Thursday, October 29, 2009

Grab Your Lab Coat! (Experiment #1 by Glam)



Since this blog is called The Literary Lab, and we claim in the sidebar that we do experiments, let's have at it today! Pull on your lab coat and glasses and show me how you critique! There are no right or wrong answers.

(1) Read the paragraph below.

(2) Tell me in the comments if - you like it or not, why it works or doesn't, and if you think it needs some revision, what would you suggest (or even more interesting, how would you rewrite it?) Some questions to ask yourself if you're stuck as to what to look for: is it too passive? too telling? is it active? do the descriptions work? what do you know of the character so far, the story, the action?

Feel free to discuss and/or argue in the comments section. If you've seen this paragraph before please don't say so in the comments. Thanks. (No, I didn't write this paragraph so feel free to shred or praise as much as you like)

(3) Come back here after 7:00 EST. I will have posted below my thoughts on our experiment - or results, so to say.


It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in the soft, dim light which the maid had turned low. She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope. She turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro down its whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.
_________________________

THE RESULTS:

Well, aside from talk of cookies and alcohol, you all stayed close on topic for the experiment. Thanks to everybody for your participation. It wouldn't have worked without you.

First of all, the paragraph came from one of my favorite novels (novella, really), The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This lovely lady here:



Taken from a wonderful site, here is a little bit about Kate:

American author Kate Chopin (1850–1904) wrote two novels and about a hundred short stories in the 1890s. Most of her fiction is set in Louisiana and most of her best-known work focuses on the lives of sensitive, intelligent women.

After 1969 [65 years after her death], when a biography sympathetic to The Awakening was published, along with an edition of her complete works, Kate Chopin became known throughout the world. She has attracted great attention from scholars and students, and her work has been translated into other languages, including French, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Korean, and Czech. She is today understood as a classic writer who speaks eloquently to contemporary concerns. The Awakening, "The Storm," "The Story of an Hour," "Désirée's Baby," and other stories appear in countless editions and are embraced by people for their sensitive, graceful, poetic depictions of women's lives.

I graduated college thinking everyone knew who Kate Chopin is. I was wrong. Not many people that I have met - even literary snobs like me, have read her. Which is a shame, but she's not up to everybody's liking. Still, I think she has left a great mark on American classical literature.

Anyway, onward to what I thought of all your comments!

First of all, the results were pretty much what I expected. In fact, they were exactly what I expected - heated! Many of you didn't like the style shown in the paragraph (which is take from the first third of the novel, I think), and thought it was passive and too descriptive. Many of you actually loved the paragraph and the voice. Several of you saw the paragraph for what it is - a piece of writing that hints at something written quite awhile ago. 1890 to be exact.

Critics hated the novel when it was first published (it gained popularity later). Willa Cather called it "trite and sordid." I don't think, however, that any of the criticism was for the writing, but the content. Read the novel to find out what makes it so controversial!

Today's experiment has taught me several things I think we can all take home today:

(1) If a piece of writing can excite this much discussion and emotion, there's obviously something there. My friend has always told me it doesn't matter that she hates Kafka. She knows he's a great writer because she loathes him. He's ignited that much passion in her that there's something going on there.

This isn't to say that emotions are always a great way to gauge good writing, but it's a start. I think if 60+ comments had all been unanimous that the writing was awful and boring, then we might start to believe the writing really needs help.

(2) The same old same old: Writing Is Subjective. Critiquing Is Subjective. Reading Is Subjective. Oh, Everything Is Subjective. That's why, when we ask someone to look at our work, we must keep this in mind. Read Davin's excellent post yesterday about knowing your reviewer's language.

(3) Many of you thought this paragraph was a first paragraph. All I have to say about this is please please please understand that your first paragraph is no more important than any other paragraph in a book. Seriously, I've never been one to open a book in a store and read the first paragraph. I usually open up to the middle and judge from there if it sounds like something I'd like to read.

(4) Most importantly, and the one thing I've noticed lately, is that many of us seem to get sucked into RULES. Rules drive me crazy. A lot of the "fixes" that writers made here today reminded me of rules we've all learned about writing. Purple prose is bad. Adverbs are bad. Passive voice is bad. A huge long paragraph is bad. Too many adjectives, subject confusion, vague details, and on and on and on.

If it works, it works. Don't be afraid to bend rules, break them, see if they work. I really liked some of the rewrites in the comments section. Some great writing going on! Several of you changed the voice to your own, and quite well. I think that's great! I think it's wonderful that you can take a piece of writing and know your own voice well enough to rewrite something like that - and make it work.

(Not that we should be rewriting classic pieces of literature! But this was an experiment, after all.)

I guess what I want to say is when you read, critique, and write, keep an open mind. I read a great post on Scott's blog (A Writer's Blog) awhile ago about a famous violinist who went totally overlooked in a metro station in Washington D.C. "Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people." It's a great post. Go read it.

In conclusion, thank you once again for participating! I hope you learned something here today. I know I did!

90 comments:

  1. Oh, hell, I may as well go first (unless someone beats me to it while I type). Here's my deconstruction:

    First sentence doesn't grab me, and the "soft dim light" seems to refer to illumination, not a luminaire, whereas "which the maid had turned low" implies the latter. It is unclear as to whether the "She" at the beginning of the second sentence refers to a new character or to the maid (yes, I know it's the former, but it's not 100% transparent). Also, what does "went and" add to the sentence? "She" may as well just be standing at the window the whole time.

    The third sentence is over-adjectived, and the parallel construction becomes distracting (i.e., this and this and this and this and this). I'd get rid of the first "herself" in the fourth sentence, but I'm not sure what to do about "just such sweet half-darkness" (note the comma's unnecessary since the noun is compound). I'd rewrite that whole last modifying phrase so it made sense.

    And y'know what? I honestly can't go through with the rest of the graf. It'd take too much time, so I'll just skip to the end:

    The last paragraph has "small" and "little" which are too similar to use in the same sentence--one should go. I think "dent" is intended rather than "indenture," and anyway the whole thing would read better as "Her small boot heel made not a mark upon the glittering circlet." But I don't like "circlet," as it feels archaic.

