bossy :

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    This comment is for Krista. (For some reason I have been unable to “reply” to any posts.)

    I have boy parts and I have friends who have girl parts. And I’ve been married for a very long time, so this story spoke to me.

    You are “telling” the story rather than “showing” it. Here’s what I mean.

    You wrote: “She opens her car door and just…”

    I would suggest this: Opening the car door, she began to curl into the front seat as he called out to her. She stopped and turned to him, saying, “It’s too late.”

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    This comment is for Krista. (For some reason I have been unable to “reply” to any posts. Any suggestions, Joe?)

    I have boy parts and I have friends who have girl parts. And I’ve been married for a very long time, so this story spoke to me.

    You are “telling” the story rather than “showing” it. Here’s what I mean.
    You wrote: “She opens her car door and just…”

    I would suggest this: Opening the car door, she began to curl into the front seat as he called out to her. She stopped and turned to him, saying, “It’s too late.”

  • Themagicviolinist

    This is a piece from my story. It’s about a young girl named Anya who wants to be a soldier but in her country girls are expected to sew and cook and clean and marry and have children, not fight in an army. Hope you like it! :D

    Anya slammed the door behind her as she walked into the house, sending a cloud of dust all around the room. She heard a faint achoo! Anya drew her sword faster than lightning and looked around.
    “Show yourself!” she demanded.
    “It’s just me!” a quiet voice said nervously. A shadowy figure stepped out from the darkness.
    Anya lowered her sword.
    “Hello, Ronald,” she said. “What’re you doing here?”
    Ronald stepped into the faint light from a window. Anya noticed his sandy hair was shaggier and covered parts of his eyes. He was even taller since the last time they met. Anya always joked that he shot up straighter and faster than a weed. He gave one of his goofy smiles.
    “I heard you were living here now,” he explained.
    “Word travels fast,” she said sarcasticly. Ronald gave a snort. Gossip spread wider and faster than wildfire in Stormcastle. The kingdom was given that name back five hundred years ago when the castle was struck by lightning.
    “Mrs. Melly saw you going into this house after she closed up the shop,” Ronald said, jerking his thumb at the quilt shop across from Anya’s house.
    Anya sheathed her sword and kicked the floorboard. The floorboard flipped up and slid across the room. She set the sword down and replaced it.
    “So what’ve you been up to?” Ronald asked casually.
    “Nothing much,” she said with a shrug. She smiled and poked him playfully. “I got the emerald, though.”
    Ronald raised his eyebrows.
    “Really. This isn’t a joke, right?”
    Anya shook her head.
    “No joke. I got it just an hour ago. The king gave me a sack of gold and offered me this house as reward. Oh yeah, and I’m on guard duty to protect the emerald.”
    Ronald smiled.
    “Good for you.”
    “It’s more than good. It’s great! This is a wonderful start to my soldier career.”
    Ronald gave an exsasperated sigh that told her he was tired of this subject.
    “Anya, we’ve talked about this-.”
    “I know we’ve talked about this,” she said impatiently. “You’ve said many times that girls can’t be soldiers, but who knows, I may be the first. I see no point in why a girl can’t be a soldier. What’s the difference between a girl and a boy, anyways?”
    “Well,” he started. “Boys are naturally stronger.”
    Silence fell.
    “See, that’s all you can think of. I’ve trained, I’m strong, and I can fight! Who cares if a boy is stronger than me, I’m still strong and I can handle a sword and a bow and arrow just as well as any boy can. If I challenged you right now to a sword fight-!”
    “You would chop me to pieces,” Ronald inturupted. “But I’m not good at fighting. You know I need training. It’s just not right for a lady to be a soldier.”
    Anya bared her teeth angrily.
    “I’m not a lady,” she said stiffly. “I’m nothing like a lady! If I were to chop my hair off right now, I would look and act just like a boy. No one would know the difference except for you, the king, and Bert.”
    Ronald pursed his lips.
    “I know that. But the king would never allow-.”
    “How do you know what the king would and wouldn’t allow? I’ve worked for him for almost a year now. He knows what I’m capable of. If I have the proper training, I could become a great soldier. I could fight off goblins and armies and so many other things! It’s just not fair.”
    She broke off and bit her lip to prevent angry tears from spilling. Ronald placed his hand on her soldier.
    “I know, Anya. It’s not my fault that girls don’t get treated fairly. You need some sleep.”
    And he left without another word.
    “Well that was sudden,” Anya muttered to herself.

