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Lazette Gifford,
Publisher and Editor
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Margaret McGaffey Fisk,
Senior Associate Editor
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J.A. Marlow,
Assoicate Editor
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Issue # 57
May/June 2010

Table of Contents

Advice for Young Writers:
How Good Is It?

By Elizabeth Chayne

Copyright © 2010, Elizabeth Chayne, All Rights Reserved

Is your story good? And if it is, just how good is it? Are there parts that could be improved? Does your hero seem fake? Is the plot tight enough?

You'd think that writing "The End" at the end of a story would be the end of it. But somehow, it never is. So many times a story looks finished, but could actually use some more work.

How do you know what that work is?

The first critic is obviously yourself. Sometimes, right after finishing a story, you get a warm glow that makes you unable to view your story objectively. It sometimes takes a while for that glow to fade and for you to look at your work with a critical eye. Put your story away for a few days (or weeks, or months) and then come back to it. Do you still like it? What parts of it do you still enjoy? What parts of it do you dislike? What parts used to be your favorite but now look like they'll need a little more work?

Next, ask a friend to help you out. Try to choose one who likes the genre you write in. (In fact, it's pretty much necessary to find a friend who likes your genre, otherwise you won't get an unbiased opinion.)

Some questions to ask:

  • What do you think of the story, in general?
  • Which character did you like the best? Which did you like the least? Why?
  • Which scenes did you like? Hate?
  • Which parts did you feel were unnecessary or boring?
Remember not to take the advice personally. There is bound to be something worth editing even in the best stories, so if you want real feedback, it doesn't pay to get huffy. Also, never play two friends' opinions against each other. Just because Sue liked the ending doesn't mean Jane should. The fact that Jane doesn't like it doesn't mean that she is less intelligent or less sensitive than Sue.

Always think about advice before taking action. Is the advice fair? Could your friend be biased for some reason? (For example, perhaps his little brother is named Ben, which is why he hates your main hero Ben.) Do you feel the same way? Do you think that particular scene or character needs revision? Even if someone said they liked a character, you still have the right to question his or her feedback (in private, of course, not in front of the person giving you feedback).

It's always easier to accept compliments to your work than criticism. You shouldn't hand your story over to a friend expecting no negative comments, but neither should you view your piece as worthless trash. There are so many writers I've known who will accept criticism with the words, “Oh, yeah, well…it's okay, I didn't think it was that good anyway” or “Well, it's just trash anyhow.” There's really no need for you to be belittling your work to others. Speak up for it; maybe you can get into an interesting debate that will reveal something about your characters, or show you a flaw you hadn't noticed before.

Writing Exercise: May
Dig out some old stories you wrote and see how you feel about them. Have you changed since writing the story? Do you now find some of the scenes tedious? Or perhaps there's a scene you used to hate but now find endearing? Were you unable to come up with an ending for your story before? Can you think of one now?

If you want, you can put to discarded tales together and see what happens. (Tip: never throw away anything you've written, even if you think it's lousy. Someday what you think sucks right now could be turned into an award-winning book!)

Writing Exercise: June
Gather up five random objects from various corners o your house. (You can gather more or less objects if you wish; five is just to get you started.) Don't think about the objects, and don't deliberately pick objects with connections.

A good thing to do is to pick up the first thing you see in every room. Or the second thing. Or the tallest thing. Whatever.

Put these objects on your desk, or take photos of them if they're too big. Now write a story that connects these five objects together. There should be a character in the story; you shouldn't be just narrating from outside the story, there should be people involved in the objects and what happens to them.

Elizabeth Chayne works as a writer and writing tutor. She can be reached at elizabethlchayne@gmail.com

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~Sylvia Plath