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The Constructive Criticism Thread:

Please read the rules below before posting. We're taking turns to post text, and text posted out of turn will be hollered.

The discussion over at the "Is being Troperiffic a Bad Thing?" thread got a few of us seriously talking about starting a full-fledged, free for all dedicated ConCrit thread. Thanks go to your friendly neighborhood Herald, Chihuahua0, for giving this the go-ahead smile

This is how it's going to work:
  • This thread is for helping people improve as writers. Please stay away from needlessly gushing or needlessly being mean when handing out criticism.
  • No mentioning your own work when giving out criticism. This is to prevent "Let's talk about ME" derails.
  • Feedback will be given to one person at a time. We're taking a deliberately slow pace; a person's turn to get feedback is generally supposed to last a week, but we're not ending someone's turn until they get feedback from at least five different people. On the other hand, the person getting feedback can end their own turn if they figure they're done.
  • When a turn ends, we wait 12 hours to see if anyone of the people who have just given feedback wants to be up next. If they don't, we pick the person up next from the feedback request list.
  • Yes, it's okay to point out spelling and grammar errors made by the person you're giving feedback to.
  • If you're unfamiliar with the original verse of a piece of Fan Fiction up for feedback, pretend it's a piece of original fiction and criticize accordingly.
  • If and when you step up to receive feedback:
    • Post actual writing (not world-building, concepts, layouts, character lists and so on).
    • Be specific in what you are looking for, or at least mention what is troubling you the most.
    • Fan Fiction is fine, but take into account that anyone not familiar with the source material will judge your piece "blind", essentially by the same standards as original fiction. This means you might get called out on flaws that fan fiction usually gets away with in practice, perhaps even justifiably so. Just like any other kind of criticism, consider it or ignore at at your discretion.
    • Be ready to hear some things you probably didn't want to hear. This should go without saying, but, please: No being bitter, being sarcastic, calling people out for "going too far" or otherwise expressing disapproval of the criticism given to you. If you think people are being unfair to your writing, make your case civilly.

With that said, I suppose we can begin and see whether this goes anywhere. The first person to respond with a post to the extent of "I'll go first" will go first.

edited 17th Feb '12 5:07:01 PM by TripleElation

 351 JHM, Mon, 26th Mar '12 2:30:39 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Broke rules. Please disregard. Sorry for etiquette breach. Delete if able, please.

edited 26th Mar '12 3:45:05 PM by RPGenius

 
 353 Mr AHR, Mon, 26th Mar '12 3:42:51 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Did you read the first post, uguu?
Euo will do!
JHM, I don't have anything more to add, really. It passed the main criterion: I want to read more! All the hints hooked me like a trout. smile Grats!

Also, I don't mind your hitting Roget's Thesaurus: it shows you care enough about me, as a reader, to throw education my way via contextual pick-up. wink I didn't think you took it too far. Just as long as you don't do it every chapter (and so lose the effectiveness of the wake-up), we're quits. grin

EDIT: One of these days, I'll get mark-up and keyboard-position right, first time. And, I'll die of shock.

edited 26th Mar '12 5:24:54 PM by Euodiachloris

"When all else failed, she tried being reasonable." ~ Pratchett, Johnny and the Bomb
Easily entertained
[Looks at waiting list]

Fuck, I'm next, aren't I? I've actually got something I'll have up later tonight. Gonna make some slight modifications so it can be read as a stand-alone piece, even though it's a part of a larger story.

edited 31st Mar '12 1:16:47 PM by KillerClowns

Easily entertained
This thread still alive? I hope so. Anyways, pardoning the double post, but here's a bit from my current work I'm trying to make sure has the right level of impact. I've got my own thoughts on it, but I'd like to hear others' first.

edited 31st Mar '12 5:14:00 PM by KillerClowns

 357 Mr AHR, Sat, 31st Mar '12 4:52:01 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Will look at it once I get to my home comp.
 358 Leradny, Sat, 31st Mar '12 4:59:56 PM from Alameda, CA
It's blank.

