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Some notes on critiquing with an emphasis on genre fiction

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Some notes on critiquing fiction with an emphasis on fantasy/horror/sf genres

Warning: This is a work in progress. -- Fritz.

"The Rules of Writing"

Every rule of writing that I am aware has been broken by a successful author. Rules such as "Show, don't tell", "Start as late as possible / start with a hook", "Don't use run-on sentences", etc. can and have been broken successfully (although I can't point to specific instances of each of these things, I will work on assembling such a list). My point here is to approach the application of writing rules as if they are guidelines and look for the purpose behind breaking of rules.


Facts - Perceived and otherwise

Be careful when critiquing "facts", particularly in genre fiction such as fantasy, horror, or science fiction. As you critique you may find yourself thinking: "That's not the way that works!" When you do, step back and ask yourself: "Is this a mistake or is something else going on here?" First, the nature of the "fact" and its context should be considered. A "physics error" in science fiction is quite different than one in main stream fiction. This is also true of culture and character perception or motivation "facts".

For example, in early drafts of my first novel I had a number of comments on the use of linear accelerator weapons. One beta-reader said that linear accelerators had no recoil while a second beta-reader said that they did have recoil.


Character Motivation and Behavior

Like asking yourself the question of "what is a fact in this (genre) context?"; you should ask yourself: "is this behavior or motivation driven by something in the (genre) context that I am unaware of?"


Personal Preferences

You can't avoid your personal vantage point, but you can mitigate it. Let the writer know anything relevant about your personal perspective or background up front.


The Impulse to Meddle

One of the most seductive things about critiquing someone else writing is something I will call "the impulse to meddle". When you are critiquing a work in progress the fact that it is a work in progress

Some of the signs that you are about to meddle are the "I would write it like" or "I would do it differently"

Ultimately, you are trying to help them write their story, not yours.


Some links on critiquing fiction

Example critiques

Additional critiquing links

Links on breaking rules

Other links of potential interest

SF Critique

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2007/09/17









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