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Author Topic: Criticism for Writers
extrinsic
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As part of extending my writing activities, occupational opportunities and my curriculum vitae, I've researched markets for critical discourses: literary review journals, critical reviews about method and message, and appeal, voice, and craft analysis. Lo and behold, the critical culture beyond lifestyle reviews is more widespread and lucrative than I had imagined.

I located numerous venues, print and online, paid or unpaid, and longstanding and highly respected or recent and still developing a following and reputation and perhaps a slant. Some appeal to a selected audience, some appeal to broad and perhaps underdefined audiences. In short, the culture is much like the fiction marketplace.

Pay per word rates run into similar brackets as short fiction. Word counts run slightly higher averages, up to eight thousand words is common, amounting to around eight hundred dollars for a reputable publication's payment. Formatting is similar to fiction's Standard Manuscript Format. Most prefer an old style serif typeface like Times New Roman, as fiction markets do anymore. Unlike fiction and creative nonfiction markets, citations are encouraged if not required; however, inline citations are marked with superscript numerals referring to end note style sources cited, as is the recommendation from Chicago Manual of Style, which is the U.S. standard house style manual for digest, magazine, journal, etc., publications, and standard for criticism publications. A fraction favor MLA format, though.

I should note that this is a step in my writing life plan. I've researched poetics, rhetoric, narrative theory and such, as many Hatrackers may have noted, for years. A portion of my posts here and elsewhere have been for practice as I hone my critical and diplomatic skills.

Many criticism venues espouse a plain language policy, at least as plain as the critical discourse culture discourses in. The plain language of general writers and the plain language of the criticism culture are not the same language. A happy medium, while desirable, is challenging.

One more point of importance, the venues I've examined espouse a policy of aversion to writerly self-involvement. In other words, subjective, personal opinions and personal sensibilities and examples are strongly discouraged and if incorporated must be in small proportion and humbly modest. No spam-type publicity or self-promotion, not overtly anyway. The opposite is strongly encouraged; that is, a positive generosity of spirit toward the works of others. No negativity. I have no issue with that limitation. Actually, this speaks to the previous point, engaging critical readers on points of interest that speak to them in accessible enough language yet depersonalizing a nonetheless personal and entertaining message. In other words, lecturing without seeming to lecture, a peer-to-peer register. Register meaning a voice quality related to interpersonal, relational standing.

If you, fellow Hatrackers, were to research writing topics for guidance on your Poet's Journeys, which topics would most interest you? What areas do you struggle with most for which you would look to others for guidance and insight?

For examples, top tier elements like audience appeal, voice, craft, perhaps mechanical style, maybe genre and marketability. Next tier, setting, plot (antagonism, causation, tension, and dramatic complication as functions of dramatic structure), idea or theme, character, event, discourse. Maybe writing modes, especially description, introspection, action, narration, emotion, and conversation. Maybe show and tell, or diegesis, exigesis, and mimesis.

I ask because I don't want to start with esoteric and lofty topics that will alienate a broader than desired target audience, though still an audience that reads this manner of criticism, because I'd like to start with narrowed topical concerns most on the minds of struggling writers.

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KellyTharp
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Wow, Ex . . . much food for thought here. Got the gist of it in your last two paragraphs though. I would blurt out . . . all of the above. Which is why I joined Hatrack. I find this site stimulating in that if often speaks to areas that I hadn't thought of before. I so like the links to other sites and have already learned bunches. I see all kinds of challanges in all those deiscriptives! If I had to pick two it would be antagonism & marketablility. . . . no, plot, or maybe dramatic complications, oh heck, yeap, I chose all of them. KT
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Grumpy old guy
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Well, the top tier for certain. As for the rest, I can write moving prose that makes the reader cry (both sad and happy tears) and, in one instance, reveal a deeply held secret. I think I can craft a plot, but as a function of dramatic structure, probably not.

It's really an unfair question, extrinsic. Who can really know their own shortcomings?

Phil.

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genevive42
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My deepest concerns center around plot. How to build tension and maintain interest. How do you construct a more complex plot without letting it get confusing? When to keep it simple without letting it be predictable? I'm not only interested in how the plot is working on a particular piece, but would like to find a way to get the 'good plot mechanism' cemented and working in my brain.

Character and dialog I'm entirely comfortable with. Description I tend to use too thinly, but when I do, my skills are pretty decent so I only need a little prodding to remember to put it in. I am confortable with action as well.

One of the things that is always a question, especially when working on a novel, is whether the balance between exposition and plot momentum is good, and this relates directly to pacing. But a good alpha reader or two I think can help with that.

Hope this helps.