    • Themagicviolinist

      I should explain that I made up the country they are in. :D

    • Marianne Vest

      As usual I like your dialogue. It’s fast and believable. I also like something I want to call the energy of this. I feel the excitement of the characters and I think this quality of vitality that I get from you writing has to do with its rhythm. I will look at this again tomorrow (if nothing goes wrong here) and see if I can be clearer on that.

      I don’t like his growing up like a weed. Watch out for clichés.

      You are really amazing for your age. I know I keep saying that but I mean it.

      • Themagicviolinist

        Thank you! :D I’ll change the weed thing. ;)

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      I like the dialogue as well. It’s believable and it’s engaging. It got me hooked til the end.

      The bad point probably would be the end. Maybe because of the time limit? But just like Anya said, it ended abruptly and it didn’t fit in with the “tone” of the story. BUT I think if you were given more than 15 minutes this would turn out fine :)

    • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

      I like how you use dialogue in this piece to convey a lot of information, especially about the setting where this story takes place. You handled it well.

      However, you’ve tagged a lot of your dialogue with adverbs that I found distracting. It breaks up the pace.

    • Marianne Vest

      Hey I read over this again and can’t find much to add in the way of criticism. As Casey mentioned you might want to get rid of some adverb tags, like “she said nervously” or “she said stuffy”. It is advised on lots of books on writing that you don’t tag dialogue with adverbs, or use adverbs much at all. They say to use a strong verb instead of an adverb, but sometimes with dialogue you just have to depend on what has been said to convey what you mean to convey with the adverb. Like when she demands that the person show himself and he says “it’s just me” you pretty much know he would be nervous because she has been so aggressive.

      What I do is, when I finish writing I search under the edit tab for “ly” then I try to think of ways to eliminate the “ly”s. If for instance I have “he walked heavily” I will substitute “he trod” or “he marched”. I’m sorry to be so picky but you are really good at this and I know you will benefit from any well intended critique. Doing the “ly” search is time consuming but it worth it in the end.

      Keep writing. You’re gifted.

      • Themagicviolinist

        No, thank you so much! :D I love it when someone is honest enough to give me advice and say exactly what they think. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :D

  • http://twitter.com/KSZ714 KSZ

    “Sofie,” Damian said staring down at his feet. His hands tucked deep into his pockets so that even his wrists were hidden. His jaw twitched while his eyes blinked rapidly.
    “Damian, what is wrong with you?” Sofie asked.
    “I’m one of them,” he said. All night he practiced how he would tell Sofie that he was the son of an implant. That what the two of them feared most was actually happening
    and that Damian’s existence had been predetermined for him.
    “What are you talking about, Damian?”
    “My father is an implant.”
    Sofie dropped the notebook she was holding, bent to pick it up, then threw it at Damian.
    “Who are you? Did they send you here to spy on me? Has this all been a game to you?” Sofie’s voice elevated in octaves as she grew more afraid of Damian.
    “Oh my God, you know everything,” she said covering her face with her hands and then falling to her knees. “How long have you know?” she asked grabbing for an old rake that leaned up against the wall of the barn. She crossed the wooden handle in a defensive position against her chest and screamed louder, “How long have you know?”
    “Sofie, please. You have to trust me. Please listen to me,” Damian said.
    “Listen to you? Like they are listening to us right now? Did you bug this place? Did they have you plant a device in here?” She was hollering louder as she scrambled to the desk and rifled through the pages of their books. She overturned the keyboard, opened the drawers, searched around the ceiling for hidden cameras, then crawled under the desk intent on finding a listening device.
    “Do you have your H2 with you?” she said.
    “No,” Damian replied emptying his pockets. “You have to believe me, I don’t want this. I didn’t know anything until last night.”
    “He’s your father. How could you not know?” Sofie said charging at him ready to fight. When she was within a foot of him she clenched her fist and wound up to punch him in the gut. Damian grabbed her hand and spun it over her head, turning him into her so that her back was to him. She kicked his chin as she bent over trying to break free.
    “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you,” she repeated. She fought hard elbowing his chest and shirking herself about trying to break free, but Damian was too strong.
    “Please calm down, Sofie,” Damian whispered. “You have to trust me. I haven’t betrayed. I won’t betray you. I won’t betray the uprising,” Damian said.