Can you paste it into freetexthost instead?

Easily entertained
[up]I like the commenting system it has, so gonna try Google Docs one more time. If that doesn't work, freetexthost it is.

edited 31st Mar '12 5:15:38 PM by KillerClowns

 360 Mr AHR, Sat, 31st Mar '12 6:39:40 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
It works.
 361 Esteban 009, Sun, 1st Apr '12 4:09:48 AM from Practically Atlantis
Bitter Hateful Cynic
Here's my two cents:

I don't care. The way you're telling the story doesn't connect with me as a reader. I find it difficult to care about the main character. I think it's because of your style, it's pretty distant and cold. "The woman, Asayu, " is a good example of this distance and coldness, why not simplify it to just her name? I already know she's a woman, you just told me in the first paragraph, pointing it out again creates redunancy.

You point out that the main character isn't human, but you don't really explain in what way. Is she an alien, a magic being, a bit of both, something else entirely? She looks human, acts human, but isn't. Using the word "Earth" is another example for me of creating that distance, three times in one paragraph to point out that the otherwise human character isn't human.

Wait who is Rachel? Oh wait, doesn't matter, she isn't mentioned again.

And this is where I complete lose the direction. You throw in that a cabal of mages has placed some sort of spell on the village and its inhabitants.

When she is medidating, is she confronting the effects of the spell? It seems like it, but a couple of lines later you again have her arm herself against the effect, but without succes, but after a while the effect fades and she seem able to ignore the effect. Is it because she armed herself against the effect or because the monkeys startled her and the shock released her from the spell?

So she disrupts the ritual, shoots someone, and flees. I'm left wondering why did she disrupt the ritual? She assumes it's an evil ritual but there's nothing to go on. She assumes the villagers are the intended victims, but they aren't, does she know these mages? Is there a history there? Who are the mages anyway, what is their goal? Why should I care about Asayu kicking these guys down? What master do they serve, what master does Asayu serve?

I think the idea you have is a solid one, but you create a distance by using words and syntax that create distance. You want to paint a pretty picture but you end up trying too hard. Pick words and a structure that is a bit less dramatic.

Give us more insight into what the main character is about. You want to keep her origins a mystery at this point, no problem, but make her more mysterious by removing the references to her appearance. Make her a true mystery by only giving us a glimpse of her origins.

"This place has different rules, " she whispered to herself as she studied the gun in her hand.

It's a bit more subtle to suggest she's not from around here than pointing out she usually fights with a stick and she's not native to Earth. If you want to keep her origins vague, make sure you avoid giving us too much details. If you want to give us the general story, make sure it's well-rounded.

Asayu studied the gun in her hand. A wayward soldier had surrendered the piece to her on her first mission and she had been using it ever since. A complicated weapon for such a simple world, she thought. In a twisted way it makes sense.

In a nutshell: Don't try to create elaborate sentences that swirl around themselves. Sometimes it's best to keep things simple, because by keeping it simple you can create a more down-to-earth atmosphere that is easier for the reader to relate to.

Easily entertained
Well, this is not fun. But that which does not kill me makes me stronger...

A lot of the problems are from editing — as said, it's an excerpt from a longer work, and so sometimes missed context a reader would have already known from earlier. However, I won't pretend this really excuses me: I did attempt to edit the context in so the piece could stand alone, and where I failed to do so, I can only blame myself. Rather than defend myself or provide the context out-of-universe, I'll take note of what context I missed in the excerpt, and make absolutely certain it's properly introduced somewhere.
Euo will do!
I've just done a quick read-through, but will have to do it again to get points all nicely lined up for you... But... Uhhhhh... The fact that I'm not looking forward to it speaks volumes. Sorry. sad

It's a bit of a mess, mate. My first major impression is that you haven't nailed your style yet, so it's flapping in the wind without guy-ropes. Also, if the main character isn't exactly human, describing her 'humanity', etc. can be a bit... odd... without more backstory to hang the ambiguity on. Let alone also be confusing.

edited 1st Apr '12 9:12:31 AM by Euodiachloris

"When all else failed, she tried being reasonable." ~ Pratchett, Johnny and the Bomb
I'm indifferent!
Reviewing Cabal Introduction:

...I don't really want to review this.