[ March 25, 2013, 10:31 AM: Message edited by: genevive42 ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by KellyTharp:
Wow, Ex . . . much food for thought here. Got the gist of it in your last two paragraphs though. I would blurt out . . . all of the above. Which is why I joined Hatrack. I find this site stimulating in that if often speaks to areas that I hadn't thought of before. I so like the links to other sites and have already learned bunches. I see all kinds of challanges in all those deiscriptives! If I had to pick two it would be antagonism & marketablility. . . . no, plot, or maybe dramatic complications, oh heck, yeap, I chose all of them. KT

Can I put you down for some of everything? Seems to me craft development is your current struggle particularly. With plot development at the top of your struggles, a discourse on dramatic complication could help you over that hurdle. Unfortunately, though dramatic complication is emphasized in intermediate to advanced writing workshops, and is also known by a plethora of names, I have yet to find an accessible and informative source on that topic. Lots of disussions on dramatic structure, especially causation's role.

Past coordinating judge of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, Algis Budrys' Writing to the Point: A Complete Guide to Selling Fiction, 1994, was my crossing of the structure Rubicon. Occasional excerpts from it pop up in WoTF Herald newsletters. To check library availability in your area, try WorldCat.org. Copies are also available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble; and the book is reviewed at Goodreads.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Well, the top tier for certain. As for the rest, I can write moving prose that makes the reader cry (both sad and happy tears) and, in one instance, reveal a deeply held secret. I think I can craft a plot, but as a function of dramatic structure, probably not.

It's really an unfair question, extrinsic. Who can really know their own shortcomings?

Phil.

A smart bomb on target response though. Surveying elsewhere, doubt is the number one challenge writers face due to unaddressable aesthetic hunches about writing shortcomings. A topic worthy of a first salvo, say, Managing Doubt's Gray Shades of Writing Mischief. The readership I intend to target is at least half writers struggling with doubts. Preliminary numbers are into the hundred thousand range.
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Grumpy old guy
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Doubt can kill the creative urge quicker than a .357 slug in the left ear. And, it's natural for us to doubt the worth of our own work until some kind soul tells us the $5 million advance is in the mail.

The thing I'm really trying to develop at the moment is a method of writing. By that, I mean developing a structure in how I go about creating a story. So far, I've worked out what works for me in growing idea's kernel into a small bush as well as creating my central characters and the story's milieu. And, I've found that has removed a lot of self-doubt about the process of creation.

Can't wait to see what works for me once I'm past the outlining stage.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by genevive42:
My deepest concerns center around plot. How to build tension and maintain interest. How do you construct a more complex plot without letting it get confusing? When to keep it simple without letting it be predictable? I'm not only interested in how the plot is working on a particular piece, but would like to find a way to get the 'good plot mechanism' cemented and working in my brain.

Character and dialog I'm entirely comfortable with. Description I tend to use too thinly, but when I do, my skills are pretty decent so I only need a little prodding to remember to put it in. I am confortable with action as well.

One of the things that is always a question, especially when working on a novel, is whether the balance between exposition and plot momentum is good, and this relates directly to pacing. But a good alpha reader or two I think can help with that.

Hope this helps.

I see tension and complex plotting as two distinguishable areas. The masterwork of tension's influence on plot is exhaustively covered in Gustav Freytag's 1863 Technique of the Drama as translated into English 1894 by Elias J, MacEwan. Freytag identifies tension's dual identity as sympathy and curiosity driven by developing an emotional cluster, notably, fear and pity for a protagonist's passionate plight.

Other emotional clusters are equally valid in contemporary times. And sympathy, though often cited as a desirable reader emotional response, is easier and more broadly related in contemporary fiction as empathy. A close reading of Freytag's dense treatise reveals empathy as an effective alternative to simply sympathy as a reaction to solely pity and fear emotions.

Complex plots, on the other hand are defined in The Poetics of Aristotle. It too was translated into English, by Samuel Henry Butcher, 1894, the currently most respected translation. Aristotle cautions against having more than one dramatic action per narrative. They confuse audiences, who don't know what's going on when a change in action switches tracks, so to speak, one story becomes another mid stream.

However, Aristotle praises a complex plot of one action. A turn or maybe more turns reveals to a protagonist the true circumstances of a newly emerging dramatic complication caused by an initial dramatic complication, a major discovery, which is either caused by or the cause of a major reversal in the action.

A strong example of this in short story form is Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been." Protagonist Connie, a sexually precocious but naive and innocent young teenager, discovers she's the prey for a sexual predator. The discovery both repulses her and unnaturally attracts her like a moth to a candle flame. The action reverses then and, more profoundly, the meaning inverts from tangible and literal to intangible and figurative due to that discovery about herself. This is the art of misdirection at its finest expression. Connie stands for all young women becoming aware of their sexual alure, yet confronted with the dark side and very real dangers of sexual display and attraction. The work has an instruction, correction, and control quality like folktales of olden times, but is artfully packaged as a psychological horror thiller.