    • Marianne Vest

      I like your description of the action here. The part when she try’s to punch him and he grabs her hand Nd spins her around is particularly good. Using short clear sentences reay works here.

      I don’t like the characters yet (and that’s abig yet because this is such a short action sample that you really haven’t had time to develope them yet) because they are too “good”. If you do more with this maybe you could make the characters more rounded.

    • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

      ““Listen to you? Like they are listening to us right now? Did you bug this place? Did they have you plant a device in here?” She was hollering louder as she scrambled to the desk and rifled through the pages of their books. She overturned the keyboard, opened the drawers, searched around the ceiling for hidden cameras, then crawled under the desk intent on finding a listening device.”

      I like this part because it shows Sofie frantic and upset, as if she’s been found out.

      I found the part where she drops to her knees before Damian a bit overwrought. I don’t understand why she would do that, it’s like she’s begging for his mercy or begging him to stay with her or begging for something, but I don’t know for what.

      But I love stories about uprisings. :)

  • Themagicviolinist

    I LOVE IT when someone is honest enough to give me real advice and real constructive criticism. I tire of all of the, “I love it!” and “Great job!” and nothing else. I have a few friends who actually give me advice on how to make it better and I can’t help but feel grateful even when they say stuff like, “I really didn’t like this part. It was really confusing.” Good post! :D

  • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress PJreece

    It takes practice to take criticism. I was lucky to have worked in film and television where clients and broadcasters have no time to waste. Criticism comes down fast and often hard. I’m also lucky to have a highly literate wife who cannot lie to me. Which reminds me that living within a community of writers and artists who are more accomplished than I am is a sure way to receive valuable criticism. That’s the story of my life. What good is seeking help from people whose talents haven’t been tempered by fire? Serendipitously, I’m writing a related blog post that may be up tonight. I’m glad this is being discussed. Thanks, Joe.

    • Marianne Vest

      PJ are you saying that the input of those who aren’t published isn’t valuable when you say “What good is seeking . . . by fire?”. I think in the movie business people who have seen a movie through to the end certainly do have much more to offer than another novice screen writer because they could see how the script actually panned out in the end. However with writing, most of us who want to writer are readers (and the ones who aren’t are pretty recognizable) and their input seems valid to me. I would love to know what Johnathan Franzen or the main editor of Tin House (he would probably be better than FRanzen) but I’m not sure that their input would really be a whole lot more valid than any other readers. It depends on who you want to read your stories and on how well they can explain what they like and don’t like. I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

      I do think genre has an impact on criticism. Some genres are more dependent on predictability then others so that is one factor that could make a reader less focused on the things that the writer intends to focus on.

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        That’s a good point about genre. I know someone who was critiqued by a bestselling mystery or thriller or something author. “Who would read this stuff?” he said. “It sounds like… poetry!” Of course, she went on to be a bestseller.

      • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress Pjreece

        I have no idea why I said that about not seeking advice from writers who don’t have their black belt in critiquing. It’s all good. Perhaps I was letting leak a yearning to find a critique group who were more forthcoming than most. The tougher the love, the better. But generally, great advice can come from any serious reader or writer, I absolutely agree. Thanks for keeping me honest.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      It certainly does take practice, and that’s what we’re hear for, right? But it sounds like you’ve had more practice than all of us, PJ! I can’t handle my wife’s criticism. Anyone else can disagree with me, but she needs to think everything I’ve ever written is amazing. I probably need to get over that.

      • Marianne Vest

        I’m the same way with my husband Joe, and I’ve been trying to get over it for years now.

  • http://kateschneider.blogspot.com/ Katherine D Schneider

    When he walked through the door, his hair was still damp from sweat and matted to his head. The familiar stink of the hockey equipment clung to his skin, and he was exhausted from the rigorous skating up and down, up and down, up and down the ice. He carried his sticks and bag limply at his side like a hunter coming into the camp after a long day, his tools and prize dragging the dirt because his arms were just too tired to lift them, yet at the same time invigorated and running high on adrenaline after the battle he had just won against his prey.

