Every writer must be not only a voracious reader but an analytical one. Every day we our inundated with media: some good, a lot mediocre, some bad, and very rarely, we read something great.
We read, not only to improve our writing by learning to recognize good and great written works, but to learn from others’ weaknesses.
We should have others read our writing and give us feedback in order to improve our writing as well. Many of us are members of workshops or community writers’ groups. Most of these workshop settings bring together a variety of writers; fiction, fantasy, memoir, and even non-fiction writers often sit down at the same table and discuss the craft of writing to learn from each other while improving their own skills.
As a traveling poet, I often become a drop-in member of these types of critique groups. Some writers feel ill-prepared and even a little threatened by not being poets themselves in trying to offer support to me in my editing and revising process.
If you’ve ever attended a workshop and found yourself not knowing what to say, you are not alone. Workshops should be a positive experience, so everyone feels like the safest to say is something like, “I really like this piece.”
This type of empty praise will not help the writer identify what works and what doesn’t. We all go to workshops for the learning experience and have to be willing to hear honest reviews that are meaningful. In turn, we need to provide others the same courtesy.
So where do you start critiquing something outside your own expertise?
When we read anything, our instinctive consumers know if the work is good or great without really trying. We recognize the use of literary devices that work no matter the form.
Literary devices include Alliteration, Allusion, Characterization, Dialect, Flashback, Figurative, Metaphor, Hyperbole, Personification, Foreshadowing, Imagery, Humor, Irony, Onomatopoeia, Point of view, Satire, Style, Suspense, and Symbols.
Here is a brief review of two of these with examples.
- Imagery: poetic imagery shows the reader instead of telling the reader in an original and colorful way without being too flowery, archaic, or cliché! William Carlos Williams shows us how imagery can go beyond the concrete simile and metaphor.
The Locust Tree in Flower (First Version)
–-William Carlos Williams
In prose, imagery aids writers to accomplish a vivid description of events. Below is an example of an effective use of imagery from E. B. White’s Once More to the Lake:
“When the others went swimming my son said he was going in, too. He pulled his dripping trunks from the line where they had hung all through the shower and wrung them out. Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard-little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt, suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.”
The images depicting the dampness of clothes, in the above lines, convey a sense of the chilly sensation that we get from wet clothes. Tone: Word choice and point of view in poetry conveys tone. Formal, informal, serious, comic, sarcastic, sad, or cheerful tones describe the narrator’s attitude toward a subject or topic in poetry.
- Characterization: Techniques a writer uses to create and develop a character by what: · he/she does or says, · other characters say about him/her, or how they react to him/her· the author reveals directly or through a narrator.
Great characters grapple with internal and external conflict. External conflicts like overcoming harsh environments and battling villains, the fictional character Jon Snow from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series (the inspiration for HBO’s A Game of Thrones).
Consider the characters Gary Soto develops in this section of Oranges.
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
These characters show depth in emotion and are well-defined in so few words. By being able to specifically discuss how the author develops and expresses the character, you will provide great feedback to any author.
Interested in learning more?
Catch Joy’s class How to Start a Poet’s Workshop in Your Hometown with J. L. Wright ~ October 15 – November 4 this month at SavvyAuthors
J. L. Wright was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and earned a B.S from Bemidji State University and M.Ed. from University of Texas, Arlington. Recent publications include her first book, Unadoptable Joy: A memoir in poetry and prose. She is also a regular on Heal(er).com. GNU Journal, Whatcom Watch, Solstice Magazine, and Peace Poets Anthology and other chapbook have celebrated some of her individual poems.
Currently J. L., her wife and dog live in a 32′ RV and travel North America. J. L. chronicles their adventures of living the dream even when the black water tank hose leaks. More about the experience of living life as a full time RVer can be found at A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime: Quitting our jobs, selling everything, and hitting the road.