    Phew! Now these are merely my opinions on the writing, so take with a tablespoon of salt. But while I do think there's promise in the premise (ha!), it just isn't delivered in this paragraph. Perhaps if the first sentence showed the woman taking off her wedding ring and tossing it on the ground it would set the tone immediately. Or it could begin with her trying to crush the ring beneath her boot heel. Either one would work to deliver an emotional conflict right up front.

    I'm done now.

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  2. Simon: Thank you thank you for participating and going first! I'm not expecting a ton of participation here because it takes time and people are short on time, but this is fascinating. I sure hope others jump in.

    Nobody has to critique the ENTIRE paragraph line by line. It's pretty long.

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  3. I'd probably suggest breaking the paragraph up in some way, if at all possible. It looked to be very long on my screen. Either that, or we could just tighten it up.

    I felt there were just too many adjectives and descriptives. We could seriously cut down on the length issue by removing unneccesary detail.

    I felt there was also a redundancy issue. That's another thing that could shave words from this paragraph if cleared up.

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  4. Purple Prose. Too much telling. Just . . . too much.

    For me personally - it's like the author is trying way too hard. There's a sense of melodrama.

    I have no clue on how to rewrite the paragarph. It's just not working for me, probably the trying too hard thing, the melodram, the 'tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage', and so much more.

    I had a hard time connecting with the main character in this brief passage. Is it the opening paragraph? If so, hmmmmm. If not, well, perhaps reading it out of context is making things a little confusing. : )

    S

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  5. Actually there are right answers...mine! Mwahahaha

    My comments hopefully in ital

    It waswhat was? a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesquethese adjectives tell me nothing...provide details in the soft, dim lightthis contradicts the previous statement. Can't see it if it's dim which the maid had turned lowwho says?. Shewho? wentboring verb and stoodshe went and stood at the same time? at an open window and looked outlosing...consciousness... upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night seemedwas it or wasn't it? Be specific to have gathered theredelete there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliagetoo wordy. She was seeking herselfwho says? and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moodsthis doesn't seem grammatically correct for some reason. And I have no idea what this means. Butcomma?delete But the voices were not soothing thatuhhh extremely awk cameboring verb to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hopestop telling me stuff. Just describe (show). She turned back into the room and began todelete began to walk to and fro down its whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her handswhere else? redundant a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Oncedelete once she stopped, anddelete and taking off her wedding ringdelete this phrase and just say she flung her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush itwho says. But her small boot heel did not make an indentureI guess but that meaning is obscure, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.

    Some awkward sentences, too much telling, but it does make me interested in reading more, and finding out what the deal is with the ring. Tighten the POV a bit and it should be fine :)

    And yes I line-edited it so :p!

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  6. I think there is potential in the image of this woman stomping on her wedding ring. I'm not sure why the author starts with the description of the room and the garden. I think it might be to set the mood, but instead, the overuse of adjectives drowns out the action. I also think, as others have said, the author is trying too hard to tell us about this character's thoughts and feelings. The simple action of her trying to smash the ring tells us everything we need to know. This paragraph could be stripped to one or two sentences. (So could my critique, probably, but hey, I'm nothing if not a hypocrite!)

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  7. Great thoughts everybody! Keep them coming!

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  8. I agree that this para is very overwritten. Overall, it's just awkward.

    Example: She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods. In just such sweet? Huh?

    Awkward again here: But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. Shouldn't this be "the voices that came from the darkness were not soothing." I'm also not a fan of the and, and, and structure, which is used alot here. Also, were not soothing is very passive to me. Instead of telling me they aren't something, show me what they are.

    And awkward here: She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. The "which" doesn't give me a punch to go with the action of tearing the hanky to bits. It's a very bland way to transition from holding something to doing something. Also, "she carried in her hands" its odd structure again, in my opinion. Also, if she's carrying something, the hands are implied. This is a place where you can get rid of extra words. "She carried a thin handkerchief." Also, I think this could move up. Show us the hanky, then the reason she would have to rip it, THEN her ripping up the hanky. Also, unless this is a paper tissue, its not going to be very easy to tear up right?

    I had a big beef with the last sentence.

    But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.

    Not only is it repetative, but the use of the word indenture is awkward and screams that the writer is trying way too hard to be differnt or clever. Just say indent. Or better yet, cut it. Also, small and little are boring word choices, and using them in the same sentence adds another level of redundancy.

    :D

    I guess I don't like this style much. Hehe~

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  9. First, I'm confused as to who this paragraph is about. The only person you reference is the maid, so is she the "She" of all the rest of it.

    Second, there is a lot of telling, not enough showing. How is the room beautiful, rich and picturesque? It could as easily be a timber and stone lodge as a plush Victorian sitting room.

    The moodiness of the next bit goes on too long for me. Set the mood in one sentence and move on.

    The second part of the paragraph, beginning with the woman's actions of pacing, tearing the handkerchief and stomping on the ring is better. Something is finally happening here.

    Overall too many words. Needs tightening.

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  10. Not up for critiquing, but great idea for a post. You know how I crit :)

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  11. I'm just going to say that I think the example is gorgeous writing, and I especially like the final image (and I think "small" and "little" are perfect adjectives here; first, simplicity and directness are important at this moment, and secondly, the woman is small, yet she is being defeated by something even smaller than she: the representation of what is apparently a bad marriage). I love the sentence about the handkerchief; "carried in her hands" puts focus on the woman, on the woman's hands, which is what we should be watching, not the handkerchief. This is a paragraph of rhythmic, flowing prose that is, in my opinion, perfectly balanced. Had I time, I'd go through it sentence-by-sentence and point out why it's all wonderful, but I don't so I won't.

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  12. In my opinion, this is beautiful old-style lyrical writing--depressing that people can't see this. The adjectives and repetitive and-this-and-that sentence style sound part of the writer's voice. This is where the many anal "rules" ruin writing today. To best critique or edit, the creator's voice should be respected, not destroyed.

    If someone gave this to me, I'd probably only suggest a reworking for this too-screwed-up-sounding sentence: "Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet." It could be changed to: "Once she stopped, taking off her wedding ring, she flung it upon the carpet." Or: "Once she had stopped, she took off her wedding ring, flinging it upon the carpet." Other variations exist too.