    He was ready to pour out the details of the hard-fought victory that his team had pulled off that evening. His smile was bursting and the words behind it could no longer be held back.

    “I scored twice and had two assists and it would have been a hat trick if not for a really cheap shot this guy took at me on a breakaway to the other net. It was just gonna be me and the goalie, head-to-head, then I felt this jerk’s stick grab my ankle and — ”

    Her eyes shut off the gush of excited chatter midstream, as quickly and cleanly as a water valve could have done.

    “What’s up Nathalie?” Everett asked. “How was your night?”

    “Fine,” she said, not making eye contact and quickly turning back to the dishes.

    She was in a quiet mood where she was so upset that the words couldn’t get past her mouth, and that was the worst kind of mood. He knew it was only a matter of time before she, too, burst, but it wouldn’t be a torrent of excited chatter that came out when that happened.

    “You don’t sound fine. Here, let me finish the dishes. Have you not eaten yet?”
    That was the opening she’d been waiting for. Her eyes brimmed with tears. “No, Everett, it’s 9:30 and I still haven’t eaten because Benjamin was very fussy tonight because he’s teething and I had no opening to neglect him while I whipped up some dinner for myself. You wouldn’t know that because you didn’t even see him today and you were off having fun, not worrying about your small baby or your wife. You just take it for granted that I’m here taking care of everything.”

    “I don’t understand. I have to have an outlet. I’m home now. Why don’t you eat and go take a bath and go do what you want to do.”

    “What I want to do is go to sleep now! It’s very kind of you to come throw me a morsel of my own personal time at the very end of the day, when I’m so exhausted from working and giving everything I have to the baby that I can’t even see straight.”

    Everett’s eyes had a pleading helplessness to them. “Nathalie, I just don’t know what you want. I want to play hockey. I need to have some form of an outlet.”

    “When do I get an outlet, Everett? When do I get two nights a week, four hours each night, to leave the house and not worry about the baby?”

    “But Nathalie, when you have that opportunity, you don’t like to be away from the
    baby.”

    “But I hardly have that chance to begin with. And yes, I do like to be around my son. That’s why we decided to have a baby in the first place.”

    “Nathalie, you know I love him, but I just want to be able to play hockey. I love it out there. It’s so much fun. I wish you guys could come out and watch me.”

    “Everett, there are a million things I’d love to be out doing. But we have a newborn at home. I want you to play, but maybe right now isn’t the best time. I’m not asking you to give up everything forever. But I have to work all day. I have to bring income in. Staying home isn’t an option for us now, but that means when I am at home, he deserves the best I have to give to him. It means there’s not a lot of time for cooking, and with only me here, I barely have time to stop and eat.”

    “He can entertain himself, you know.”

    “Yeah, I think he does. It’s called 9 hours a day of daycare. Surely he deserves a few hours of personal love and attention. At least that’s how I feel. I guess you don’t.”

    “That’s not fair and it’s not true.”

    How else am I supposed to feel? It’s lonely and overwhelming to have to care for him by myself, night after night, while you’re out having carefree fun. I certainly don’t have the opportunity to exercise at all these days. I imagined us being a family. Not me, feeling guilty that I’m away from him all day, and you being away from both of us all day. No one gets the best of me. Work doesn’t because I’m tired and exhausted and distracted. Benjamin doesn’t because I’m at work all day and tired and exhausted when I come home. This isn’t the kind of mother I want to be. And I need help. If you want me earning money, I need help from you at home. If you’re not going to help, I need you to figure out how I can stay at home. This simply isn’t working. You’re being unfair to me and to Benjamin.”

    She was again quiet and turned back to the dishes. She had exploded, laid it out bare for him, and he knew he now had to rise up and figure out a solution to the problem. He no longer felt quite so much like the victorious hunter, bringing home the provisions his family needed from him.

    • Marianne Vest

      I like these characters the overworked martyr Nathie and the irresponsible childish Everett. I think with more room you could really do something with them as long as he shows some of his good side.

      I don’t like the second sentence. I think it could be changed to two sentences. That would let you emphasize the rigor of skating “up and down., up and down . . .”. The second part of the sentence with its repetition is really good and would stand out more if it were its own sentence. In fact if you could move it to the very beginning of the story somehow that might sound better.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      You captured me at the beginning with your description, Katherine. Beautifully written with those long, well-structured sentences.

