I want to emphasize that the point of my reviews was not necessarily to be mean, but to hold writers up to the highest standards, something I admit I don't always do. While I think those reviews might have been helpful, I hope today to convince you that being critical isn't the only way to show someone how they might improve.
For the following three excerpts, I'm focusing on the positive, with the idea that if a writer sees what works well, they can choose to do more of it. This isn't my version of sugar coating, because I'm being very sincere. Rather, it's just another side of the coin, leading to the same purpose.
I was nine again. The word "again" here is unexpected and very interesting. Mother told me that my real father was a goat. There are some nice hints that this is going to be an interesting story. I like the phrase "my real father", and of course the idea that he's a goat is intriguing. William the Goat. Not the man who slept in Mother's bed, the man who Mother called Bill, the man whose dried lather and specks of hair fouled our bathroom sink every morning. This borders on being nonsensical, but in a way that really works for me. "Fouled" fits in perfectly in this spot because it creates a slight shock and keeps the tone of the piece from being too syrupy. We had homeschool every day. Even the idea of homeschool, and all of the connotations it carries with it fits nicely here. I associate it with families that are perhaps smarter than average and unusual in other ways. That meant I helped scrubs the floor and kept watch at the front window for Bill. After homeschool, Mother told me stories of my father and how they met when she was young. How he was strong and had a beard, a man’s beard, wild, dark and full. How he ran and leapt. And the way he laughed: distinctive, loud, an honest sort of bray. "Bray" here works the way "fouled" works above. It keeps the piece from getting to clean, and of course there's the whole goat thing.
It was May. Nice rhyme. Using candles during a rainstorm, I found a box of wood and brass, smallish good word, at the top of the closet that Bill used for his clothes. Inside, folded papers wrapped in red ribbon. I cut the ribbon with the little scissors Mother gave me and found letters; letters from Anne to William. I unfolded the top one.
You always smoke those silly cigars, cigarillos cabritos, little goat cigars? I loved you from the moment you laughed. Will you marry me, William the Goat? I will make you laugh always and we can do whatever you want, visit the lake country, live in a Paris garret, just make me yours and laugh with me always. I like the development of the mother character and the strength and open-mindedness she has. "Cigarillos cabritos" is also great.
Overall, I really appreciate the language in this piece. It really gives the writing a specific tone that suits the material perfectly. Throughout, there are a bunch of details that help keep the world of the story consistent. And, though this is short, I trust in the depth of the characters.
Broad Street is empty as I approach the subway entrance, the early morning quiet broken only by a distant siren, a small dog barking a block away, the slow flutter of the flags That's a great detail that is quite unusual. I immediately hear the flapping sound. hung from the lightpoles. The humid August air clings to my skin, a fitful breeze bringing no relief, only the scent of damp pavement, exhaust fumes, and rotting fried chicken in the dumpsters beside the all-night diner This is another great detail. I like that you save these gems for the end of your sentences where they carry more power and work to add a little climax at the end as if each sentence was a mini-story on its own. The few patrons visible through the restaurant windows look tired and drawn, black and white alike partaking "partaking" is a cool word here that creates an interesting relationship among the characters and place. It creates a nice interaction between the two and pulls the elements of the story together. of the same fluorescent-washed pallor. The waitress, silent behind plate glass, argues listlessly on her cell phone. That ending is a lovely image as well.
This writing feels very vivid to me, and there's a poetry to the language I can appreciate. It's a short paragraph, but it gives me a good sense of the bigger world of the story.
Terri noticed a boot print in her sister’s blood. Having the intrusion be a boot print rather than, say, a tennis shoe, makes this already-brutal sentence even moreso. It instantly shocked her into a battle ready state that's a cool phrase that got me thinking. I feel like I can relate to that idea of being shocked into a ready state, even though it seems counterintuitive at first. and she drew her firearm. She should’ve realized that there could’ve been another perp I always appreciate the use of the word "perp", just as I appreciate the use of the word "maths".
She backed up into the shadows of the corner and waited for something to move. The only sounds were the crackling of the fire and the babbling from his dying counterpart this is a nice surprise that gives the character more strength and credibility hundred and eighty yards away. She silently waited.
After ten minutes, she heard a slow creak she recognized as the door to the basement. It was slow and deliberate - the other intruder knows I’m here I like this. The word "deliberate" is nice, and it's an interesting transition into an inner voice that works for me. She fixed her gaze on the laundry room looking for a shift in the shadows.
She saw movement and took aim. She knew his back was against the little wall where the pantry was. It would be the best place to peek out into the room. He made the faintest of whistles. This puzzled Terri. Interesting! Did he expect her to signal back? Marco, Polo? She knew her best chance was to shoot through the wall before he made his move. She judged the placement of the studs and fired two rounds into the drywall Again, I like how these details make me feel more secure that the character knows what she's doing, right down to the studs. He cried out and fell forward. She ran toward the doorway firing twice more. The first shot missed but the second shot hit his right hand sending his gun to the floor. She pointed the gun at his face and pulled the trigger but the rounds were spent. The intruder charged her sending both of them into the kitchen. He pounded her with his fists several times before switching for the cast iron frying pan. He didn’t see her reach for the knife and she plunged it into his
I feel like the details have been very carefully considered in this piece. The vocabulary works. The details help to build the character and the situation without slowing the pace down at all.
So, what do you think? Is it useful to get the positives? Do you think a writer can learn from this type of one-sided review? My answer is yes.
I'm guessing that most people usually provide reviews that are a mix of Monday's and today's styles. We've heard the term "compliment sandwich" tossed around already. (My sandwiches are open faced, for the record.) But, I'd like to suggest that it might be worthwhile to mix it up a little. If you're in a writer's group, or if you get together with someone else on a regular basis, consider trying different crit styles for each session. You could try Tiger Mother, or nice nice. I've heard of styles that only involve asking questions, or even styles that only allow digressions. If nothing else, it keeps the sessions fresh and probably helps every one stay on their toes.
Note: I know I've got a couple of other reviews left to do. You'll have those emailed to you today!
Note added later (I thought I put things well in one of my comments, so I'm adding it here):
Charlie, your comment is helping me to articulate something that I wasn't able to express well before. I think to properly use both types of reviews, one needs to hold the idea of an "average" standard, where the writing is neither good nor bad. If we hold onto that for a moment, then I'd say the Tiger Mother review points out the things that fall below that line while the nice review points out the things that go above that line. If you only care that your writing meets the average, then you'll get nothing out of the nice review. But, if you want your work to ALL go above that line, then you could focus on the parts that didn't get compliments because, perhaps, they were just average.