As far as I can tell, it needs a lot of work. I'm not talking about the grammar or spelling, and my issue isn't with the plot itself.

What I'm having trouble with is the world you've built.

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not making any judgement on you as a writer. That said, you'd probably be better off getting a bad judgement than no judgement at all. The reason I don't want to review this is because it's drastically, painfully incomplete. Reading it creates this throbbing sensation in the back of my mind.

It's like reading the twentieth chapter of the sixth book of Harry Potter with no idea of what the rest of the story is about, and then being asked to review it. It's not a matter of not wanting to, neccesarily, although that's certainly a factor: I just can't. I don't know who Rachel is. I don't know what your magic system is like. Asayu is a complete stranger to me. I have no clue what's going on.

You probably do, but that doesn't help me any. I do not enjoy reviewing something that isn't explained.

My advice: Write the rest of it, or scrap the idea. I don't care if this is the first chapter and then everything is explained or if this takes place in the middle of a book—it could even be a part of a collection of short stories—but it has to be something other than a story in it's own right. I'm sorry, I know I've been rude as hell throughout this post, but I refuse to review something that makes no sense simply because we're missing some of the stuff in the author's manual.

Sorry. I just won't review it.
You know what I hate? Hypocrites. That and obscure self-referential statements.
 365 Night, Sun, 1st Apr '12 9:34:02 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
So by tossing out a portion of a work in progress I'm already somewhat gimped in being able to assess impact because I have no idea how it fits together.

BUT.

This is a moment that is supposed to have impact (how? what kind?) but it's too long, and too little is going on. Impact is impact: brief, sharp, violent. I can't find that moment. Nothing's brief. Nothing's sharp. There's barely any violence.

The piece builds gradually, or tries to (without a definable payoff it's hard to judge the success or failure of the buildup), but when the ending moments come there's nothing there. There's a dog on the altar, but no sense of urgency. (And, well, it's a dog, and that's bad, but significantly less bad then some of the other options.) There's an explosion of sound, but it's the smell that bothers her initially. (Smell doesn't travel fast as sound, and the smell of blood and feces, while bad, is something that I can infer she has some built-up resistance to since she expects it; the sound of dogs and cats crying mimics the sound of a human child. A few hundred babies wailing is a different subject.)

So, again. Impact. Violence, abrupt. Not seeing the abrupt. Not seeing much of the violence either. These things need to be worked out.

I also think you shot yourself in the foot posting such a long piece of what is essentially prologue to the part that should have the impact.

edited 1st Apr '12 9:35:30 AM by Night

"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 366 nrjxll, Sun, 1st Apr '12 9:35:27 AM Relationship Status: Not war
[up][up]For the record, I want to say that I think you've hit on a very important concept about this thread as a whole: it's not for excerpts.

edited 1st Apr '12 9:35:49 AM by nrjxll

I'm indifferent!
[up] Yeah. I'd suggest we make an unofficial rule along the lines of, "If it's not a complete story in itself and is just an excerpt, then either ask for it to be reviewed as an intro or post the concept work for the rest of the story so we actually understand what you're writing. Or, you know, make it so we can follow the excerpt in the first place."

I feel like this is the best solution, to be honest, although everyone is free to disagree. Some people might want to post excerpts, which I think is fine, but the rest of the story needs to be explained if this is the case.

Furthermore, if you post an intro and don't want it to be reviewed as an intro but as actual writing, then you should explain the rest of the plot as well.
You know what I hate? Hypocrites. That and obscure self-referential statements.
 368 Night, Sun, 1st Apr '12 9:55:54 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
Considering we had very nearly this discussion over the posting of fanfiction ("well what about the context" "we can do it without all the context") and several people are already posting commentary on this without the context, I think that this suggestion is pretty wrong-headed.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 369 nrjxll, Sun, 1st Apr '12 10:07:23 AM Relationship Status: Not war
[up]But that discussion has been almost uniformly critical because of the lack of context. The fanfiction situation isn't analogous because that involves works that are based of another work, not parts of a single work lacking context.

