How to Give and Receive Constructive Criticism

by Joe Bunting | 92 comments

Part of writing is asking for feedback. At some point you have to let go of the precious baby and let someone take a look at it. Pick someone you trust but also someone who will challenge you to do better.


Photo by gromgull


There are few things more intimidating than opening an email or being handed a stack of edits for your baby. How do you make headway on the intimidating task?

1. Listen/Read

If you’re receiving constructive criticism in person, sit silently and listen. During my undergrad creative writing classes, I literally had to sit on my hands and be cut off if I opened my mouth because I wanted to explain my reasoning rather than listening.

If you’re receiving constructive criticism via email or on paper, read everything the editor says. Personally, I like to read with a pen in my hand to make snarky comments back and answer the questions.

When you’ve finished step one, sit back for at least a minute but no longer than a day and let it all soak in.

2. Small Changes

If you received feedback via email, be sure to save the edits by renaming the document.

Then begin with the easy fixes. If you’re editing in a Word document with comments, it cleans it up the document a lot faster as you delete comments. It lets you feel like you’ve accomplished something (because you have) while giving you time to ponder the bigger changes.

3. Large Changes

Roll up your sleeves and dive in. Take the dessert first—the points you’ve got revision ideas; tweaking and suggestions you’re comfortable with—then trudge through the harder ones.

Note: You don’t have to take every suggestion. You do have to seriously consider each one.


I know, I know, this is a writing blog. Chances are, at some point in your writing career another writer will ask for your opinion. Just bookmark this post and come back to it when that happens. As Monk always says, “You’ll thank me later.”

1. Praise

The writer has just shared with you her baby. You know how that goes. Comment on things you like just as often as you comment on things you don’t. It’s not super helpful for that particular story but it’s huge for her self-esteem.

2. Ask Questions

You don’t have to offer the solution. In fact, the piece will be better if the writer stumbles across the solution on his own. Be willing to say, “I don’t know how to fix this but it doesn’t work.” Say, “Is this really the word you want here?” Allow the writer to see inside the head of the reader.

3. Don't copyedit

This is a hard one for me because looking for misplaced commas is my default. I enjoy it more than anyone ever should. Copyediting is vital to the revision process but your writer will be less than thrilled if you only point out grammatical errors. Trust me.

Note: Reread your feedback before sending it. Is that really the nicest way to phrase that criticism?


First, post three paragraphs from your current baby. The three you're most unsure about is probably the best idea since you're getting free feedback but really any three will do.

Second, be an editor giving constructive criticism to other writers.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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  1. Jennastamps

    Here are the first three paragraphs from my most recent chapter.  I’m a little unsure about it, and would welcome help:

    Receiving my acceptance letter to Brigham Young University was reason to
    rejoice, especially considering that was the only college to which I
    had applied.  It was never a question for me where I wished to continue
    education; I wanted to go to that legendary place in Utah where my older
    brother and all of my friends before
    me had gone.  I don’t know if my best LDS friends from the class of ’92
    had deliberated about other schools or not, but they were all heading
    for BYU as well, and that was all that mattered. 

    last few Burger King and babysitting bucks I earned during my
    pre-college summer may very well have all been consumed as gas in my
    car.  I drove back and forth through town, from one friend’s house to
    another.  Calling one night a week a “Young Single Adult Family Home
    Evening” (we threw in a short gospel lesson on those nights
    for good measure) gave us one element of structured activity amidst our
    play time and social agenda, but it was really just another excuse
    for fun and games.

    Take the handcuffs night, for

    We young adults (as we now considered ourselves) were out one
    evening in the Prestons’ yard visiting, trampoline-ing, and
    frolicking about gleefully like a herd of toddlers racing around on
    their Big Wheels, with nothing unusual afoot.  When I decided I was about through for
    the night, I began to gradually say my goodbyes.  All of the sudden I
    found myself hoisted up over Neal’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes and
    was being carried off and dumped (gently) into the back of someone’s
    pickup truck.  After being deposited there, the three or four guys
    involved blindfolded me and then drove for maybe five minutes before
    parking the car.  I had no clue where we were, but for the moment, they
    stayed close as they led me out carefully through the dairy-scented
    farmland discussing where they were going to take me.

    • Jennastamps

       (Sorry about the formatting).

    • Pjreece

      Jenna…  the abduction certainly has possibilities and I would be interested in reading onward.  As a critiquer, I am alwasy cautious about saying too much if I don’t know the genre and size of the story I’m considering.  Is it a novel or short story?  What’s the thrust of the protagonist?  I would need to know these big issues in order to make “structural” comments.  I find that most critiques waste time on the tiny details at the expense of the overall design of the story.  So I’m a ‘structure’ guy.  As Hemingway says, “Prose is architecture, not interior decorating.”  I love that.  But keep up the good work.

    • Jennastamps

      Pjreece,  This is from chapter 16 of my book, it’s about half-way through the book.   It’s non-fiction, and it’s a personal story of my own.  Thanks for reading!

      Marianne, thanks for reminding me of active voice.  I will try to focus more on that.  Good advice : ).

      Alex, you’re right–this is just the beginning of the story, and the rest of the details you asked for come right after the suggested posting of three paragraphs.  Thanks for reading, and letting me know what the reader is wondering : )!

      Kate, wordiness is what I was worried about, thanks for agreeing with me on that one (he he), I’ll let it rest for a day or so and see if I can fix it tomorrow. 

      For you (Kate) and anyone who would like to know the rest of the story, here’s the short conclusion to that segment of my chapter–it’s a fun finish! 


      “We can’t leave her in there, the cows will lick her,” Neal’s younger brother advised, and my giggling protests escalated to helpless screams.

      a few yards later they removed the blindfold and revealed to me the
      telephone post where I would be abandoned–they secured my arms around
      it with handcuffs, hopped back in the truck, and drove away.  WHAT?  I
      kept track of the truck’s glowing night lights until I couldn’t see them
      anymore, and wondered what was to become of me.  After about five or
      ten minutes alone, I decided I didn’t like this game so much, and came
      up with a little plan of my own.