    But grammatically incorrect writing, misplaced phrases and modifiers should only be changed when they aren’t working; when they work, they should be left alone. Poetic writing is often grammatically incorrect. Phrases and words are mixed up so they sound a certain way, so the beat moves a certain way.

    This paragraph sounds intentionally poetic, not Poetic By Bad-Writing Accident. The writer seems to know what s/he's doing here. Pulling apart each phrase wouldn't be compatible with the writer’s voice, even moreso if this is part of a novel. Reading novel-length flowery writing like this might be difficult; nevertheless, for novels, paragraphs are more important than sentences, in my opinion. This paragraph taken as a whole sounds as if it would work inside a long narrative.

    It also sounds like some information came before that would illuminate the contents, so, ideally, very little of the paragraph should be touched. This is also where critiquing an excerpt breaks down: not enough information has been revealed. The reader needs to be shown more of the whole.

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  13. Although this prose style is a bit overdone for me, as a critique, I probably would suggest too many changes since the rich prose is still specific and unique, rather than being redundant. Although the writer uses more words than I'd prefer, they do feel like carefully chosen words.

    I liked "witchery". I like the idea that she was seeking herself and found herself in the "sweet, half-darkness." I like the image of her pacing and then the end was very nice too.

    The one line that truly isn't working for me, is the bit about the handkerchief, simply because I don't understand the rolling it up and flinging it away. I don't quite get what the writer is trying to say there.

    Other than that, I'd leave it alone but might say that the writer should try fewer words to see if it got more powerful or not.

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  14. Davin: I think the woman has a kerchief of some delicate fabric. She tears it into strips, rolls those strips into a ball and then throws it away. At least, that's the image that I get when I read this. I also like "witchery" and that the woman is usually at home in poorly-lit rooms, but not on the night in question.

    Like F.P. says, this probably all works better in the context of the novel.

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  15. Davin, look at the sentence before: she's moving "to and fro," she's apparently thinking about something unpleasant, maybe trying to make a decision, and in the next sentence, the rolling first then later throwing away anyway--this mirrors the previous sentence's back-and-forth wild behavior. There's an earthquake going on inside her, so she's behaving a little out of control and jerky in her decisions. This is an example of content parallelism between sentences; this keeps paragraphs together, keeps them working. They don't always have to move on to the next thing. Sometimes, they must get stuck in a groove for emphasis.

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  16. I am REALLY REALLY enjoying all the discussion here you guys! This is more fun that I thought it would be, so keep up the comments! I'm going to have some great things to say later today. :)

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  17. F. P., Just to clarify, I understand the emotional side of the action with the handkerchief, I was just confused by the actual action. At first I couldn't decide if she rolled the bits one by one and flung them from her, or if she rolled them all into one big ball. But, after reading your comment and Scott's, I read the passage and found it quite clear.

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  18. Davin, I think the "misplaced" words, phrases and the like might have thrown you off and are throwing others off. Today's more grammatical styles demand that this "She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief" should be this "She carried a thin handkerchief in her hands."

    Honestly when I first read this I didn't even notice the misplacements because I think they work so well in this writer's voice! A voice that I think has been established from Sentence One. In my own writing or another modern writer's writing, I notice these misplacements immediately.

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  19. And we're of course back to the subject of taste and subjectivity, which is what writing always boils down to.

    I'm sure the reveal will be that this para is from a published work that was a bestseller or maybe considered a classic work of fiction. Hah!

    It is very interesting to see that people loved this style while others thought it was overwritten - and as it should be.

    As for small and little, directness is fine and often appropriate, but the entire style of this piece leans in the opposite direction of directness, at least in my opinion. :)

    And the word small was attached to the shoe heel, not the woman, and so it didn't tell me (personally) that the woman was small (back to what does small mean anyway? thin, short? A young woman? An older but petite woman?) It told me that her heels were short or that they're pointy and not wide at the base. So small actually feels very indirect and vague to me in this context.

    Which puts us also back to the limited context we actually have to work with. But if all we have to work with a single paragraph, we, as critiquers, are going to judge it on how it stands alone (as the exercise was intended).

    Saying it might work better in the context of an entire novel kind of defeats the purpose of this exercise, even if it is a very valid point.

    :)

    In my very humble opinion, of course.

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  20. I just must say one more thing: in general I think critiquing has become too much about "making changes." In my opinion, learning to pinpoint what works ultimately is more important than learning to pinpoint what doesn't work. And then learning to keep what works is the most important part of revising. A piece of writing should finally be filled with what works.

    Too many new writers brag about cutting their works apart (been there, done that), “killing their darlings” and so on. They think (or at least have been told to think) that being brutal to their writing makes them good writers (been there, done that again!); that isn't always the case. HONESTY is what writers should use for revising. Read a LOT, and read mostly well-written writing and then apply your judgments of that writing to evaluating your own. If writers think every sentence can be improved upon, they'll never stop revising, never stop tinkering (been there, done that in spades!)

    This paragraph may not be perfect but it works. And editors in particular should know that, oftentimes, the more you make changes, the more changes you'll need to make. Sometimes writing should be left alone; it's as good as it will--and can--get.

    When I first read Michelle's post, I expected a poorly written excerpt. Instead, from the moment I read the first sentence, I knew the rest would be good.

    With today's writers, that they overpolish, overrevise and overtinker seems a bigger problem than that they never revise, polish or tinker. Sometimes critiquing should simply be: "This is good, that's good, and so is that." And that's because some writings ARE good.

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  21. I recognize this, so I guess I can't play :(

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  22. I had to do a sentence breakdown because I didn't like any of them much. This was a fun experiment though! I feel all "labby" now. ;)

    Sentence Breakdown:

    1) “It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in the soft, dim light which the maid had turned low.”
    a) Why was the room beautiful? Did it contain bouquets of lovely flowers? Was the “soft, dim light” a glowing light or a gray, sad sort of light? Plus, no need to say “soft” and “dim” because they are so similar. Was there a warm, happy fireplace or an old rocking chair with a blanket tossed lovingly over the back? More description (but not too much) would be pleasing to me.