      Maybe it’s because I’m not a mom, but Nathelie came off whiny, “No, Everett, it’s 9:30 and I still haven’t eaten because Benjamin was very fussy tonight … ” You lost me at fussy. This conflict is probably very accurate, but it’s too domestic for me.

  • Kathy

    I agree that we need criticism as well as encouragement. If I did not have the feedback from my writer’s group, I would continue my writing blissfully without trying to find out how to make my story ring with conviction and in an artful manner. I applaud your remarks about the necessity of bringing in negative remarks in order to grow as a write. On the positive side, pointing out the good features of one’s writing is an encouragement to keep on, growing and learning about the process of writing.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      True. We need both positive and negative feedback.

  • taylorLmorris

    Here is my stab at it:

    Cora stared at Knox from across the candle lit room, her face heating up as she watched him carelessly talk to guests of the party. She wanted to punch him in the gut for betraying her, yell at him for leaving her, and so many other things that she knew she should not do. Then again, Cora always did seem to be a bit uncontrollable when she became enraged.

    A perk blonde whispered something into Knox’s ear as she twirled one of her long blonde strands around one of her fingers. Knox nodded as she talked, both keeping a serious look on their face as she talked. She tapped her wrist, indicating the time, before sauntering away into the crowd of dancing bodies. Cora ran her thumb nail deep into the palm of her hand to try to calm herself as she watched Knox move towards an exit of the ballroom. She failed in trying to keep herself from following him.

    She found her self following Knox at a distance, but her large stride was slowly closing the gap between them. When she was so close to Knox that she could hear his steady breaths, she did the unthinkable.

    The crack of Knox’s jaw as her fist made contact with it sent chills down her spine, but she felt please for a second. “What the…“ Knox yelled, grabbing his jaw and raising his fist to return the punch to his attacker. His eyes met a familiar crystal blue gaze whose face was currently read with anger. He paused at the recognition of the woman before him, but received a punch to the gut instead.

    “What was that for?!” He yelled once more, ready to punch Cora back this time. “You… You… you broke your promise. You swore you wouldn’t.” She mumbled in slight timidity, “You know that my mum and pa are dead now because of you.” Knox had nothing to say back, he knew what she accused him of were true, so he just nodded his head at the news. One of the guys in the alliance had told him about Cora’s parent’s death a while back. It made his stomach drop just as deep as it did now.

    “Why did you do it, Knox?” she asked. He shook his head and took slow steps back until Cora wasn’t in sight any more. Why wasn’t man enough to tell her his reason?

    • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com/ Katie Axelson

      When you first start the scene, I’m not really sure what’s going on, where we are, who’s all there, and why.

      I like that she punched him. Does that make me a horrible person? But I want to know why.

      I think you’ve got a great start here, Taylor

      Katie

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks for practicing, Taylor!

      I’m assuming this is some kind of high school dance? I always like scenes that take place in high school locals. There’s something about those memories that are disturbingly powerful.

      I didn’t like a couple things. Have you ever hit someone? When you’re angry enough to hit someone, you’re not thinking about chills and pleasure. You’re not really thinking. It’s just a big rage noise. She seems to relaxed and laid back about it.

      Second, this whole paragraph is a mess:

      “You… You… you broke your promise. You swore you wouldn’t.” She mumbled in slight timidity, “You know that my mum and pa are dead now because of you.” Knox had nothing to say back, he knew what she accused him of were true, so he just nodded his head at the news. One of the guys in the alliance had told him about Cora’s parent’s death a while back. It made his stomach drop just as deep as it did now.

      She just hit him and now she’s timid? Then you’re throwing in backstory, which is the ultimate tension destroyer?

      Still, I like the fight in the middle of the dance, and yours is a little less predictable than the usual “you offended my girlfriend” one.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    In the name of “15 minutes,” I cut this off mid-scene. It is the first attempt at a sordid reunion that happens in my WIP. Thanks for getting me off my duff and working toward fleshing this project out again. Still not sure on Myrtle’s name, but I’m stuck with it for now.:

    Rex cocked his head. He heard someone approaching, their footsteps grinding last autumn’s leafy mulch into the wet ground of the path he had cleared the first spring after RJ’s birth. It wound through the bog to behind their house and ended at a hidden pond where a pair of loons nested each year. At the time, he had thought that it would help her to get some fresh air with the new baby, yet he was the only one who had ever walked there with RJ, whose colicky howl had drowned out the loons’ mad cackles.