      I managed to
      squeeeeeeze my narrow bone-structured hands out of the
      handcuffs–bruising them only slightly in the process, and when I saw
      their pickup returning another ten minutes later, I hid myself behind a large stack
      of hay bales.

      The truck pulled in, the guys hopped out
      and they guided their next blindfolded victim to the post where they
      intended to join Candice and I together in harmless bondage (eventually
      they planned to have a whole crowd of squealing females collected
      there), but found me nowhere in sight.

      “NO WAY!  NO, POSSIBLE, WAY!” they shouted over and over again.  I had won!

      I’m no good at keeping secrets, including hiding-place secrets, I let
      them verbalize their confusion only for a few short moments before I
      popped out and attempted to claim my status as victor.  At first they
      tried to recoup the original plan and attempted once more to secure us
      together prior to deserting us, but they could see that at least I
      wasn’t having fun anymore, so they gave up and took us back to the
      house.  Oh well.  I wasn’t mad at them then, and I admit that I love to laugh about it now; their little scheme
      gave me a lasting memory that I’ve enjoyed for many years.

    • mariannehvest

      That’s cool Jenna.  It’s a cute story and one I can see happening (reminds me of being deserted in a graveyard one night – a huge graveyard in Norfolk – although I wasn’t tied up).  I’ll add something else if you don’t mind. I think instead of narrow bone structured hands, you can just put narrow boned hands. That is a little cleaner and very nit picky but I may as well let you know while we’re on the topic.

    • Jennastamps

       Thanks–I felt the struggle with that particular word choice, and you solved the problem for me.  I appreciate it! 

    • Kate Hewson

      Thats great Jenna, and thank you!! I will sleep better now knowing nothing dreadful happened to her. Because all our characters are real people, right??

    • Alex

       I like the idea. She is looking forward to going to school and everything is going the way that it should for her, until she gets blindfolded and kidnapped. The use of the word gently, and the fact that she knows his name makes me wonder if she is in danger, or if this is something for fun that her friends are doing to her.  This is good because you want your reader guessing. I also do not know how she feels. I would also like to see dialogue. You may have intentionally left this out, as if she is remembering maybe. What are these men discussing when they are leading her into the farmland? I think these three paragraphs could be lengthened into a few pages, because the idea is good, and the plot is interesting, but I would like to know more. What is she thinking? What are her kidnappers talking about?

    • Kate Hewson

      I agree with what Alex says below, but also one or two of  the sentences might be a little wordy? They don’t seem to flow as easy as they could. Maybe you could take another look at them and chop any unnecessary ones out?
      I’d love to know what happens next!!!

    • mariannehvest

      This definitely promises to be a good story.  I think you should try to use active voice as much as possible. The first section could be made more interesting by using active voice and by cutting out some of the extraneous details.  

    • Steph

      I like  your timing of the “take the handcuffs” phrase. You turned the story on a dime. There are some passive verb and wordiness issues, but I imagine that you would catch those in a revision anyway. Keep your sentences moving – sounds like you have a story to tell!

    • Jennastamps

       Hi Steph–

      After re-reading the three paragraphs above, I still feel a little stumped as to how to improve/remove the passive voice issues.  I was wondering if you could help me by pulling out one of the sentences and offer a suggestion, or at least show me where it stood out most to you?

      And as for the wordiness, I know some of the sentences have a somewhat mixed up or complex structure, so do you think I should take out some of those longer sentences and break them down into shorter, more “simple” structures?

    • Steph

      You have two in the first sentence, I believe. Take the “was’s” out and put the “I’s” first. You might have to rewrite or add to convey your whole idea. As for the wordiness, take out the words that aren’t pulling their weight. If they feel conversational or like an aside, ask yourself if they are necessary. Just my .02, hope it helps. Interesting story you have here!

    • Katie Axelson

      Hey, Jenna, I like the abduction and want to hear more about what happens. My initial thought was that this is too much back story but in reading further into the comments here I realized it’s quite a ways into the piece so you may be ok. One thing (more a copyediting note), don’t be afraid to end sentences with prepositions. No one really says, “Especially considering that was the only college to which I had applied.”

    • Jennastamps

       Katie, thank you so much for your comment.  I am so glad you said something about ending sentences with prepositions–I guess I figured it would irritate grammar gurus more to see the “faux pas” of ending a sentence that way, than to write it more in the fashion that’s naturally spoken.  Now I feel more free and can’t wait to end more sentences that way!  He he he ; ). 

      I hope you read on (below in the other comments) and found the ending of my short story…I would hate to leave you in suspense : )!

  2. Alex

    I want the reader to be able to see the scene as if they are there and I am afraid it just doesn’t do that.

    distracted herself by unfolding and refolding the hand-me-downs in the armoire.
    The chest offered elegance to her otherwise dreary quarters and distracted from
    the unsightly institutional walls. Built from the finest fragrant cedar and covered
    by furrowed poplar bark, the handmade wardrobe furnished the sylvan look that
    the carpenter’s work always possessed. Her eyes carried over to cobwebs that
    dressed the decrepit taupe paneling, an ineffective mask for the unsightly walls.
    She eyed a loose strip of paneling, and tapped her fist at the bottom to knock
    it back into place. The moisture in the fortress often caused the panels to swell
    and split; the home was dying of old age and other natural causes.
          The top of the panel flew backwards and swiped the bridge of her
    nose. Aven tumbled backwards over her cot in a startled panic. Disoriented, she
    pulled herself back up and eyed the wall again, but it looked the same as before.