    2) “She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below.”
    a) “She went and stood…” WHAT?? Sounds better to say, “She stood at an open window…” or “She walked toward an open window and stood looking out…”

    3) “All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage.”
    a) Mystery and witchery? One or the other would probably suffice. Also, I personally don’t like the words “dusky and tortuous” or the word “and between them.” Try “shadowy, twisted” - they mean the same but are more easily understood and less awkward.

    4) “She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods.”
    a) Seeking herself and finding herself?? Sounds awkward. Maybe just “seeking” would be enough to explain. Also, never use the word “just” unless you absolutely have to. Finally, why did the half-darkness meet her moods? What was her mood?

    5) “But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope.”
    a) First sentence: Weird. Does not flow well. Too flowery.
    b) Suggestion to combine sentences: “The jeering voices that came to her from the darkness above were not soothing with their mournful, hopeless notes.” – I believe it’s best to use the least number of words possible to say the most.

    6) “She turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro down its whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her.”
    a) Again, too many words and sentences. Suggestion: “She turned from the window and began walking the length of the room, back and forth, as she nervously tore at the handkerchief in her hands and finally flung it, shredded, to the ground.”

    7) Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.
    a) I don’t like the use of the word “once.” Again, these sentences can be combined and shortened. “Then she stopped and, taking off her wedding ring, flung it to the ground too. She wanted to crush it, but her small boot heel would not even make a mark upon the small, glittering circlet.”

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  23. I am going to agree with F.P. and say that although lots of people have suggested ways to change this passage, none of these suggestions improve it. I think all of the suggested changes are Very Bad Ideas.

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  24. PS... I'm not saying my suggestions are necessarily better than the writer's original words. It's just what made more sense to me. The biggest problem I found was lots of thoughtful wording - sometimes too thoughtful - broken up by the word "and" or even two sentences that could be combined into one. Otherwise, the story is very interesting and I'd like to read more of it.

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  25. "But if all we have to work with a single paragraph, we, as critiquers, are going to judge it on how it stands alone (as the exercise was intended).

    Saying it might work better in the context of an entire novel kind of defeats the purpose of this exercise,"

    --I did judge it on how it stands alone, and how it stands alone is that it clearly (IMO) alludes to other paragraphs. They may not be in evidence, but the paragraph sounds as if others exist. This potential existence is also important when evaluating THIS paragraph; if others exist, they are connected so will affect each other, will affect how each should read. This paragraph should then be handled carefully, not roughly with a scalpel.

    I don't think my other statement "kind of defeats the purpose of this exercise"--it's part of what seems to be the purpose: bettering writing and bettering the act of giving criticism. I also suggested one sentence I think should be changed, and I explained about the modifying issue. Whether a work is written in a voice that's fallen out of favor today but nevertheless still works in its own way--if writers don't want to learn about voice, why should they bother writing?

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  26. I'm going to try to rewrite the paragraph. Please bear with me.

    The large, beautiful room was rich and picturesque in the soft, dim light. She stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night gathered amid the perfumes and dusky, tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking to find herself in the half-darkness which met her mood. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the stars in the dark sky. They jeered and sounded mournful notes, without promise, devoid even of hope. She turned into the room and began to pace its whole length, without stopping, without resting. She tore the thin handkerchief she carried into ribbons, rolled it into a ball and flung it from her. She stopped once, took off her wedding ring and dropped it on the carpet. She stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. Her small boot heel did not make even a mark on the tiny gold ring.

    Thanks for the opportunity. This was fun.

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  27. Well, I think I've learned my lesson: critiquing is often more about the critic than the author. :)

    This has been very interesting, and I've learned a lot about myself in doing this and reading the others' posts.

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  28. I agree with you, F.P. I definitely judged it on how it stands alone. If I were reading it in an entirety of the book, it might sound much different. I just found it difficult to understand on it's own. I really like the small changes Piedmont made. Somehow I understood it better.

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  29. In general the writing had a lyrical flow and it is elegant in many places, but there are many stylistic choices that I would do differently, and I found a few issues with grammar, word choice, and syntax. This critique is very nit-picky, but that’s how I interpreted the intent of the exercise…

    It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in the soft, dim light which the maid had turned low.

    Too many adjectives, and it’s all passive. The adjectives are all doubled, which lends something to the cadence, but does not evoke any real sensations as I read it. Large/beautiful; rich/picturesque; soft/dim. Also, it is a very large room but only has one light…is it a sitting room or a dining room? One light dimmed reminds me more of a dining room with a central chandelier, I think a sitting room would be more prone to have numerous lamps and other ceiling lights.

    She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below.

    Cool.

    All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage.

    As I read it I am expecting more to come regarding mystery and witchery, but the passage doesn’t go there again. When you say “mystery and witchery of the night” it makes me wonder if it is the general darkness, or actions taken by people that night. My first impression was the latter, that it is this one night in particular, and not night in general. To attribute the mystery/witchery to night in general, I would remove “the” before night, i.e. the mystery and witchery of night. Another instance of double adjectives dusky/tortuous, which tells me about the garden rather than showing it to me.

    She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods.

    Awkward. Makes me go “Huh?” Main culprits: “just such.”

    To be continued...

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  30. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars.

    “were not soothing” is out of place, should be moved to the end of the sentence. I would also move “above” to after stars: But the voices that came to her from the darkness and the sky and the stars above were not soothing.

    They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope.

    As written, “without promise” relates to jeered and sounded, but I would guess that it is meant to relate to mournful notes. “Devoid even of hope” is a dangling modifier. If you start removing layers it becomes more apparent:

    - They jeered and sounded without promise
    - They jeered and sounded, devoid even of hope.

    She turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro down its whole length, without stopping, without resting.

    I don’t think “into the room” is appropriate, as she never actually left the room. She’s still in it, just staring out the window. To say she walked “to and fro” is bi-directional action, but then the following description is “down its whole length” where it would actually be “up and down its whole length.” Whether or not this is redundant or lyrical in its repetition is open to interpretation. I like the repetition here, and in “without stopping, without resting” because it feeds into the sense that she kept going back and forth, she didn’t just do it once.

    She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet.