    A baby buggy rounded the corner into the clearing of their backyard, with his wife at the helm.

    “Myrt?” he asked quietly.

    All traces of the round and sassy girl he had married were gone; she was now as sallow and stringy as the trees that sucked the brown, acidic water deep in the swamp. Even when he had seen her last – on that ill-fated day in November when he had stood in this very yard butchering a buck that he had strung up in a tree before it froze too hard instead of responding to his son’s cries from behind the windowpanes of the bedroom overhead – she had been hauntingly beautiful in the way of a wolf that emerges with a face steaming with blood from the belly of its prey.

    The sight of her, thickened with the guilt of his memories, triggered a fatherly instinct. He lunged toward the buggy. She popped the front wheels up, spun the carriage, and took off along the forest’s edge. The buggy jolted ahead of her, and the bundle inside almost bumped over the top as she cleared a stump.

    He could not live with causing another casualty. He slowed down with the hopes that she would as well. To his astonishment, she stopped.

    He sidled toward her at an angle. “Whose baby is that?” Trusting Myrt with a baby was like asking an arsonist to light the altar candles for mass.

    “Mine.” She stared at the trees ahead. “Are you jealous?”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I love the tension, Steph—his internal conflict and his conflict with her. There’s a lot going on here.

      I usually like long sentences, but these were so complicated and meandering I had a hard time following them. Also, buggy? You must not be American (and I’m surprised I didn’t know that) because who says buggy?

    • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

      I like how you’ve described Myrtle through Rex’s eyes. She sounds a little unhinged, like maybe she’s suffering postpartum depression, or had at one time–except she has a baby, and it’s not Rex’s? Wow. It’s a good set up for a conflict.

      “Even when he had seen her last – on that ill-fated day in November when he had stood in this very yard butchering a buck that he had strung up in a tree before it froze too hard instead of responding to his son’s cries from behind the windowpanes of the bedroom overhead – she had been hauntingly beautiful in the way of a wolf that emerges with a face steaming with blood from the belly of its prey. ”

      This part, however, is really an eyeful. It’s a like a huge run-on that’s not a run-on. You might have to break it up, or even leave a little bit of it out, like this part: “that he had strung up in a tree before it froze too hard.”

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Hi Taylor. I like that she has a darn good reason for punching him. I noticed some head-hopping, though, which interrupts the flow of the scene.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    @Angelo (I can’t reply still either): I can relate to this poor woman; 9 years later, my husband still gives me a hard time about one of my kitchen renno attempts! There is an extra “again” or two in the paragraph where she is on the phone. Maybe another transition word would work instead?

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  • http://TeenLifeHope.org/ Kati Lane

    Everyone needs honest friends who tend toward the “half empty” side of life. Especially when their priority is kindness.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    That was hilarious, Suzie. Your dialoge is quick and easy to follow. I think you might be missing the word “a” in the last paragraph. I’m either a lame critic or you’re a really good writer…or both :-).

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Alright, Joe, this one is for you: Love the blog, hate the reply button (or lack of) lately!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Hi Steph. I’m so sorry. Apparently DISQUS does not play nice with Internet Explorer. However, there is a fix that I’ve attempted. You’ll have to let me know if it works. If not, I recommend Google Chrome ;)

  • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

    I think criticism (or debate according to Joe :) ) is helpful IF it adds something. If the person criticizes just for the sake of criticism then I think that’s destructive instead of constructive.

    Nice article btw :)

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I would have agreed with you before I read this article. But this research has shown that debate / dissent / criticism adds something regardless of whether it’s constructive or not. Think about that email / comment you get that is so annoyingly argumentative that you spend an hour thinking of a reply. I got one yesterday and I’m STILL thinking of how to respond. These kinds of things aren’t pleasant, but they get our minds and creative juices moving. We can tap that energy to improve our writing.

      • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

        Hmm. I see your point. But here’s a question Joe, when is the time where you can say that an argument or a debate is no longer helping? Because there’s the possibility that the debate will turn sour.
        When’s the right time to stop?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          When is the right time to stop improving and settle in at whatever skill level you’re at? What’s more sour? Having someone disagree with you and hurt your feelings in the critique process or having no one buy your book once it goes to print?

          • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

            Is it alright then if we turn this into a daily thing for future practices? Instead of just commenting we also give out one thing we didn’t like about the story we read.

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            That’s the whole goal of this post, JB. I hope we always give mixed feedback. A little positive feedback to encourage and a little constructive feedback to stir up new ideas.

        • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

          Hi JB.
          I think I understand what you mean. I do think that there are people who go beyond giving a critique and make it into a personal thing. Yet it is possible to distinguish between critique of the work and attacks on the person–and I don’t mean the character. :) I think that if you are getting overwhelmed during a critique, it might be a good idea to step back from the piece for a while, and come back to it after some of the sting has worn off.

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            Good idea, Casey.

          • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

            I agree with Joe. Nice tip :)

      • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

        I get that a lot. Thinking of a reply for someone who just gave you an argumentative response. It’s annoying to the point of frustration!

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    I like the quick back-and-forth style of your dialogue, Marianne. It held my attention. The only change I would consider is to make her action more deliberate at the end. Have her take aim AT the picture of them rather than have it shake by what seems like chance in this draft.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Hi Themagicviolinist! I liked and disliked the same thing about your piece: Anya. At first she seemed strong and focused on accomplishing her mission. She knew what she wanted, why, and what stood in her way. Then at the end, she was all sniffly-eyed in a very stereotypical “girl” way despite her earlier claims. It just felt like she fell out of character, but please bear in mind that only you know this character in a broader scope while I am only seeing a short piece.

    • Themagicviolinist

      Thank you. I’ll definitely take that into account. ;) :D

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    Steph,
    That is actually very beautiful writing.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Joe, I’m trying out the “reply” fix here…fingers crossed!

    Thanks for the feedback. I need to chop those suckers up (or pitch a few out!) indeed.

    Yes, I am an American, but my setting is in a place with a decidedly more prominent Scots & British influence on the dialect than you might hear in Georgia, eh? :-) Also, the story is set in 1934. Thanks for pointing out that it was jarring for you, though. I’ll have to turn my “spy ears” on around some old-timers and decide whether it works in context with the larger story.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Bring it on, Angelo! Severino wouldn’t let me off so easy ;-) .

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    Hi Katherine. Your setting is full of a very real conflict with the adjustment that comes when a newborn collides with a hockey lifestyle! I know these people :-) .However, the hockey player’s “voice” just doesn’t ring true to me. I don’t know any hockey players who would describe their experience with such eloquence. I would say shorten up his sentences, throw in some hockey lingo, and toughen him up a bit to bring him into starker contrast with her.

  • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

    Mine was long, so I posted it on my blog.
    http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/2012/04/writing-practice-fight.html

    Is this melodrama?

    • Marianne Vest

      Casey – I read it and I don’t know if it’s melodrama. I think it is two people arguing, with one being drunk and the other maybe just a person whose is ego is so fragile that her life is a a melodrama in her own mind and words. It is definitely a melodramatic moment but it is an argument and aren’t many domestic arguments pretty melodramatic (depending on the topic). So I think if it is part of a larger piece then it is just a melodramatic argument that the characters are having. I like the detail as I always do with your writing. If you want to have less drama you should probably use less description of her crying etc. (since I’m not on the page now I can’t tell you the exact passages).

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    @Joe – No lie, my husband used the word “buggy” at dinner tonight. He stays out of my writing life unless I beg him to read something, and no, I did not bait him into using it ;-). Long live the buggy!

  • Yvette Carol

    Hi Joe! Nice post. I’m sorry to see a lot of others here are having the same problem relying to individual comments as I am. It’s chopped up the comments section too now so that I found it really confusing trying to follow everything.

    However, that aside, yeah I totally agree about the debate issue. I intend to try and give both a negative & a positive reply from now on. I’ll have to do so here though for the above mentioned reason.