I'm indifferent!
Well, if you do it well, then that's fine by me. I said unofficial rule, not absolute law—if you're willing to risk it, then go for it. I intend to let people know what my story is about and give context when neccesary, personally—if you want to confuse the reviewers then power to you. I feel justified in not reviewing something that I don't understand. If you have an issue with this, then I can't help you.
You know what I hate? Hypocrites. That and obscure self-referential statements.
Easily entertained
@Fake Crowley, et al: I understand your points and, upon weighing them, agree. Other people posting excerpts have had similar problems, I notice. Though any short stories I write will likely end up here, I'll probably not post excerpts here again. The critics are excellent, but yes, the format doesn't quite work for non-stand-alone pieces. Though I will continue to make myself useful as a critic, if only because this is a project worth supporting.

I think one of my problems was previous worries I had about Beige Prose, and my attempts to amend that. So... eh, fuck it. I can't please everyone. I'll fiddle around, find a style that fits me, pass it by those I most admire to make sure I'm not just gonna be mistaking stupidity for stylistic choice, and roll with it.

Also, there's the old classic problem: I forget not everybody has my familiarity with my own creation, and my desire to avoid hideous Info Dumps sometimes goes to far. Lesson learned — there's obviously better ways, and I just need to find one that works for me.

Well, time to fix what blatantly needs fixing. Thank you everybody, I needed that.

edited 1st Apr '12 12:24:36 PM by KillerClowns

Also known as Katz
I'll comment on the story in a bit, but right now I'm concerned with the tone of this thread. It's getting really negative.

First, this is not a review thread. "It sucked and I hated it" (or, for that matter, "it was amazing and I loved it" are not relevant. If you felt like you lacked the context to review the piece, just say you lacked the context to review the piece, don't go on a big diatribe about it.

Second, this is constructive criticism. There's way too much vague "I didn't like this, " "I don't believe it, " "I don't feel like it works"—criticism that doesn't give the writer anything to work with. And, for the love of God, don't tell people to scrap it and write something else. That's the author's prerogative, not yours.

I'm indifferent!
[up][up] Excerpts are fine. Hell, what you wrote is fine. But if you choose to do an excerpt and don't tell us about your work...I won't bother with reviewing it. This is the lesser of two evils—nothing gets accomplished when you tell the author that it doesn't make sense because you're missing most of the story, aside from the author coming to the conclusion that there's a need to explain what's going on.

Also, just write how you write. Trying to write well is futile—skill comes with practice, not determination. Try to write as naturally as possible, although you certainly should take constructive criticism into account.

I'm willing to review your story, by the way. :/ I just need to know what's going on.
You know what I hate? Hypocrites. That and obscure self-referential statements.
 374 Night, Sun, 1st Apr '12 1:00:14 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
I feel justified in not reviewing something that I don't understand.

Were this true, you would actually not review it. That is...not what happened. Simple silence would have sufficed here.

edited 1st Apr '12 1:07:33 PM by Night

"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 375 jewelleddragon, Sun, 1st Apr '12 1:17:38 PM from Pasadena, CA
Also known as Katz
I also disagree about excerpts; I think a well-chosen excerpt ought to work with or without context (beyond simply saying that it's the beginning/middle/end of a longer piece).

The excerpts often printed on the flyleaves of paperbacks are intended to be read without context as a "hook." A compelling excerpt makes you want to find out the context (Who is Rachel? What were the wizards doing?). A poor excerpt doesn't.

(Also, what Night said. You're free to review or not review things for whatever reason you want. We didn't need a four-post justification.)

edited 1st Apr '12 1:19:15 PM by jewelleddragon

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