    I wouldn’t repeat the word flung in these two sentences. Also, I have the impression she rolled all the ribbons into one ball; I would phrase it as “rolled them into a ball, and flung it…” and replace “from her” with something more direct, like “onto the sofa.”
    “Once she stopped” is ambiguous. I assume it relates to walking, but there is a sentence with other actions before this, and it could equally be attributed to her actions with the handkerchief. In the second sentence, I don’t like the use of the present participle “taking off her ring” followed by the past participle “flung it” because it makes it seem that while she is in the act of taking it off she has already flung it.

    When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.

    I wouldn’t repeat “upon” so soon. “Small boot heel” says the boot is small, and it has a heel. I like “the small heel of her boot” better, shifting the size emphasis to the heel because it is the subject.

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  31. My re-write:

    The room stretched the entire length of the house. Its windows overlooked a garden and the yard beyond. Leather sofas and chairs bordered a large Oriental rug. The waning light from the fireplace cast shadows that danced over the hardwood floors and climbed up to the paintings on the walls. She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of night seemed to coalesce within the tortuous silhouettes of the flowers and foliage. The sky above her was dark, but the orange glow on the horizon begged her to remember the warmth of the day, just as the glimmers of happiness fought to surface amidst her depression. But the recollection of pleasant days past was spoiled by the mournful cries within her heart; cries without promise, devoid even of hope. She turned and began to walk to and fro up and down the length of the room, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, and she it tore into ribbons, rolled the ribbons into into balls, and flung them carelessly onto the Oriental rug. Only once did she stop walking, just long enough to take off her wedding ring and drop it onto the hardwood floor. When she started walking again, she stamped her heel upon the ring with her first step, striving to crush it. But the small heel of her boot did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.

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  32. As said by Rick - When you say “mystery and witchery of the night” it makes me wonder if it is the general darkness, or actions taken by people that night.

    This was my first reaction too.

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  33. "but there are many stylistic choices that I would do differently"

    ????

    Rick, did you write the original paragraph? I'm assuming the answer is "No!" So why should the stylistic choices be influenced by or exactly be what YOU would do? Effective editing and critiquing requires understanding the creator's voice and then suggesting any improvements in that voice, not in the critiquer's voice.

    Your rewrite is in an entirely different voice than the original's.

    I wouldn't suggest people responding in that manner EVER become editors. I also would never give them my works to read and critique.

    That Lady did this thread is a very good thing because I think it wound up illustrating the major problem with critiquing in general and especially in today's everyone-but-the-author-knows-what's-best-for-the-written-work terrible climate.

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  34. I do not mean to attack anyone here, so I apologize for my strong words and posts. I just feel very passionately about this.

    Finally, let me just ask everyone: when you get a critique from someone else, do you want it done in your voice or in theirs? If you answer "your voice", you must reciprocate when reading works written by others. Not doing that is totally unfair. It is also poor revising practice: if you can't correctly evaluate other voices, how on earth can you ever correctly evaluate your OWN?

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  35. F.P, I think you've made some great points about critiquing. Perhaps many of us are approaching the paragraph with a sort of hyper-critical eye that is so blinded by the "rules" we read about good writing that we don't see the larger point.

    Scott g.f. bailey, you're probably right that the changes suggested would not work.

    However, I also think everyone here has approached the exercise with the intent of trying something different and learning from it.

    Calling these attempts at an experiment Very Bad Ideas or generalizing about how bad we'd all be at editing seems unproductive to me.

    I do think the larger point you've both made -- that aspiring authors are too quick to tear apart instead of trying to understand what's there in the first place -- is a great one, though.

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  36. I should also note, F.P., that I wrote that last comment before I saw your more recent. I think you're absolutely right that I'd want someone to critique my work with my voice in mind. One of the things I realized after reading others' points (and then finding the original source) is that perception and context mean a great deal in this process. Not just the context of the excerpt here, but also the context of commenting on a blog entitled "Literary Lab." I think there's a tendency -- unfortunately, for me, there's a tendency -- to behave a little differently around writers I don't know. I'm scared, naturally, and so I perhaps speak with less understanding and thought than I should!

    I actually wrote an entire blog post on this experiment because it's fascinated me so much. But I won't post that until after the 7 p.m. reveal because I don't want to spoil the fun!

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  37. ...I was an editor for years--and an excellent one according to the people employing me--so I've been talking from experience here. And I also think each writer should be the best editor of her own work. Writers shouldn't wait for others to tell them what's wrong with their works, to make revision suggestions. They should be experts on their own writings, on their own voices.

    But they'll never become this if they don't understand the nature of what voice is and the differences between them.

    But I probably shouldn't have responded at all here because of my bias; I think there's too much bad critiquing going on. I no longer get involved with this stuff, am generally down on it. I just feel like at least if people must do critique groups and the like, they should be effective at that. Yet I see more critique counterproductivity than anything else.

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  38. Again, I'm sorry I've stepped on toes; I just get very frustrated by all this. I could delete my posts, but I've been doing that too much lately. I'll leave them and won't speak again unless maybe people address me directly. Carry on!

    Just one final thing--really!--I AM very curious now about who wrote the paragraph. Some of you seem to know. I wonder if it will be someone I know and didn't like! lol That would be really funny, and I'll enjoy a private Big Laugh then.

    Well, the paragraph made me want to read further, so I will no matter who the author winds up being.

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  39. I have to say I'm learning a lot more that I expected from this exercise.

    BUT I have to take exception to Scott's comments that "...none of these suggestions improve it. I think all of the suggested changes are Very Bad Ideas."

    Who are you to judge? Isn't the point of a critique to provide the author with feedback? Even if the author never takes a bit of advice, it will at least get her(?) thinking about where it may be weak.
    Of course none of the suggestions improve it...we're not the authors. Only the author can improve it. We only offer suggestions. But it seems that you're implying that none of the suggestions are worthy, but unless you're the author, you have no way of knowing.
    Maybe one of us (or more) is supplying her with the critical feedback to take her prose to the next level.

    On another note, as an author, I assume that whatever I write "works" unless suggested otherwise, so my approach is to find stuff that doesn't. FOR ME. And the author either takes the advice or doesn't...it's whatever they feel is best.

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  40. Reading over the comments following mine, I'm struck by the opinions that say the voice is integral to the graf. Okay, I can grant that. It doesn't mean I have to like the voice, of course.