    There was a lot I could have debated on but I just chose a handful to make it easier.
    So Steph; I liked the lead-in, with ‘footsteps grinding last autumn’s leaves’ because of the way it built tension. There were a few too many descriptions per line in some places though, for instance ’round & sassy, sallow & stringy, brown, acidic water’ which became confusing at times.
    Taylor M; Nice argument. You have a little bit of head-hopping going on though. For instance, you have Cora looking at Knox and then in the same breath ‘Cora always did seem…’ as though someone else is looking at her.
    themagicviolinist: You have a nice, natural touch to your writing. It feels effortless which is nice. I agree with the others in replying to you, that the dialogue was good, it has a beat to it. What you could do to improve the dialogue is add some body language, some facial expressions, some physical reactions to what is being said.

  • Yvette Carol

    “We need to talk,” she said. She moved behind the table and faced him.
    “Oh yeah?” He curled a lip upwards. But the eyes remained pointed at the floor.
    She sighed. “Yes, again, I know, but he’s still not made any changes… he’s still, well, damned difficult!” She swept dust off the table, wiping her hands slowly against each other. Her forehead creased into three distinct lines.
    “He’s your father, what do you want me to do about it?’ He slammed both hands down on the table. Spittle pockmarked the table top between them.
    “You, you said you’d talk to him, said you’d do something to get through that thick head of his. Did you try?” She circled the table, stopping short of his boot. Then she grabbed a handful of checkered shirt and pulled it in her direction. “Did you?!”
    “Ah get off me, you’re outta your head. You’re bloody well worse than he is!” He spun on his booted heel and the door slammed behind him.
    She slithered down to the floor. A wet mess.

    • Steph

      OK, big test here…I’m trying “reply” from Chrome…

      Yvette, first off, thanks for pointing out the multiple descriptions in my piece. Your criticism hit me right in the forehead! I think I will be more aware of my tendency to write like that from now on.

      As for yours, I thought your last sentence was very powerful. Even though it is incomplete, it stands alone and illustrates the position he left her in. I do think you have too many descriptions of the characters’ actions, though. They read as fidgety, and your dialogue is strong enough to stand alone in most of those lines.

  • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

    Slam! The door’s lock would have been broken if she closed it a bit harder. Hector sat down on their small studio apartment’s couch and buried his face in his hands.

    “I don’t care! I don’t care if you tell me you love me more than any other girl. It doesn’t feel that way at all! No, don’t even think of touching me!” His four-year girlfriend finally broke down. “What should I do if she won’t believe me?” he asked himself.

    “I’m moving out!” She regretted saying those three words as she sat and wept inside their bedroom. Why did she have to go and poke around his business anyway?

    “I don’t ever want to see your face again!” Stupid.

    “Go see if I care if you sleep with her!” Really stupid.

    Linda wiped away the tears. She stood up and walked towards the bookshelf. She opened up the album filled with their photographs. Four years of being together, and she chose the day of their anniversary to break down. Really really stupid.

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  • Shabbyroads

    Thunderstorm

    Two white-haired old men, face to face, grimacing.
    Grumbling, angry. Mumbling under their breath.
    Back and forth, over and over again. Posturing occasionally.
    Turning black with darted words, spittle flying.
    Screaming, out of control, throwing lightening bolts at one another.
    Spent, moving along, still disagreeing.

  • Carol

    In our writing group critiqing is hard and unbiased. Once, I even felt like giving up writing, but realized that a certain person was goading me to be a better writer. She knew what she was talking about. One day, after one of our meetings, I overheard her telling another person that my writing had improved a lot. This surprised me as I thought she did not like me. I’m pleased I didn’t give up.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I bet that realization made you so much more focused. Thanks for sharing this, Carol.

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  • Patience

    In groups I have run or participated in there has been a constant tension between the skills of members to critique the writing itself (its form, consistency of message, ability to reach a specific audience) and the ideas or situation within the writiing.

    So often people have been sharing a situation or perspective that is fairly personal. They are at the stage of finding their own voice and most need encouragement to persevere.

    But as they gain confidence and consistency in their reason for writing, the challenge of criticism shifts to each of the elements more effectively, but only at the rate that others in the group are developing those skills as well.

    For myself I find I have been exploring ideas and areas that have not been easy for others to come to terms with and so I search for evermore specialist groups to the required feedback to be of meaning for my own development. Not everyone wants to go there themselves.

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  • kimberly burks

    I am a writer and have been doing it since 2001. First book Seduction, will be published soon and starting on my next two books, The Delinquent and another book which I am proud of. I love when people critique me on my work, it only makes me stronger and it allows me to go back and fix my work.