Weekly Musing: Everyone’s a Critic

Ever since the calendar flipped to a new year, I’ve been in bit more critical mood when it comes to books, movies, and TV. When I say critical, I don’t necessarily mean in a negative way, although that has crept up in regards to a certain major movie franchise only my spouse has had to endure my comments about. Just that I am picking up on things and questioning even further than my already overly analytical mind did in the past. I think this is because the more I write and the more I learn about writing, the more I’m picking up on things as a reader that wouldn’t have caught my eye before.

Now I notice sentence structure, how dialogue is used to create character, how details are woven into the story, what’s important to the story vs. what could/should have been cut to make the story better, to just to name a few. I think what sticks out the most for me at this point are what details are important for a scene. Do those details help the flow of the story? Are the details mentioned relevant to the character or is it just the author throwing in details? Whether or not I’m finally getting it enough to add it to my own writing is another question.

The biggest pet peeve I’ve developed is reading or watching something with a scene that is completely unnecessary. Or almost just as bad, isn’t developed enough in dramatic tension even though it is somehow important for the rest of the story. If I can sit there as a reader or watcher and take out the scene without it disrupting the story, then it’s not needed. This is a valuable skill to recognize as a writer because if you can spot it in someone else’s work then hopefully you see it in your own work and get rid of it. Conversely, examples of well-developed dramatic tension and a tight, cohesive story are just as valuable.

Noticing variety in sentence structure is paying attention to the finer points of writing. Why are some sentences longer than others? What does that do for the story? I’ve often heard that if you want to create tension, a great way to do that is through short, choppy sentences. This can support the action going on in the scene. On the flip side, longer sentences are used to slow down the action without necessarily slowing the story down to a crawl. It can mimic the calm before the storm and as a reader, I have noticed my own heart rate fluctuating with slower passages and racing in more action packed sequences.

Dialogue has always been a biggie with me. I’ve been fascinated with how people sound, how they speak, accents, and turns of phrase. It’s fun hearing variations in speech and trying to figure out how to incorporate that into my own writing. As a reader, it helps me visualize the character better if the author clearly delineates how each character speaks. It’s not about different dialects but rather the words chosen. As a writer, trying to get inside a character’s head is paramount to getting the story right. Sounds easy but hard to do.

These are the things I’ve been paying more attention to. When done well, my reading experience is more pleasant. As a writer, the examples can be a great, if daunting. When not done well, then it greatly annoys me and I find myself internally writing a letter to the author telling them what I would have done differently. Either way, it’s a learning experience but only if I can consciously see it in my own work and labor to correct deficiencies.

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