         “It’s just
    a wall,” Aven reassured herself. She
    brushed her hair out of her eyes, knocking the fear away and tiptoed back over
    to the wall. Keeping her distance and her head out of the way, she smacked her
    fist against the bottom of the panel again. Just as a wheel, it spun, revolving in and out of the wall. When it came to a
    stop, her inspection concluded hidden screws that allowed the painted wood
    paneling to move. She took her hand off of the panel and it retreated,
    disguising itself again by returning to the closed position. Aven scratched her
    chin, pushed the panel forward, and peered through the mechanism and into a light-less cubbyhole.


    • alex

       I don’t know why it always changes the formatting, but my paragraphs do not look anything like this.

    • Kate Hewson

      Yeah, I don’t know why it does that to our paragraphs, but it seems to happen to us all, so don’t worry! 

    • Katie Axelson

      The funky formatting happens when you copy and paste from Word. What I do is post it, let the format go funky, and then click the edit button (where “reply” normally is) and fix the formatting.

      But don’t fret too badly about it. It happens to all of us. 🙂

    • Kate Hewson

      I’ll try that next time then Katie, thanks!

    • Kate Hewson

      I think when we write about scenery, the likely hood is that the reader will always have their own version of what it looks like anyway. That’s one thing I have learnt, not to go too overboard on description unless it is necessary to the story. I understand the wish to get your reader to see it exactly as you do, but maybe it is enough to give a vague impression and let the reader do the rest? Other than that, it leaves me intrigued and I want to know what happens next!

    • mariannehvest

      Alex.  I like this very much but think you could cut down a bit on the description.  Your reader won’t ever see exactly what you do.  You are really just setting a scene for your characters to act in.  If the fine piece of furniture in the old dying institution serves a purpose, or represents something leave it in, if not, I would take it out.  The panel that flew backward and the decrepit place she dwells in seem to be the most important thing in this section.  

    • Steph

      I am intrigued by Aven’s discovery. However, it is diminished by the heavy use of detail that comes first. Trust your readers’ imaginations.

    • Katie Axelson

      Alex, the scene is definitely visible but I also agree with the other commenters: there’s a lot of description. How much of the setting is vital to the story?

  3. August McLaughlin

    Useful tips, here. Thanks! You’ve helped me refrain from copyediting on a piece I’m working on. 😉 If the writers suggests that, it’s one thing, but if they ask for general thoughts, grammatical error-check can seem nit-picky and overbearing.

  4. Kate Hewson

    Ok, this is actually half way through the first chapter of a book I started writing at the beginning of the year.  The trouble is, I am planning to write the prequel in Nanowrimo, and I’m thinking I might have to completely re-write my original book. Plus, I showed my first chapter to my mum (ha) and she didn’t like the second half of it…..grateful for your thoughts.

    At the
    other end of town, where busy life started to taper off into fields and
    woodlands, stood The Pine-cones. It was a stone cottage which had at some point in it’s
    history, when it had been better cared for, been whitewashed. It stood between a
    babbling stream at the front, and the start of the woods at the back. The garden
    had once been a haven of flowers and smartly grown vegetables, but was now over
    grown with weeds through which a few scraggly hens pecked hopefully.


    Inside the
    cottage was warm and bright. The Brooke family were magpies, and their eclectic
    hoard of bright and shiny objects lined shelves and cluttered up window sills.
    Crockery was piled haphazardly on the many piles of well read books that sat on
    tables and chairs and the floor and any surface that lent itself as a storage


    It was still fairly early in the morning, and Lydia was
    sitting at the table pouring over a book. She had finally persuaded her little
    brother Peter to sit quietly for a little
    while after he had eaten his porridge, by giving him a tin of used cotton reels
    and buttons to empty out. He picked up each object with his chubby,
    porridge sticky hands, examining it with his big blue eyes. Every now and again he
    would bite one to try out his new teeth.


    to any danger of her brother swallowing and choking on one of these small
    objects, Lydia
    was devouring her book. It was a tale of knights and princesses and castles,
    and although Lydia
    was not fond of romantic tales, this one appealed to her because it had a horse
    in it that could fly and a dragon that breathed flames. She wished though that
    the Princess in her tale was the one who was out with sword and shield,
    battling the evil forces, rather than the Prince. Lydia knew that if SHE were in this
    tale, she would NOT be sitting in a tower, looking at herself in magic mirrors
    and sighing out of castle windows, waiting to be rescued.

    • Kate Hewson

      Again, the formatting is higeldy-pigeldy. This blog is not keen on copy-and-paste from Word, is it?

    • Suzie Gallagher

      higgledy piggledy
      oh I feel such a swot!
      apologies Kate

    • Kate Hewson

      haha, my SPELLING….thanks Suzie!!!

    • Joe Bunting

      I’m sorry, Kate. It certainly isn’t. Theoretically, pasting from a .txt file should work, but I’ve heard that has its issues, too. :{

    • Kate Hewson

      Ah, never mind! It’s not selective, it does it to all of us! This is such a great blog, Joe!

    • Joe Bunting

      🙂 Thanks Kate.

    • mariannehvest

      I think this is lovely.  I see a bright but odd home with two children or a baby and a young adult entertaining themselves. As soon as I saw that he was playing with buttons and spools and putting them to his mouth I got worried.  The girl has escaped into her book and the child at her feet is in danger.  

      ” It was a stone cottage which had at some point in it’shistory, when it had been better cared for, been whitewashed. It stood between ababbling stream at the front, and the start of the woods at the back.”

      I’m not sure about these lines.   I think the first sentence is a little long and convoluted maybe due to the passive voice.  I think in the second sentence you could leave out “at the front” and “at the back”.  It would streamline it and the reader would still see the bucolic setting, unless, of course, it matters which is in front and which is in back.  To tell you the truth I’m looking for something to complain about here. Overall I really like this and can picture it all gittering and happy but threatened.   

    • Kate Hewson

      Thanks Marianne !

       I think you are right about the description of the cottage. Funnily enough, that sentence was longer and I already hacked it once…maybe I need to re-work the whole thing. Thanks for your input!

    • mariannehvest

      I know how that goes.  It is lovely and I hope to get to see it when it’s complete.  