    That said, does a definite voice mean that we should forgive a lack of clarity? I stand by my crit of the first sentence where there's a disconnect between a light fixture (or candle or oil lamp) and the light (electromagnetic radiation) itself. I also stand by my crit of the second sentence, where the subject is unclear (and yes, I understand that everyone might know who "She" is from earlier paragraphs, but it still doesn't--for me--excuse the grammatical blurriness).

    I recognize that this is an archaic style of writing. Archaic, however, does not need to mean unclear. Trollope, Dickens, the Brontes, Melville, Irving, Hawthorne, and Eyre all paid close attention to the construction and clarity of their sentences.

    Hey, perhaps the work from which this was excerpted is a wonderful story when read in full. And perhaps Scott's assertion that all the changes are Very Bad Ideas is correct, when taken in the context of the overall work. Still, with nothing but this graf to go on, I stand by the majority of my comments.

    Your mileage may vary.

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  41. FP-

    I was following the instructions for the experiment:

    Tell me...if - you like it or not, why it works or doesn't, and if you think it needs some revision, what would you suggest (or even more interesting, how would you rewrite it?)

    That level of specificity goes beyond a standard critique, and given the brevity of the passage I chose to approach it from a line-edit standpoint and to analyze the mechanics of the writing.

    In my first comment I wrote "This critique is very nit-picky, but that’s how I interpreted the intent of the exercise…"

    I did start with an acknowledgement that the piece is lyrical and elegant.

    I pointed out that the repetition of the double adjectives builds cadence. I also said:

    Whether or not this is redundant or lyrical in its repetition is open to interpretation. I like the repetition here, and in “without stopping, without resting” because it feeds into the sense that she kept going back and forth, she didn’t just do it once.

    However, I think the selection lacks clarity in general and has sentences that make me go "Huh?"

    When asked "how would YOU re-write it" I think it makes sense to do so in my own voice, that's me re-writing it, not a suggested revision for the author.

    You commented I'd probably only suggest a reworking for this too-screwed-up-sounding sentence: "Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet."

    I agree with that one. I just thought there were other too-screwed-up-sounding sentences than you did.

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  42. I should say one more thing.

    Perhaps because I've got first paragraphs on the brain (after Nate Bransford's contest and all), I was looking at this as a first paragraph. I should thus retract my suggestion that the wedding ring toss should go at the beginning of the graf. In the middle of a work, this type of action-ordering may make perfect sense.

    Also retracted: my complaint about "circlet" as archaic. It might just be an excerpt from an old novel or short story.

    I still think clarity's crucial, though. :)

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  43. Wow, I took my lunch break and this post exploded. My response goes back up a bit to Scott's comment:

    I am going to agree with F.P. and say that although lots of people have suggested ways to change this passage, none of these suggestions improve it. I think all of the suggested changes are Very Bad Ideas.

    But Scott, being that writing is subjective and we were asked to offer what changes we think would improve it, can you really say that the any suggested changes/improvements are Very Bad Ideas?

    I think the changes might not be improvements in some people's opinions, but others think their suggested changes would in fact improve the piece – why else would they have bothered to post on your blog?

    So I think what you mean to say is some of these suggestions are Very Bad Ideas in your opinion? Just like (in my opinion) I think that leaving the passage as is without any changes at all is a Very Bad Idea.

    The very nature of improving something is changing it so it can be improved. Even if that change is a single word or a complete rewrite.

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  44. Let me rephrase, hopefully in a less clumsy manner: I think that a lot of the suggested versions of the sample paragraph are fine. But I also think that the voice in the original is wonderful, and to remove that voice is a Very Bad Idea. I also didn't find any of the language unclear in the original, but possibly that's because I read a lot of prose written in that vein.

    What I am not saying is "your suggested edits suck, kids." What I am saying is that to my eye, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the sample paragraph, and quite a lot right with it.

    Iapetus999: "Who are you to judge? Isn't the point of a critique to provide the author with feedback?" Well, yeah. So that makes all of us judges here today, doesn't it?

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  45. There. NOW it's fixed:

    It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in the soft, dim electro-glow which the auto-maid had turned low. She skimmed and hovered at an open viewport and looked out upon the deep tangle of the cosmos below. All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the comets and the dusky and tortuous outlines of stars and galaxies. She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her endorpho-mood. But the comm-voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the network above and the intercom. They jeered and sounded mournful equations without promise, devoid even of hope. She turned back into the room and began to slide to and fro down its whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her hands a thin reader-scroll, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off her slave ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet. She would forever be a Cylon slave.

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  46. To F.P.

    "This paragraph should then be handled carefully, not roughly with a scalpel."

    I did handle my opinion with care. I never give a critique without careful thought. Disagreeing with someone's opinion doesn't mean they didn't take care in their critique.

    I could say someone who liked this style of writing didn't take enough time examining it. But that would be complete hogwash, because someone CAN have that opinion and that is no reflection on their ability or inability to critique.

    And this exercise is a matter of interpretation anyway. If you feel that the exercise asked you what the para alludes to in regards to the context of the whole novel, great. I felt like I was asked to critique a single paragraph and I that’s what I did.

    So, agree to disagree on that one I think. :)

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  47. Guppy: I guess I'm confused. I'm not trying to shut anyone down, but you say "others think their suggested changes would in fact improve the piece – why else would they have bothered to post on your blog?" Am I not allowed to have the opinion that the original is not improved by the suggested changes, and say that? I guess I thought that "in my opinion" was implied. I am sort of shocked that people are getting so upset that I prefer the orginal to their versions. What gives with that? If my original phrase "Very Bad Idea" was offensive, I really am sorry.

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  48. (I'm not offended, Scott--I agree with you. My one sentence change is probably a Very Bad Idea, especially because I also implied that grammatical [and tensing] mistakes can work--that sentence could stand. I'm posting this in parentheses because I'm only slightly jumping in again.)

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  49. Scott:

    I know my comment came late and just saw that you already responded once to people asking you about it - so sorry for rehashing, as it were.

    I think it was the very bad idea statement that seemed harsh to me, so I just wanted to ask you about it. You, me, and everyone here, are of course entitled to their own opinion. (You know the saying – opinions are like buttholes, everybody has one!) I have a great respect for all three of you and the blog you run here, so thanks for reading and responding.

