Last week I proposed to review some excerpts using the Tiger Mother philosophy. As I approached each work below, I told myself to trust that each writer was strong and capable of being of the best writer in the world. I left the names of the writers out, but they can feel free to reveal themselves in the comments if they like. My comments are in blood red.
At the bottom, I'm also offering up an "anonymous" piece of writing for each of you to critique Tiger Mother style.
What do you think? Is this kind of critique helpful or only hurtful? If you do offer up your own critique, how does it feel to be a Tiger Mother?
Except for a few scrubby bushes, the summit of the hill was bald.
“This is the spot,” Bel said. He flexed his gloved hands against the bitter cold What does this mean? The action of flexing his hand against the cold is unclear to me. and sniffed. The other two hats dipped forward in agreement and they readied their shovels.
The shovels were stubby wicked things, with shafts carved from lightning-struck trees and kissed by witches to keep the wrong sort of ghosts from clinging while they did their peculiar work. The blades had been banged out from junk air-plane propellers, which was a good thing in this case, as the they typo could tell the ground under their boots was no spongy garden loam, yielding to any old turf-mover I really don't know what "they" refers to. I thought it was the shovels because they were magical, but the shovels aren't wearing boots. No, this was dense soil, chocked with rocks and frozen stiff.
Overall, the clarity of this section was a problem for me. I think you should pay more attention to each word you put on the page, rather than just the ideas they represent. I usually don't mind hyphens and hyphenated words, but here I feel like they result from being too rushed in the writing and not thinking about the vocabulary.
I looked up Tarrant County in an atlas once. It was during Mrs. Snyder’s social studies class and we were in the library --This sentence is boring. I was supposed to be writing down the names of the counties in New Hampshire, where we live, but, you could say I took a detour. Maybe you could call it a short-stop This second discussion feels excessive for a minor detail in the story, because I stopped at “K” for Kentucky, before I got to “N” for New Hampshire, and there it was, right in the middle of that key-shaped state. Tarrant County. So, at least that part was true. There is a Tarrant County.
That’s as far as I got though, because that sneaky Mrs. Snyder came up behind me. “Melanie Foss, I do not believe that we live in Kentucky. This tone of this feels a bit derivative to me, even given the fact that Mrs. Snyder specifically relies on cliche. I believe your assignment is to research the State of New Hampshire. So kindly, get to the task at hand.” That’s the way Mrs. Snyder spoke. All clichés and such. She was always saying, “Put your nose to the grindstone” and “Give it your best shot.” If you listen to Miss Russell, clichés are phrases that are used so often they become ordinary. I guess being ordinary didn’t matter much to Mrs. Snyder.
Later on that week though, I went back to the library during free period and took my sweet time Does this cliche mean that the character also doesn't care about being ordinary? Is she unconsciously revealing her own flaw? looking at Tarrant County on the map. When I was little, eight maybe, I used to drive Mama crazy another cliche to point to the fact that being ordinary doesn't matter to the narrator? asking her questions about the beauty pageant. Mama and I are a team of two. She’s only been saying that for about a million years. But even if we are, it seems to me that the team had to get started somewhere. I don't understand this sentence. If they are a team of two, then does the team start when the narrator is born or before that? What exactly is the thing that had to get started somewhere? I mean, I know she grew up in Kentucky. The thing is, other than telling me about the Honeydew Festival, she never talks about it.
This is an interesting excerpt for me, and it has its strengths. But I think you need to accentuate the important details and not waste the reader's time on the less important ones. Paying attention to every single sentence is also important.
She sure doesn’t look the way she did last summer, when everyone was at the water hole and all she did was sit there with her knees to her chest. Yeah, I used to tease her, but everyone did. She made it so easy, being that odd sort of quiet. Always to herself at the edge of the group, or her face in a book or drawing something. Though the idea of an insecure character is captured here, I don't see enough originality in the details. The description seems to be based on the same descriptions used by too many other writers. I didn’t mean to make her cry, with that bucket of frogs and I sure didn’t think it would take a whole ‘nother year before she’d even talk to me again. Again, this reaction by the character lacks originality. What makes this specific and unique compared to other stories about similar relationships? The punctuation feels sloppy to me as well.
When Mickey Pritchard called her the boobless wonder, I should have punched his lights out. Does this cliche really fit the character's voice? Do people still say "punched his lights out?" in a serious way? And I should have whispered her the right answer when Miss Whimbley called on her in front of everyone in math. Maybe I should’ve left a note with the valentine candy I put in her desk, or signed the picture I drew of her, with her pretty, long hair—the one she folded and stuck in her book. I'm still looking for more originality. Even if a situation isn't so unique, I think specificity can really make a passage stand out. If there were more specifics here, it wouldn't seem to much like other works I've encountered.
I think she smiled at me during lunch, probably no comma here today, even though she wouldn’t show me what she was reading when I asked. Maybe if I happen to be hanging around the old hickory tree she always walks past on her way home, she won’t mind if I ride my bike beside her…
“Boy! Stop day dreaming, and get out and open the gate.”
This writing is too safe here. The situation is a lot like other stories I've read, so I need more from it, otherwise I feel like it's redundant. Dare to take a risk! Why is this story special? Why are the people special?
There you have it, my critique of a few words from some writers who were kind enough to offer up their work. Now, feel free to give me your own Tiger Mother review on the passage below. It's an excerpt taken from the middle of a short story.
The rainy season announced its arrival with a thunder storm. Tuk and Raymond looked up at the sky with worried faces. They were planning to return to the states and would come back to Tayang once Kimchaa's visa was approved. Kimchaa herself began making a list of things she wanted to take with her, scribbling items clumsily on the back of an envelope with her arthritic hands. The items were silly things that Nam was sure she would be able to find in America: soap, tissues, a bottle of drinking water—but the family decided that this was a good distraction for the old woman.
At night, Nam cried to herself. She had no doubt that the visa would be approved. Families transformed so easily these days, and nothing was ever permanent anymore. Her sister had moved to America. Nam had come to live on this farm. Now their mother would spend the last years of her life in a new world, one far different from what she was accustomed to, her natural place.