    • Jeff Ellis

      Just going to jump right in:

      Your biggest problem here is your repetition of words. In each paragraph there is at least one word you use more than once, some times in the same sentence. 

      “Crockery was piled haphazardly on the many piles of well read books that sat on tables AND chairs AND the floor AND any surface that lent itself as a storage area…”

      You have similar sentences in each paragraph, giving your piece a staccato rhythm that will exhaust readers, possibly without their understanding why. This is a useful tool when you are aiming to make a scene laborious, such as someone climbing out of a pit, but should be avoided in simple scenarios such as the one you’re describing.

      Also, I felt this line: “Oblivious to any danger of her brother swallowing and choking on one of these small objects…” was unnecessary. Readers who understand that the boy was just given something he might choke on already know the danger. Unless it is important information for later, I think cutting this line will give the paragraph better flow.

      Aside from these two gripes, I think you have a strong setting here. I can clearly see the warm, sparkly, cottage in which these children live, dreaming of fantasy worlds where princes (and princesses) slay dragons. I’m curious to see where it’s going 🙂

    • Kate Hewson

      Ok, thanks Jeff – something I need to work on, obviously!

    • Katie Axelson

      My first thought is that there’s not a lot of action here, Kate. It could be just the paragraphs you chose to share but keep an eye on it in other parts.

      Why would writing the prequel require reformatting the original book? And I’ve learned that my mom isn’t always the best reader…


    • Kate Hewson

      Ok thank you! i did choose the paragraphs I was least happy with. thanks for your input, i will give that some thought

  5. mariannehvest

    Hey this is a great blog Katie.  I am worried now about the person I edit for. I always point out typos and punctuation errors.  I like for people to to do that for me, but maybe it’s not always appreciated.  Anyway here is where I am on a book I’m trying to write.  This person is someone who is about to be visited by the protagonist of the book.  I have in mind that she will have seen a murder that took place on the property that is between her house and the protagonists but is not sure if she saw it or not. I want her to be a person who likes to dismiss things that bother her and is helped in that regard by her pain medications.  

    Chapter 6
    Susan paused, had she taken her pain pills? She wasn’t sure.  She looked at the plastic amber bottle with the confusing white label full of numbers and dates. There was her name, Susan Dewitt, highlighted with yellow at the very top.  Such an ugly little bottle always around, bossy and interfering with warnings on its side.   She’d tried not taking them, and made if for three days, but she’d finally sought them out again, and even felt some affection for the little bottle for a while. Now she wanted to smack it off of the table.   
    She’d written down the time of day that she was to take the pills in  a pale green notebook. She’d been drawing a line though each time on the list as she took the pills.  It was 10 o’clock am. There was a line through 10 o’clock, and the pill bottle with its cap off was in front of her on the table, but she wasn’t sure if she’d taken the pill or not.  She looked away and into the eyes of a stuffed raccoon.  It was on all fours one front leg lifted, its ears pricked forward, a lovely woodland creature, that had been reduced to roadkill and then reincarnated by her late husband, a taxidermist.  
    “You were probably rabid Chessy, “ she said.   She looked back at the bottle. Had she taken a pill before stopping to commune with Chessy? She didn’t know. She just didn’t know.  

    • Kate Hewson

      I really like this Marianne – the confusion with her pills! 
      Where you put “She’d tried not taking them, and made if for three days, ” – I presume you meant ‘made IT for three days?’ – I’m being nit-picky, I really enjoyed your writing!

    • mariannehvest

      Thanks Kate.   I like for people to point out the typos and spelling errors in my stuff.  My old eyes don’t see things as well as they used to and the grammar and spell checkers don’t catch it all by a long shot. 

    • Alex

      I like your use of the word reincarnated and ‘lovely woodland creature’. I also like the word woodland, I use it in my writing. It has a different feel than just saying forest or woods.

    • mariannehvest

      Thanks Alex!  I appreciate your reading this.  

    • KP


      I think your strength is in creating atmosphere.  As I read your story I felt vaguely uncomfortable because I was disoriented (just like Susan), then confused.  If that was what you were going for (kind of “yanking the rug out from underneath your reader”) then I think you did a great job.  I like how this reads just like…well, like you’re in someone’s mind.  We must think hundreds of these little meaningless thoughts without ever realizing it (“I hate this little pill bottle”), yet it’s these details that create a believable character and (hopefully) a memorable story.

      One thing I noticed was the last sentence of your first paragraph and the first two sentences of your second paragraph begins with “She’d”.  It doesn’t seem to be meaningful repetition (was it?  I’m certainly no editor!) so perhaps replacing one of those with Susan’s name or something else might improve the flow?  I do like the way you write, as I mentioned above I really felt like I was there with Susan, confused but also a little hateful of that pill bottle.  Keep it up! (:

    • mariannehvest

      Uh. those she’d are bad aren’t they. I’ll fix that.  Thanks so much for pointing it out.  I was completely blind to that and it sounds awful.  

    • Steph

      Marianne, this is my third attempt at commenting on your piece. My apologies if the others come through! To rehash, I missed your writing so much! This is awesome. You have introduced a complex character whom I do not know whether or not I can trust. Is she a reliable witness? What is her story with the pills? I only question the strength of her presence and voice. Are you sure she is not your story’s protagonist?

    • Katie Axelson

      Thanks, Marianne! Some people do appreciate the copyedits. When it doubt, ask. It all depends on the stage in writing and the person.
      In your piece the stuff raccoon confused me. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Once I figured out what was happening, I did like it though.

  6. Tom Wideman

    “Why don’t you take off those wet clothes and come sit next
    to me,” Sarah said in a seductive tone. Dan could see his wife’s bare skin
    through the crocheted afghan and immediately moved towards her, dropping wet
    clothes in his wake. She opened the afghan, inviting him in. He plopped down
    next to her, shivering like a cold, wet pup snuggling up to his mother’s warmth.
    She wrapped her arms around him and began rubbing him warm.


