Somewhere along the road, every fiction writer will be asked to participate in a critique. It’s practically a guarantee. Whether you’re new to critiquing or are already teamed up with an epic partner (who should probably read this article too), you should aim to provide the best feedback possible. This can help you grasp facets of the craft that you couldn’t before. Aiding and encouraging others also builds relationships.
Story Embers Staff Writer
A long time ago on a hill not so far away, Gabrielle Pollack fell in love. Not with ice cream or cats (though those things are never far from her side) but with storytelling. Since then, she’s been glued to a keyboard and is always in the midst of a writing project, whether a story, blog post, or book. She was a reader before becoming a writer, however, and believes paradise should include thick novels, hot cocoa, a warm fire, and “Do Not Disturb” signs. Her favorite stories include Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga and Nadine Brandes’s Out of Time trilogy.
As those who know her will confess, Gabby is a whole lot of weirdness packed into one INFP. Sharp objects, storms, and trees are her friends, along with stubborn characters and, on occasion, actual people. When she’s not writing, she’s shooting arrows through thickets and subsequently missing her target, jamming on the piano, and pushing her cat off her keyboard. She hopes to infuse her fiction with honesty, victory, and hope, and create stories that grip readers from the first page to the last. Her other goals include saving the world and mastering a strange concept called adulthood. You can hang out with her on Instagram and Facebook.
The Mandalorian. Artemis Fowl. Dustfinger. Kaz Brekker. These antiheroes and countless others have captured the imaginations of viewers, readers, and fangirls with such ferocity that traditional heroes struggle to compete. But what makes audiences love the cowardly Dustfinger, the calm Mandalorian, and the clever Artemis Fowl? Certainly not their morals, because when we first meet them, they’re far from paragons of virtue.
For years, short stories remained cloaked in mystery for me. I hadn’t the slightest idea how to write one, much less imbue a theme into it. I stumbled in the dark, creating tales and hoping themes would magically appear. Shocker: that didn’t happen. But working on themes in my stories wasn’t important, right?
Have you ever written a scene that you’re just not satisfied with, but you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong with it? Perhaps the pacing inches along at the speed of a crippled snail, or the theme feels as shallow as a puddle beside the ocean. Chances are, the issue isn’t choppy prose, bland dialogue, or bad grammar (though those are all substantial problems). Scene troubles usually originate inside the heart of the moment, underneath the skin and bones of what’s going on.
Every story you consume informs your instincts about plot structure, prose, and characters, and when problems crop up in any one of those areas, an alarm sounds at the back of your mind. Unfortunately, no matter how savvy you are at detecting issues, the solutions won’t be as obvious. The disconnect between your ability to identify and straighten out problems is nerve-wracking because you don’t want to write an entire novel without realizing a huge flaw is undermining everything. You need to learn how to interpret your intuition’s signals through three approaches.
Writer’s block comes in a wide variety of shapes, and it can last anywhere from a few hours to months or even years. No one has all the solutions, but that isn’t an excuse to stop searching. Certain mindsets and circumstances tend to trigger writer’s block—and making a concerted effort to counter those negative patterns can reawaken inspiration.
When we get too desperate to make an impact, we risk building messages without biblical foundations. We’ll preach against conventional wisdom simply to set off debates in readers’ minds. But opposing current trends doesn’t automatically transform us into revolutionaries. When we revolve a story around unpopular ideas, we’re playing hit or miss with the truth. A compelling message requires more than going against the grain.
The newest character who’s taken up residence inside your mind is a vibrant being with compelling desires and deep emotions. But the instant you pluck him out and flatten him onto a page, he becomes limper than wet cardboard. You love this character. So how do you pump blood into his paper veins?
All of us are experts at sad stories. We’ve read novels that schooled us in death scenes, betrayals, fractured relationships, and harrowing pasts. These examples taught us that tormenting the protagonist is easy: just thwart his deepest longings. Then we can type “the end” and congratulate ourselves for accurately reflecting our fallen world. But the real sad story is how untrained we are in the art of weaving meaning into tragedy.
Numerous books, blog posts, and worksheets claim that filling in hundreds of categories makes a story world complete. But without a goal at the center, your brainstorming will lack direction, and the details you come up with won’t fit together. Whereas if you integrate your story world into your plot and characters, every aspect of the culture will have a purpose. By following three steps, you can pull readers deeper in.