    And you're right. The "In my opinion" clause should always be understood and I think we all - as writers, critquers, bloggers and readers - might forget that a little when we get all excited and rowdy about post like this.

    So I apologize too if it came across like I was trying to diminish your opinion.

    Cookies!

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  50. Two things:

    1. I think all "In my opinions" should be implied. I think I even did a blog post on that.

    2. Andrew, that's awesome!

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  51. I think the paragraph is very beautifully written, and I love it. I think that this style of writing is sadly out of style. I love the sentence, "She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods." I suppose it might be construed as vague, but it is beautiful. I agree entirely with F.P. that it is poetic, and it has a style. That style is the voice. When I write, I break grammar rules on purpose, or I use a sentence structure that might not be as "efficient" as possible if I feel like it generates the rhythm I'm looking for. I don't think writing should always be reduced to the most essential elements. Story telling is a journey.

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  52. Aren't we all so friggin' nice today? :)

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  53. Oh, stop it, you two!

    Seriously, everybody, HUGE THANKS to all of you for participating so far! Keep the comments coming if you just stopped by or want to say more. :)

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  54. F.P.: (that's cool)

    Erin: Cookies!

    Iapetus: Brilliant!

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  55. I honestly did like it. It was beautiful. I also like to write using extra words and adjectives, and it's painful to me when people want to take them out and boil everything down to the essentials.

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  56. Screaming Guppy, one thing I want to make very clear: I do NOT think that the exercise asked me what the paragraph alludes to; I think the paragraph itself's contents make me wonder what it alludes to, and enough so that the paragraph should probably stay as is because it seems too dependent on what's missing.

    There's a big difference between those two things. I've been focusing on the paragraph itself, not the exercise. I'm getting a bit tired of broken-record-like (lol) explaining this; I've written too much here as it is. Yes, we'll have to agree to disagree.

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  57. The jeering voices came to her from the darkness outside, sounding mournful notes without hope. She began to walk to and fro down the room’s whole length, tearing a thin handkerchief into ribbons. Then, she rolled it into a ball and flung it from her. Stopping in place, she took off her wedding ring and threw it on the carpet. She stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it, but her heel did not make a mark upon the little glittering circlet. She stood at an open window and looked out at the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage.

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  58. Mariel, that's my favorite sentence of the paragraph :o). Actually, I totally love it--and wish I'd written it! lol

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  59. F.P. : Agreed. ;)

    Scott : I changed my mind. I want cookies AND milk.

    Davin: Psh. Nice in YOUR opinion. *grin*

    Glam : You're such a trouble maker. :D

    Thanks again Lit Lab for a fun post! Made my work day more interesting, that's for sure.

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  60. Erin: How 'bout a glass of single-malt and we're all cool?

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  61. Scott: Hah! Deal. You know, I once heard from this clever dude that adding booze to chapter three makes everything better...

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  62. I'll take a glass of sangria, with a glass of water before and after! (So I don't get a headache afterward--it's worked every time so far. Hangovers are supposedly from "brain dehydration.")

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  63. Kudos to Andrew for the fresh spin, that was cool!

    I think that everyone is airing out opinions in a healthy manner. We may disagree, but I think everything has been more or less respectful, if strongly stated. The discussion would be very bland if we all agreed on everything.

    Our different stances on the voice of the paragraph makes me think of this:

    My wife loves tomatoes. I can't stand them, for the most part. She will slice them up and eat them raw. I think they look absolutely delicious that way, but whenever I try to eat them like that it makes me gag.

    If tomatoes are in salsa, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, or cooked in chili I don't have a problem, though.

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  64. Scott:

    I was going to jump in and say something to the effect that the meaning of the paragraph being unclear and the grammar being unclear are two separate and very different things, but then you offered a glass of single malt.

    Now everything's okay!

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  65. Simon: I have some fine stuff in the liquor cabinet that should make all of us more agreeable. Note to minors: when I say 'liquor cabinet,' I mean 'cupcakes.'

    I agree about clarity of meaning versus grammatical clarity; I'm willing to sacrifice the latter for the former. Though most often lack of clarity is due to bad grammar. My head hurts now.

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  66. I did my critique, then started reading the comments.

    I really liked the tearing up of the handkerchief. It "shows" the MC anger, the release of it. It also fits well with the act of flinging off the ring then stomping on it. The man she is angry with is not in the room, and she is taking her aggression out on objects. First one of her own, then on one associated with him.

    I liked the symbolism. It also made the piece action driven. It shows the MC is not going to remain passive, that she is going to do something. This set back is not going to defeat her.

    Now she is a true antagonist. Whatever she does next - in the next scene, or through the book - will not be passive. She has made a decision, and has a plan.

    Whatever genre this is written in, the plot has now been introduced.

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  67. Oh No! I had to delete my first comment - the actual critique - because I noticed it was only half there. The bottome half. Here the whole thing:

    It has a nice flow to it; a steady, building rhythm. I like the way it starts out with the beauty of the room, then describes the woman’s despondency, builds her anger and feelings of betrayal, and ends in her helplessness. Very emotive.


    The descriptions do work for me, but I think some things could be tightened, clarified, to make it an even stronger paragraph. Two paragraphs actually, as I think it be more dramatic if you split it when she turns from the window, and that is when her emotions turns from depression to anger. (In the first two sentences, I at first thought the maid and “she” were the same person. A bit more description of the MC would help, or add something to the maid. Perhaps it could read something like: which the maid had turned down before the left. Then we would know the maid and the MC are not the same person.

    The first section is “telling” as opposed to “showing” the room and the garden. And “all the mystery and witchery of the night” implies there has been some action just prior to this paragraph. If we’ve seen the garden in detail before, then this would suffice for a description of what she’s looking at.

    I really loved the line “She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods.” Moods, plural, because there are so many emotions she goes through in this piece. The voices are kinda confusing, though. Are there insects or night creatures out there? Or is she some type of mystic.

    The step-by-step movement (she went and stood at the door; she turned back into the room and began to walk; she carried in her hands) drags the rhythm down, breaks the building mood. And we go a little backward at “once she stopped and” because the sentence before that stated she “walked to and fro. . Without stopping, without rest.”