    As they sat snuggled together, the warm rubbing slowly began
    to intensify to a sizzling heat, and as eyes met, an inferno was released
    between them. As Dan and Sarah reconnected body and soul, the sheets of falling
    rain draped the porch in seclusion from their neighbors and the world,
    transforming it into their own private sanctuary. The pounding torrent against
    the tin roofing extolled their union with deafening applause.


    About two in the morning, a flash of lightning woke the
    exhausted lovers. Sarah crawled over to her purse and found her key to the
    front door. Still naked, they entered the dark cabin and felt their way to the
    small bedroom without saying a word. They both collapsed into bed and fell back


    At around eight o’clock, a single beam of sunlight cut
    through the mini-blinds and landed on Dan’s unshaved face. He turned over and
    groaned, a little sore from the night before. He was alone in bed, but didn’t
    smell coffee. He closed his eyes only for a brief moment; but ended up sleeping
    another hour-and-a-half.


    When he woke the next time, he was still alone
    and still didn’t smell coffee. 

    • Charlene W.

      Not a lot I can offer as I can’t tell where this is going, but I really liked the word choices. That last part of the second paragraph about the tin roof was wonderful.
      It’s interesting how the storm plays in the background during this happy moment considering they usually represent negativity in stories. I liked that little contrast, and the one of the morning after. It helped build that sense of disarray with the repeated mention of absent coffee.

    • Adam Busch

      I thought that the pup-mother analogy added a strange description to Dan and Sarah’s relationship.  It gives it an innocent, non-sexual feeling,which doesn’t feel right within this tidbit.

      Also, I feel like the “reconnecting of body and soul” shouldn’t be limited to just these words.  I think that there is a lot of room for description because it seems as if they are having relationship troubles (the use of the word reconnect, and the ending give me this feeling), so I think that there is a lot of body language that could be described to further exemplify their relationship and this reconnection.  

      Also, why doesn’t Dan say anything during this?  Maybe if I knew the context of the situation, I would be able to answer this question, but based on this, his character sounds very…dependent.    Maybe the pup/mother analogy is spot on, actually.  

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks for the critique. You observations are astute and helpful. I will work at doing more description with their body language. As for why Dan doesn’t say much during this scene, I suppose he figured it was best to keep his mouth shut when Sarah gave the green light. Sometimes too much talking at this point can spoil the moment. Or maybe that’s just a problem I have. 🙂

    • Katie Axelson

      I missed that they were on the porch to begin with so coming inside confused me. I do like the eloquence of the description here, Tom. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jeff Ellis

    Here are five paragraphs (because I’m a cheater) from the novel I am finishing for NaNoWriMo (I haven’t worked on it in months and am only a chapter and a half in). Fangs and claws are welcome.

    Sparrow uncoiled herself from around her pillow and stretched with a yawn. Sunlight trickled in through the cracks in the walls and she knew that there would be trouble, but she didn’t rush. They would come for her eventually; when the dogs’ incessant barking finally drove them mad. The wood was smooth on her bare feet as she walked from the bed to the mirror. 

    She ran her fingers helplessly through the tangled mess of her hair. Years of poorly dying it had made her hair the rainbow illusion of an oil spill. Standing naked in the dirt-speckled reflection of the mirror, she was every bit a boy. Her arms and legs were tough corded muscle, her chest flat and her shoulders broad. The tattoo of blue knotted lines that ran up and down her right arm was marred with scars. Just like the rest of her.

    A knock at the door was followed immediately by an old warrior lumbering into her room. He shut the door behind him when he saw that she was naked.

    “Dammit girl, what are you doing undressed at this hour? Them dogs won’t stop yappin’ and they ain’t gonna feed themselves,” he said. “ We’ve got an hour before the trucks leave and don’t think they’re gonna wait around for you to get pretty.”

    Sparrow smiled and the old man took a seat on an overturned bucket. He watched her, though not hungrily, and when she continued to look at herself in the mirror, he threw his arms into the air. “Would you just get dressed already!?”

    • Kate Hewson

      Fangs and claws, Jeff you’re funny!
      Ok, well I am looking forward to reading more of this story!
      You might change “Years of poorly dying it” with regard to her hair…I’m not sure how how I would re-word it, but it doesn’t sit right.
      I can’t see anything else to comment on. Great writing, Jeff!

    • Jeff Ellis

      Aww, that’s one of my favorite lines, haha! But I will definitely look into improving the description of her chromatic hair. 

      Thank you so much Kate. 

    • Kate Hewson

      Oh Jeff, I’m sorry!! its just the wording – maybe it would be enough to say ‘years of dying it herself” and let the reader make the judgement of what that means? Like Marla does with her “he was a man even Jesus couldn’t love” which says so much without actually saying much at all.  Or…”Years of shoddy home-dying left her hair blah blah”, or…you just ignore me and  leave it as it is? haha 🙂

    • Jeff Ellis

      I like “years of dying it herself.” And no need to apologize, your opinion matters. I posted this here specifically to hear what everyone thought 🙂

    • mariannehvest

      You are an excellent writer Jeff, very clean and spare but with enough details to keep it interesting.  I don’t know what’s going on here so let me just tell you the two things that stood out as odd for me.  I am confused when she says there is going to be trouble and that they will come for her when the dogs incessant barking drives them mad.  I assume she is going to be fed to the dogs.  Then later an old warrior who seems to be in charge of her says that she needs to get on the truck.  I wonder if they truck is going to take her to be fed to the dogs or if he is going to take her away to safety because he says “they ain’t going to wait for you to get pretty” . That sentence seems to say that they are going to leave her if she isn’t ready.  It’s the the ain’t going to wait for you to get pretty.  It’s a sentence that seems like banter and that one would not say to someone who is being fed to dogs (why would you want to be pretty to be fed to dogs?).  I know it might mean they are going to just take her whether she’s ready or not but something about the “old warrior” and the way he talks to her makes it seem like he is trying to help her.  Also when you say “He watched her, though not hungrily” I wonder since she is naked is this meant in a sexual way or like he is really going to eat her (due to the idea of the hungry dogs).  If you used another word instead of “not hungrily” it might make his opinion of her more clear.  All that said, I would probably not have any problem with this if I really knew what was going on. Good luck with this.  Your writing is amazing, smooth and with a nice pace.  

