I’ve been doing Critter.org critiques for a couple of weeks or so. I have written half a dozen critiques and read (or started to read) a lot of stories. I am amazed at the good quality of the writing.
This is counterintuitive, yet I should not be surprised that the critters stories were better than anticipated. Any author who wants his stories to be criticized by a bunch of strangers who have no more experience writing stories than he does, is a brave soul. Authors who submit their stories to critique are interested in finding the flaws in a story and improving the story, so their work has probably been rewritten and edited before it was submitted.
The main thing that I criticize is that almost all the stories are too wordy and can be cut. I also try to identify where transitions are choppy or easily misconstrued. I want the stories to flow, so I try to identify places where I stumbled while following the plot thread.
I don’t say much about characters, and only occasionally did I talk about setting. My thing is getting the narrative tightened up.
I think that mostly the style is very good in these stories. Some of the authors seem young, either through their subject matter of the way they treat the characters. Almost all the characters have been teenagers or younger adults, so I figure the author’s age to be near that of their characters. I think it is remarkable how well these kids (to me anyway) can craft a sentence or a paragraph. They are generally much better at it than I am.
There is one thing that almost all the stories have in common and that is what I call The Big Flaw. This flaw is a problem with the concept, plot, or setting, that makes the story unrepairable. It is the element of the story that makes it impossible to rewrite without actually writing a different story.
One story had 15,000 words about a character NOT named Conan who kills a sabre tooth tiger, but nothing else happens. One story is about young androids who have sex, and not much else. On story is about a gay robot who has sex. Almost all of the fantasy stories were about women with magical ability and the problems of being a woman with talent in a man’s world.
All of these stories were lovingly crafted, well written, but not one of them was a good story.
I now have to look at all of my stories in a new way. What is the big flaw? I am too busy trying to put sentences together so they make sense, and perhaps I am missing the major flaw in idea, plot or characters. How do you spot the big flaw when you are so close to the various mechanical parts that build the story?
My first story is due to be critiqued in three weeks. I have three stories in my to-do list and I hope to find time to write them soon so they can be critiqued. I hope that the critters group don’t pick nits with the stories, but have the courage to tell me what The Big Flaw is in my stories.