Needless to say, this work is also a prime example of tension's dual sympathy or empathy and curiosity at work and working beautifully. As one recent post I made said, what a reader knows drives tension. Readers knowing Connie is sexually precocious excites readers' pity and fear and curiosity for her outcome.

The short story is also a rigidly controlled pace and timely and judiscious alternation between narration and imitation, artful tell and show, all the while amping up plot movement as the action unfolds.

Yes, genevive42, you have helped my inquiry. Providing advanced craft strugglers with accessible guidance on Aristotle's and Freytag's lofty principles is a worthy topic for a critical essay. One that could lead me into proposing an area of new knowledge about narrative theory at some point down the road.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Doubt can kill the creative urge quicker than a .357 slug in the left ear. And, it's natural for us to doubt the worth of our own work until some kind soul tells us the $5 million advance is in the mail.

The thing I'm really trying to develop at the moment is a method of writing. By that, I mean developing a structure in how I go about creating a story. So far, I've worked out what works for me in growing idea's kernel into a small bush as well as creating my central characters and the story's milieu. And, I've found that has removed a lot of self-doubt about the process of creation.

Can't wait to see what works for me once I'm past the outlining stage.

Phil.

I'm short on advice for a writer struggling with structure or, actually, too long. Too many alternatives are available for deviating from the predictable and most common of organizing principles; that is, conflict resolution. Some of the more broadly and deeply appealing short stories recently have sidestepped traditional conflict resolution structures and outcomes; other organizing principles have enjoyed greater acclaim.

Outlining is one effective way to organize a structure. Since you're currently unraveling Lajos Egri's "premise" principle, perhaps taking a firmer grip on premise's import in argumentation and how argumentation plays so delightfully well with creative writing might see you on toward the next hurdle. Major premise, minor premise, syllogism, claim based on a premise, and support for the claim, rebuttal, all have a lot to do with debate's organizing principles and strategy. I see and use them in my planning, drafting and reworking writing fiction phases.

Okay, I'll cop to exploring premise, as Egri uses it, a few years back as an organizing principle access. I've also used it as an access for analyzing written works of all categories: poetry and so on, essays creative or otherwise, inquiry, problem and response, research and report.

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Grumpy old guy
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For me, the creation of character and milieu are inextricably intertwined; the world creates the character. In speculative or fantasy fiction, if there is a disconnect between milieu and character the whole edifice will fall. In order the create a believable 'fantastical' character, you need to first create a believable milieu.

The thing that first daunted me about this revelation is that it requires me to write a 'Prequel' that will never be read; the story that led to The Story. However, once I accepted that, for me this is something I must do, inspiration flowed and thoughts and ideas flowered.

But, this is what works for me, it may not work for anyone else. Given my current thinking, I imagine my first draft will be an exceptionally detailed outline: I can develop character, plot and twist better on the fly, than as a preplanned package. Once that's done, it's time to plan around my first draft. To dispute Hemingway, my first draft isn't sh*t, it's the paper to wipe away the dross.

Phi.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
For me, the creation of character and milieu are inextricably intertwined; the world creates the character. In speculative or fantasy fiction, if there is a disconnect between milieu and character the whole edifice will fall. In order the create a believable 'fantastical' character, you need to first create a believable milieu.

I've found every narrative element, situational or extended, big picture or microscopic, is inextricably linked to one another and to a whole and all views in between. Each may in isolation be distinguishable but are indivisible.

quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
The thing that first daunted me about this revelation is that it requires me to write a 'Prequel' that will never be read; the story that led to The Story. However, once I accepted that, for me this is something I must do, inspiration flowed and thoughts and ideas flowered.

Sincere and frank writers report similar experiences.

quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
But, this is what works for me, it may not work for anyone else.

From a different perspective, what works for one writer that may not work for another may be a distinction that gives the former writer an edge over the competition and access to an audience that appreciates the distinction. Whoever said figuring out what one does best and better than anyone else is a sure road to success? Whoever said it, following the pillaton of mediocrity doesn't win the stage.

quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Given my current thinking, I imagine my first draft will be an exceptionally detailed outline: I can develop character, plot and twist better on the fly, than as a preplanned package. Once that's done, it's time to plan around my first draft. To dispute Hemingway, my first draft isn't sh*t, it's the paper to wipe away the dross.

Phi.

Many frank writers also report this as a phase or step for developing writing skills and aesthetics, or at least a promising avenue for developing a stronger yet more proficient process so that effective and appealing writing takes appreciably less time and effort eventually if not sooner.
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