    • Jeff Ellis

      Thanks for the extensive critique Marianne! 

      I feel that many of your questions are answered later in the chapter, but I do agree that my language here could be more precise.

      I will look into changing up my word use here to make this more clear and thank you so much 🙂

    • mariannehvest

      You are very welcome. I’m glad if I helped a bit. 

    • KP

      Hi Jeff,

      I just wanted to say your opening sentence grabbed my attention, very good job on that!  I love the description – “Sparrow uncoiled herself from around her pillow”.  In fact, I love all your descriptions.  The way you write really paints pictures (at least in my mind) and helps clearly define the scene you’re setting up for me.  I can see Sparrow – lean and muscular, not particularly curvy or busty.  Someone who is strong from hard work and perhaps some altercations.

      I do agree with the poster who said “years of poorly dying it” sounds a little awkward, perhaps there is a better phrase to convey the harsh condition of her hair?  Since this is only part of your story I’m not sure if you’ve already done this (so please ignore me if you have), but I’d also like to hear more about this “old warrior”.  I know he’s grumpy, I know he doesn’t look at Sparrow “that way”, but I don’t know much else.  How old is he?  Is he in shape?  Paunchy?  Greying?

      Overall, a great job and thank you for sharing your work.  I really enjoyed the short amount I read!!

    • Jeff Ellis

      Thanks so much KP, I’m really glad that I was able to catch your eye. This story is definitely my baby and I’m happy to see that people are enjoying it. 

      I will definitely have to put in some description of Reagan (the old warrior) 🙂 As for the dye, I’m working on how to word that, haha. 

    • Juliana Austen

      Really interesting stuff – as usual! Looking for things to critique. I feel unsettled by her nakedness – not the nakedness itself – it is a really great way to show us about her character but the attitude of the warrior – he seems protective –  shuts the door, “watches her but not hungrily” so why was he sitting on a bucket watching her and then the last sentence brought me down to boring reality – kinda of what my husband says! The hair dying! Why, why would this great, strong person dye her hair – what with, what for, why badly? Sorry! But I have made a connection with Sparrow and unless this is a ritual of some sort she just wouldn’t bother! I know her!!! 🙂 Mind you I love the line about the “rainbow illusion of an oil spill”!

    • Jeff Ellis

      Hahaha, I’m glad you have connected with her, Juliana, and happy that you enjoyed this! Sparrow is a love of mine as well, and I assure you, there is plenty you don’t know about her just yet 😉

      As to the warrior, I feel that many people aren’t connecting with their relationship. I’m not sure if this is because of the small amount of information given in just these three paragraphs (I assure you, this scene goes on much longer) or if it’s actually in the writing. 

      If anyone would like to beta read the entire scene, I’d be happy to email it to you. As for these three paragraphs, I’m working on better wording for the dying of her hair and establishing a more definite description of Reagan.

    • Katie Axelson

      Jeff, I want to know more about the relationship between these two characters. Namely, why is she not embarrassed that he’s coming in on her naked? Since he’s referred to as “old” I envision a large age difference between them and (in my head) that ruled out husband-wife.

    • Jeff Ellis

      Of course, Katie. I’m glad I caught your interest. 

      The two share a relationship similar to old war buddies. There is a large gap in their ages, but they have been working together for years in the bloody business of caravaneering, and, living in an apocalyptic world where survival is key and many of our social norms have gone the way of the dodo, nudity isn’t such a big deal.

  8. Brianna McBride

    This is the first section of my first chapter of my novel, Colorless. It’s only on its 1st draft, so things aren’t as polished as I’d like them to be. It’s definitely the piece I’m most nervous about. I’m not sure how this’ll be formatted, as it was a simple copy and paste from Scrivener, so we’ll see. I’ll start reading everyone else’s in a minute!

       I had always hated the color white.
       White seemed to be the color of my life. My life had been granted very little color.   But now, the white stretched further, so new yet so familiar. Here I was, running through white hallways and being chased by men in white suits, their silver eyes flashing.   If there was one thing I hated more than white, it was silver. Silver was in everything living, which made things worse. Silver-eyed people with silver ID tags around a silver chain on their throat. But in the books I read, the pictures I saw, there was color. This place was colorless.   This place was a prison.   As I glanced back to see the soldiers chasing me, I wondered what I looked like to them, or what I looked like at all. There was no mirror in my cell. I could only hope that my own eyes weren’t the color that sent shivers down my spine.   The colors of my enemies.    I’d never heard so much at one time in my life. Pounding footsteps, the men shouting, the doctors screaming, and the most dominant: a deafening alarm that rang throughout the facility.    “She’s escaping!” one of them screeched after us. The men were catching up, my body no match for their enhanced ones. But as I began to lose hope, the door came into sight. The soldiers hadn’t had time to get to all the entrances yet. I’d chosen the one closest to my holding cell, the fastest to reach. They were unlocked, unchained. It was white, just like everything else.   For this single moment, white meant hope.   My bare feet slapped again and again against the stone floor, driving me closer to my goal. I could now see through the windows, see the green grass against the blue sky that I’d always imagined-   A soldier’s hand met my shoulder and I cried out at the unfamiliar touch, waiting for the inevitable. Two, three, four pairs of hands would grab me and drag me back to my cell, leaving my body to rot for another decade. I would never get this chance again. But the hand didn’t do what I expected, not even close.   The soldier pushed me forward, giving me the last boost of speed I needed to reach the doors. I slammed into them with a grunt, shoving them open just enough to let me slip through. I didn’t have time to process what happened – if what the person had done was on purpose or accidental – before cold air met my face. My first breath of free air in 14 years sent shivers from my fingers to my toes.   The door opened behind me, fresh yells following the sound. I cursed quietly and took off again, but I wasn’t nearly as fast. My feet were slowing, my body was giving out.   I ran anyway.