    “Stamped her heel on it” and “trying to crush it” are repeat actions. I liked “stamped her heel” because it is much more aggressive action. And in the last sentence, I’d delete “not make an indenture”. It also is a passive repeat of the stronger “did not make a mark.”

    The overall mood of the piece did grab me, and I would read on to find out more about this character, and what happened between her and her husband. I already have a sense that she is rich from the “rich and picturesque room” and the feel of the garden outside. And the maid, of course. So there is tone, voice, POV setting and main character in this short beginning.

    In my opinion, this doesn’t need a catchy first sentence to draw the reader in; the mood is the hook. It worked for me anyways.

    Thanks for sharing this.
    ………..dhole

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  68. Hey, everybody, the results are up! You are all fantastic. Thanks!

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  69. Damn, how dumb have I been? I'm so mad at myself. I've had The Awakening on my bookshelf for years but have yet to read it--and look what I've been missing! Will get to reading that as soon as possible.

    To be fair to me, I have since, however, read and enjoyed some of her other writings. She's definitely a classic writer!

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  70. F.P. Oh yes, for sure read it! I've pushed it onto so many people. Many of them have hated it, but I'm pretty sure you'll like it as much as I do.

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  71. For those of us too lazy to order the book, read it here:

    The Awakening - Google Books

    Here's the "first line":
    A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over:
    "Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"

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  72. Thanks, Andrew! There's also a free downloadable copy through the site I have linked in the post.

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  73. Michelle, I'm curious...what inspired you to pick that selection? Was it because you thought it would inspire debate, or because it moves you (or both)?

    I think it was a great choice. Even though it was not in line with my tastes, I enjoyed dissecting it and I also enjoyed reading the why's and why not's from everyone else. I think you should do more exercises like this.

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  74. Rick: I picked it because it's one of my favorite scenes. There's so much emotion to it, especially when you read it in context. I just wanted to put something up that might seem like something one of us could have written, but also felt "classic" - if that makes sense. And I picked it because I knew not many people would know what it was from.

    I think I'll do experiments every now and then. I have some ideas for others. :)

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  75. Ack! I'm sorry I missed this earlier. What a fun and enlightening post, Michelle. Looking over some of the comments, I share many of their suggestions, even knowing the background.

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  76. I hate that there are so many wonderful books out there that I haven't read and such wonderful authors of whom I've never heard. Before today I had never heard of this author, but now I have. For that I am grateful. I'll have to get this book and squeeze it in.

    I love this style of writing. I also agree with Lady Glamis that there is a lot of emphasis these days on "the rules." Truly amazing writing can transcend "the rules." Truly amazing writing creates new rules. However, amazing is frequently in the eye of the beholder--as well as within the grip of contemporary norms.

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  77. Glam, I loved the experiment! I can recall certain passages from Hemingway and Faulkner that, when taken out of context, might cause writers to pick at the prose. Great job on selecting a candidate for our discussion!

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  78. I love Kate Chopin, and I agree that this is one of the strongest paragraphs from the novella. Has anyone read "Desiree's Baby?"? It astounds me how Chopin was able to fit so much emotion into a short story.

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  79. MG: Glad you stopped by and commented. Thank you!

    Mariel: You can get the book for free (and download it for free) right here. I hope you enjoy it!

    Simon: Yes, I can think of some passages from The Sound and the Fury that would stir up the pot quite a bit. Stream of consciousness - now THAT'S something to master!

    Mariah: I LOVE that you love Chopin and knew where this paragraph came from. I knew I liked you for a reason!

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  80. Umm... just wanted to say, that one sentence that seems to confuse everyone – "Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet" – makes sense if interpreted as meaning that one time she stopped, took off her wedding ring, then flung it onto the carpet. And personally, I as a reader don't mind having to think about it and interpret the most likely meaning when slight confusions result from unusual structures created to improve flow, rhythm, or emphasis. It's one of the things that gives me a sense of satisfaction when I read poetry, and I feel no need to let my mind be lazier when reading prose.

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  81. Sorry. Didn't mean to sound so arrogant. I've been reading this blog thingie now and then for a while, and know very well that the regulars are all smarter and more experienced than me – I'm only fifteen, after all. I just tend to get defensive when people dislike older styles, because pre-twentieth century works were my first exposure to beautiful language, and I fell in love with it.

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  82. Anon: Wish I knew who you are. I was introduced to classics very early, as well. I pretty much skipped young adult literature - went from middle grade to classics, and then to college for an English degree. Now I need to dive into YA and all the other genres I've kind of skipped out on. It's funny that I write commercial thrillers with a literary twist. Hah!

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  83. Thanks again for running this experiment, Michelle! The process fascinated me, and I immediately (after my critique, that is) googled part of the text and realized that I had just criticized Kate Chopin! :) I loved reading everyone's comments; they gave me a great deal to consider.

    Yesterday afternoon, I wrote a blog post about what I had learned from the process. If you're interested, here it is.

    Thanks again!

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  84. Christina: Thank you for the great post! I enjoyed your insights. I kept looking for the post yesterday and didn't see it, so thank you for the heads up!

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  85. More benefits of the exercise (for me): I downloaded a copy and I've read through the first 17 pages so far, this discussion got my curiosity up.

    The voice in the beginning doesn't show many of the characteristics of the selected passage. It is very passive, telling more than showing, but it almost has the feel of a piece of journalism, reporting the facts of the people and events. I was expecting more shades of deep purple*, and more examples of poetic license with syntax and rhetoric.

    I must admit that when I first found out what the passage was from, I thought "I'd never like to read that" based on my impressions from the selection. I'm glad that I'm not so stubborn that I wouldn't try. Based on the beginning, I can see that Chopin may have a good tale to tell, and the issues I find in the passage Michelle selected may be the exception in her writing rather than the norm.

    *Did 'Smoke on the Water' start playing in your head when you read "deep purple"? It started in mine when I wrote it.

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  86. Rick, I'm glad you're liking it okay so far. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the whole piece if you finish it. :)

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  87. Whoa. lots of comments already. I guess I'm too late for the experiment. Maybe next time. I would have recognized the paragraph though since I just recently read that book.

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  88. Lois, thanks for stopping by! I knew you would have recognized it. Hehe. :)

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