The Nebula ballot is out. Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, and Asimov's have posted their representative nominees' links on their home pages.
I'm thrilled to read what's recently made a higher cut. I also appreciate when these mainstays of serial publishing put their best foot forward for all to access without tolltakers and gatekkepers exacting their due. Mainly, I like being able to read the nominees and scrutinize them critically.
I'm critiquing them. I can be as blunt as I want, brutal, rude, or even rant, with no regard to decorum or courtesy because my responses will never see another pair of eyes. I can take out my frustrations on stories that made the cut. But I find that there's less to say and easier issues to find because there are so few that stand out to me. On the other hand, there is much to admire and emulate. Picking out those features, that's what I'm really after.
I'm curious, does anyone else critique published works?
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited March 10, 2009).]
Not detailed critiques like the ones I'd do for an unpublished writer, but, yeah, I critique published stuff in my head as I read quite a lot.
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EscapePod has a mesage board, which I admit participating on a great deal. Behind the guise of a psuedonym, it is considerably more comfortable to express your views. I have found that I tend to shout at the stories which affect me the the most. Wether it be the stories I really enjoyed or the one that really infuriate me. Like an Italian, I love and hate with equal passion.
I'm inclined to pick a published work to pieces in the same manner as I would pick an unpublished work to pieces. (1) In the process of picking the work of others to pieces, I learn how to pick my own work to pieces, and can apply that to make them better---so why not apply that to work that's actually made it to publication level? I might learn something. (2) And a lot of what's published doesn't seem terribly good to me, downright bad at times---this includes some award winners, too---so why not pick it to pieces?
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Yes and no. Everytime I read something I am forming some sort of opinion on it. If things within a piece impress me in a highly positive or highly negative way I'll file them in my head for future reference.
Have I ever taken a published work and dissected it line-by-line? No. Especially not with an eye towards finding all it's "flaws". I have reread and contemplated portions of works that I felt particularly good.
Unfortunately I've found since I've become a very serious writer (about the last five years now out of 20), I have a harder and harder time NOT analyzing the writing of what I read. Mostly it's not criticism of the writing style or anything like that, but analysis of the story and how I'd have written it, or plotted it. Because of that, it is rare when a story is good enough to pull me out so I just enjoy the story. It's also rare when some plot device or plot line manages to surprise me. A curse and a blessing at the same time!
Sometimes I long for the days when I could just read a story and enjoy it rather than judge it in some way, but I guess that's part of writing instead of just reading.
I've said this before on Hatrack, but I guess it never hurts to say it again. After I read so many "how to write" books that I was learning nothing new, I looked for a way to take my writing to the next level. So I started reading published books, including bad ones, and critique them.
I pay attention to what storytelling elements work really well or which ones ruin the story for me. I then study the book to see how the author did that element well (and how I can apply it to my own writing) or think about what could have been done to repair the flaw in the storytelling and make the story work for me.
Of course, the things I found fatal flaws will be different that what bothers others, but I'm keeping a list of my 'lessons learned' on my blog at: Writing Tidbits. I also have collected writing advice that really helped me with my writing: Writing Advice
Something similar to typing a story into a computer. I checked a favorite nonfiction title out of a library, scanned it page by page, then ran it through an optical character recognition program. I read it word for word cleaning up the OCR output by comparing it to the original text.
I successfully resisted the urge to rewrite or make any copyedits as I went through time and time again, marking conflicts with a nonce character and sought advice on whether to make any revisions. I found several misspelled words. The book was published in the middle of the last century, so there were quite a few compound word, hyphenated word, separate word changes since then, co-operate/cooperate. Replaced gun power with gun powder. Though in today's dictionaries gunpowder is a compound word, my 1960 Webster's has it as separate words, stet., except for the obvious typo. A couple of wrong words, homonym conflicts, you're/your, there/their, it's/its, and such. One factual inaccuracy. In the end only the nondiscretionary issues were revised, it's for its, etc,, one redundant article excised, the the separated by a line break in the original. One frequently recurring misspelled word was challenged again and again. But the author himself substantiated it in his correspondence with the editor who brought the original into print. It too was stet., but remarked upon in the publisher's note.
By the time I was through with the project, I'd read the text cover to cover a dozen times, besides the several times I'd read it years before for pure enjoyment. It's never gone stale on me. The language and syntax are unusual, but perfectly beautiful for the content, shifting, ephemeral, like sand dunes shaped and reshaped continuously by nature.
What I found most remarkable was how the author handled disputed content. He recounted disputed facts as though anyone concerned was unequivocably right, but allowed for all sides of perspective. The author was a retired journalist, after all.
Some of the recent published stories I've read, novels and short stories, I've rewritten the parts that didn't quite work for me, weak tension in beginnings, overextended episodic middles, anticlimactic climaxes, changed a deus ex machina-like climax crisis resolution or two, input absentee crises, worked over inconsistent influx and efflux reversals, nonlogical and/or nonlineal causation, insufficient opposition of antagonism forces, uncompleted endings.
Lately, stories that I'm reading, I see where a story went awry right away, and only mentally compose changes. I learned a lot from the process. It's making a difference in my latest story revision efforts.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited March 11, 2009).]
A book I found helpful in both writing and Critiquing is "Cosmic Critiques" by Asimov and Greenberg. In it the two authors take apart 10 SF stories and tell why they worked. It hasn't helped me stop turning my short stories into novels but I learned a lot about structure and story-telling.
I drive a long way to work each day and am addicted to audiobooks. I tend to have a limited selection so end up listening to all sorts of books, sometimes surprizing myself with what I like. I find myself critiquing the writing styles of many of the writers I hear. I have found that I have much more to critique in mainstream genres than in SF/F. The writer I found hardest to listen to without groaning or 'rewriting' in my head was Dan Brown-- good stories/ lousy style.