    • Adam

      White seemed to be the color of my life- I’d take out seemed so that your second sentence sounded stronger and more declarative.  

      The colors of my enemies.- By this line, the reader already can feel the relationship between the protagonist and the doctors.  This line is unnecessary.

      no match for their enhanced ones- this description sounds awkward.  
      I’d never heard so much at one time in my life. -I really liked the way you described the sounds in this paragraph.  It was smooth.

      Overall, I liked the pace and the action of these first few paragraphs. It gripped my attention, however at times I feel like there is too much explanation and thought process going on such as the part where she explained the door being closest to her cell.  Maybe cut that out and have the more nuanced details of how she escaped explained later?  

      Anyway, I hope the rest of it comes well! 

    • Brianna McBride

      Your critiques were extremely helpful, I can’t thank you enough. I’ll certainly take them into consideration and start working! 🙂

    • Juliana Austen

      I love the premise of this – imprisonment equaling colourless. All the colour in the world bleached out to a drab, enclosed, suffocating existence. This is a huge scene – her escape and the first few sentences setting it up are a little clunky – “telling not showing” but they may not be needed in the context of a novel, with chapters leading up to it. However if this a first scene and it would be a great one!  Starting with the action would work for me – the other stuff – the white, the silver could be alluded to as part of that action.

    • Brianna McBride

      Thank you so much! Yeah, this is the opening few paragraphs for my novel. I’ll definitely work on trying to clear it up a bit. It’s nice to get some feedback. 😀

    • Katie Axelson

      I love this, Brianna! I’m very glad you didn’t stop at 3 paragraphs. In fact, I was sad it stopped at about 400 words. I’d love to read more as you write more. I want to know more about what’s happening and why the protagonist was there in the first place. The only thing that felt a little off to me was insert about silver. I felt like it broke up the speed of the piece.

    • Brianna McBride

      THANK YOU. Seriously, that means so much to me. I’ve got about 21k written, but I haven’t actually written anything in three weeks. Blargh. I know where it needs to go (in fact my outline is 10k words long because it’s so detailed) but I’m just… fighting for inspiration. *sigh*
      Very fair point. I noticed that, but I’m not sure how to weave that in elsewhere, as it’s sort of important to the introduction of another character in only a few paragraphs… oh well. I’ll figure something out.
      Thanks again!

  9. KP

    I really like this post!!  I think it takes a long time to fully accept criticism as something meant to help and not just a personal attack on you and your baby, but it definitely gets easier the more you write (possibly because the more you write, the better you get).  Something I always try to keep in mind is something Randy Pausch (Last Lecture) said: if someone is criticizing you, it means they haven’t given up on you (of course he said it much better than I did, please forgive the poor ad libbing!).  Sometimes it’s all I can do to not interrupt someone who’s trying to tell me to look closer at something but I definitely want to work more on that.  I chose three paragraphs I really like, because I know really liking something often blinds you to their faults.  I’d love to hear what I could improve on with these.  (:


    Of course, I’m not entirely sure I can make that jump myself.

    I trying looking down the hole again, but seeing the hard ground several hundred feet below doesn’t help my resolve and I back away.  What do we do?  In the back of my head I have been listening to them pile up against the door, and slowly but surely the chain bolt is beginning to give under the tremendous pressure.  The door hasn’t bent enough for them to see us yet, but when they do they will become even more frantic and then it won’t be long before they break their way in.  There is no other exit on this floor.  We are trapped.  Robin is wringing her hands, beginning to sense that I have no idea what to do.

    It’s with that knowledge swirling in my head that I grab our packs and weapons then walk over to the hole and fling them as hard as I can to the other building.  They skid several inches, leaving a trail in the thick dust.  There.  Now – if I want my weapons and supplies back – I have no choice.  I must jump.  I back up across the room, my calves tensing as I swallow.  Can I make this jump?  A heavy thud against the steel door makes me jump, and before I can second guess myself I take a running leap, my heart jumping into my throat as I launch myself as hard as I can at the last moment.

    For a second, I am weightless.

    Then my arms and legs start to flail in the air, trying to propel my torso forward.  I begin to fall.  I’m not going to make it, I’m too heavy.  I thought I’d die from the infected, or being shot.  Or starving.  Not misjudging a jump and falling to my death.  Something between hysterical laughter and a terrified scream bubbles out of my throat as I claw uselessly for the safety of the other building.  What I wouldn’t give for wings…

    • mariannehvest

      That’s really well written action KP.  I’m not sure if I can offer any help. I think maybe  the sentence “We are trapped.” could be taken out of the first paragraph.  It’s pretty clear that they are trapped.  When you use “uselessly” to describe claw it works but the sentence sounds odd to me. I think you could take it out. We know that he/she cannot claw his/her way though the air. I am really reaching to find these areas that might be improved. It certainly works well as it is.

    • Juliana Austen

      I really like these paragraphs too! The feelings of being hunted, trapped are very well conveyed. As a reader (trying hard not be a “fixer”) I had difficulty with the first sentence “trying, looking” I needed to read a couple of times. I found the hole a little distracting, it seemed to divert me from the real menace of whatever it is that is on the other side of the door! 

    • Katie Axelson

      I’m glad this helped, KP. Whenever friends are receiving unwarranted criticism (like especially on blogs), I always congratulate them because it means they’re doing something right.

  10. Adam Busch

    Matt is shirtless on a bed he’s never seen before. He can feel a breeze on his forehead and looks up at the ceiling and thinks he sees a fan. But there isn’t a fan. The window to his right is open.

    Adrienne comes out from the bathroom, naked except for the places where clothing conceals the most. He sits up and she sits on him and he can feel her skin warm against his as she puts her arms around him and pulls him in. He knows she’s smiling, even being too close to see it because he can feel her smile against his. They roll over and she turns off the bedside lamp and they are lost in the dark. Everything is silent except for the sound of mouths and breathing and the rustle, zipping, popping of clothes.

    She’s moving against him and he feels a warmth that’s familiar. He feels the warmth grow stronger and faster and soon the darkness around him begins to feel familiar. He feels comfortable and breathes deeply and feels himself compress further into the bed. He knows as his mouth is against hers that he has felt this warmth and this darkness before, many times before and he remembers the same feeling of weight against him, and the same feeling of pushing and sliding and swimming hands.

    And he feels warm inside. His head is elsewhere, not in this dark room, but in another dark room, the last dark room and the dark room that preceded that and all those that came before. The dark rooms he had spent years in, rooms he’d come to live in despite not owning. He could feel the room and everything in the dark and he could place in his mind where all the windows, lightswitches, pictures, desks, chairs, and clothes had once been.

    And as the warmth becomes warmer, the darkness becomes darker, until each feels as clear and familiar as light, this dark room is the same room as all the others and he cannot tell any difference. And she is the same and her lips are the same, and her breath, her skin, her soft places, her hard places, and everywhere his hands move feel familiar.

    • Katie Axelson

      Adam, I like the recurring theme of warmth through the second half. Why has Matt never sat on this bed before?

    • Adam Busch

      Thanks Katie. He’s never been on this bed before because he’s just met this girl on this night.

  11. Juliana Austen

    This is something I have been playing around with for a while but I’m not sure it is worth it – any and all feedback gratefully received!
    “What did
    you do that for?” Sam asked in exasperation. Billy Sing hung his head in shame.
    “Couldn’t take it no more.” He mumbled.

    Sam reached
    out and wiped the mess of beans from the little Chinaman’s shirt front – it was
    still hot. The man’s face was blotched and dripping.

    “I heard the
    Captain shouting – he said the dinner was late again – then he cried out and there was a splash.” Piped up young Athol.

    Sam rubbed a
    hand over his face. The ship had been simmering with resentments for weeks.
    Captain Comstock was a cruel man, his brother the first mate was an incompetent
    drunkard, the ship was barely seaworthy and they had just 90 barrels of oil.

    “No sign of
    him.” Muttered the mate – he did not look overly distressed at the death of his
    brother. “Put that stinking Chinaman in irons.” He barked the order and Athol
    took Billy Sing’s arms and lead him down to the hold. It was fortunate that
    Billy was short and slight – the space was small – Athol who was not big
    himself could not stand upright in it.

    “We should
    say a prayer for my brother’s soul”

    “Aye – the
    Captain is with his maker now” said Sam. But there
    was not a man among the crew that did not know certainly, in his heart, that
    the man had gone straight to hell. They were not so sure of the cook.

    • mariannehvest

      I like this.  The dialogue sounds realistic and I like the part where he says to pray.  It seems such an odd thing to be said in that environment but of course that’s the kind of environment that probably needs paryer. The only thing I don’t understand about the cook. Was he thrown overboard too?  

    • Juliana Austen

      Thank you – the cook knifed the captain.

    • Katie Axelson

      Hey, Juliana, I think you’ve got a great start. Be careful in telling backstory (“The ship had been simmering with resentments for weeks). Was the cook the person who shot the captain?

    • Juliana Austen

      Thanks Katie – really helpful to get feedback – you know how it is – I get so tied up in  the story that I think everyone else knows where it is going too! The cook knifed the captain. The captain was so horrible that it seemed a perfectly acceptable thing to do!!!

  12. Steph

    I haven’t forgotten you, Joe and gang! Life has just been insanely busy. But here are three paragraphs from today’s attempt to keep the project moving forward. I hope to get a chance later to read and comment on some others. Thanks! (We’ll hope for the best in formatting….my apologies in advance if it comes out as a giant blob!)

    Rex hurried Myrt and her loosely swaddled remains of motherhood through the
    kitchen. He buried his nose in his shirt collar to take the edge off the
    spoiled tang that rose from the dirty dishes in the sink.  A mangy tabby stopped eating scraps from a
    plate on the countertop and peered at them with yellow eyes as they passed.  A muted and plaintive mewl escaped from Myrt’s
    bundle and the tabby echoed back, though loudly and with a touch of a growl
    coming from deep in her throat. It must be the kitten’s mother, he thought. He
    pushed aside the pile of dirty laundry at the base of the staircase with his
    foot and nudged Myrt upward before the kitten had a chance to squirm loose.

    stairway rose in two sections to accommodate for the lack of space in the tall,
    narrow house. One, two, three, four, five, six, he counted silently to the small
    landing. He kept a hand on the small of Myrt’s back as he guided her in a
    hairpin turn to face the seven remaining steps that led to the bedroom hallway.
    Thirteen steps in all. How fitting that he had built the stairway with such an
    unlucky number.

    felt her back tremble. Was she out of breath? From the looks of the place, she
    had not been exerting herself in even the most cursory exercises of keeping a
    basic house and yard. 

    • mariannehvest

      Steph  –  it’s good to see you again!  I missed you.  I was away for a while too.  I like this. The dirty kitchen with the scraggly cat and the stairway are clear in my mind.  I particularly like the her counting the steps. I picture their feet plodding upward as I read those numbers.  I do wonder what is in the bundle but I know it will come out in the completed work. I have to say again how great it is to see you back.  I know you’re really busy at home

    • Katie Axelson

      Hey, Steph, I’m glad you posted even though you’re busy. I was confused. Was Myrt a person or a cat? At first I thought person but then cat then person again.

    • Steph

      Myrt is a person who is carrying a kitten. Thanks for reading, Katie!

    • Katie Axelson

      Ok, good, that’s what I thought most of the way through. 😉

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