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Criticising Don Lockwood

richardshagrin
Updated:

I am going to do the (almost) unthinkable. I saw the fourth gushing review of Don Lockwood's story "Finding a Place". So I decided to read it critically. I plan to look at it paragraph by paragraph, so this may be a long topic.

Paragraph one starts: "As I started unpacking my parents' van, I was filled with a certain amount of anxiety. Hey, who wouldn't? It was my first day at college. Stanford University, to be precise."

How much uncertainty is a certain amount? One millionth of one percent? Up to the ankles, but not as far as the navel? Stanford University isn't a college. It includes colleges, like the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education. And also a Law School, which isn't exactly a college. I also note the first signs of comma addiction. The one before "to be precise." Perhaps two sentences could be combined into "It was my first day at Stanford University." That seems precise enough for me without mentioning it, or dragging in the college versus University issue.

I am pretty sure the author wasn't getting paid by the word. Hard to tell in this first paragraph.

Second Paragraph: "I'm Brendan-Brendan Carruthers. It had been a long drive to California from Chicago, but now it was finally done. Here I was, at Stanford-the place I had wanted to be since I was a freshman in high school. Of course, for most of high school I wanted to be anywhere other than high school-but Stanford was the number one choice."

An unusual first name, Brendan-Brendan. As we later discover the dash between Brendans needs to be a comma. A couple of paragraphs futher on, when Brendan meets his roommate, the author does it right. "Jake, Jake".

Third Paragraph: "I had gotten my key, and my room assignment, and headed up with the first batch of my stuff. I went to my room, and found the door open."

Some of the commas here may not be necessary. The entire first sentence may not be necessary. The author is leading up to meeting Jake, his roommate. I am not sure the comma before "and" in the second sentence is necessary, either.

Next Paragraph(s): "Hey, you Brendan? I'm Jake, Jake Atkinson." I shook his hand. Jake was a very large human being. My parents came up behind me, and Jake introduced himself to them.

"You need some help?" he said.

"Sure. Thanks," I said. "You're all moved in?"

Note the Jake, Jake as opposed to the Brendan-Brendan. This is the first time we discover the hero's parents are on this trip. Perhaps during unpacking the car this might have been a good place to introduce these characters. Or not, authors get wide leeway to make these decisions, but it was a surprise to me to find out about them at this point in the story. I am also a little surpised it was necessary to confirm Jake was a human being. If this were a Science Fiction story it might be more important. It is also somewhat surprising to get Jake's comment in a separate, quite short, paragraph. He was talking to the parents, no need, as far as I know, to start a new paragraph because he was talking to Brendan, and possibly Brendan's parents, by offering to help.

Some more paragraphs:

"I've been moved in for some time," he laughed. "Football players had to be here a month ago." Oh, shit, a football player. If there's anything I hate more...

Jake was cool, though, helping me and my parents get all my stuff in. I went downstairs and kissed my parents goodbye. They were crying. Hey, I was their only child, and here I was, going to be 2000 miles away. I didn't cry, but I was going to miss them. They were great parents.

I suspect the paragraph with quotes from Jake should not include the thoughts of the hero. I would prefer not to see the elipsis (three dots) end the sentence. If there is a reason or extended information about Brandan's discomfort with football players, I would prefer to see it here rather than just have it hinted at. I would have expected to see a football player in an athletic dorm, not mixed in with the general population. Authors get to make these decisions, overruling football coaches and athletic directors, but some rationale would fit in fairly well somewhere in here.

The parents just got there, helped the hero move in and now they are going to start a 2,000 mile journey? If they are so sad to leave they are crying, even the father (men don't cry, unless the plot requires it) why don't they stick arround, take the hero to lunch, get comfortable with the campus, get his mailing address and phone number where he can be reached, etc. Its like they made a routine delivery and now its time to go so the story can go on without them, except to note that the hero doesn't cry. If his parents were grandparents, they could be great grandparents. What makes them great, other than crying when they leave and paying for Stanford? Oops, I read a little further, our hero is on scholarship. So maybe paying for Stanford is not a checkmark on their great parent score.

Ok, I got us about a quarter of the way through the first chapter. Don may have if not feet of clay, at least some mud on his boots. I have seen four reviews of this story and they all give tens for Technical. I admit to not seeing misspelled words or homonyms, but tens are for virtually no errors at all. Four standard deviations above the mean, maybe one tenth of one percent of the best of the best. Plot and Appeal to Reviewer are subjective issues, what appeals to one guy may not overcome the next one. I try to give one ten a month, at most. If I didn't want to recommend the story I wouldn't review it, but there are lots of good stories that aren't perfect. If you bury every story in tens, how can you tell readers when you find the real diamond in the pile of zircons? Sometimes I read, I wish there were a score higher than ten to give this story. Well, don't give the other ones tens, so you can give a real ten to the supercalifragilistic ones.

Bondi Beach

@richardshagrin

Stanford University isn't a college. It includes colleges, like the College of Arts and Sciences


"At college" I think is a generic term, not a description of the educational institution itself.

Stanford does not have a College of Arts and Sciences. It has a School of Humanities and Sciences (http://humsci.stanford.edu/). Plus a School of Engineering, and a School of This and That, etc.

That said, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your critique because I like contrarian critiques.

bb

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@richardshagrin


Ok, I got us about a quarter of the way through the first chapter. Don may have if not feet of clay, at least some mud on his boots.


I cannot remember whether I've read the story; pretty sure I started it at one point.

I agree with all your observations, except perhaps on commas. Hey, a new thread about commas! Oh, boy! Not.

That said, I'm thinking some stories are carried by their plot and character development (On SOL? Yes, it happens.) and kind of slosh right over the grammar and other technical problems. That may explain the praise.

Right off the top of my head I can think of two outstanding stories---Aftermath, by Al Steiner, and Second Best http://storiesonline.net/s/43768/second-best, by Thinking Horndog. They're outstanding because the author draws us into the new world (high school, in the latter case), but both have significant problems.

The evil bitch woman HOA president in Aftermath is so over-the-top she's laughable, and Thinking Horndog gets carried away every so often with asides and other extra-delicious but perhaps unnecessary tidbits (a mom who can't reach orgasm because she faints at climax, anyone?).

They're favorites of mine and I read right on past the overdone parts, even if I'm pretty sure you'd have many of the same critiques.

I am paid by the word. I earn exactly how much my SOL readers pay to read my stuff. 100% profit. What's not to like?

bb

Replies:   richardshagrin  Grant
Crumbly Writer

Uh, dumb question, but who are you writing this 'critique' for? Were you asked to write one? Is it for the authors, to post a review, or just an instruction for authors on how picky readers can be?

This isn't important just for the obvious reasons, but for evaluating who your target market is. If you're doing this for the author, I'd send the review to him rather than posting it online (after asking whether he's interested). If you're writing a review, you'll get more visits and help more readers posting an official review than posting here on the forum. Also, who you're targeting will affect which things you focus on.

Are you pointing out issues which confuse readers, or which offend you? Are you trying to educate other authors, or simply demonstrate how clever you are? Again, what's your end game here?

Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

I agree with you on the way too many commas.

I don't want to critique your critique, but the story is written in 1st-person so the narrator has a voice almost equivalent to dialogue. You need to take that into account.

As to information left out, like with his parents, Alfred Hitchcock said, "Drama is life without the boring bits." You can't include every little detail of what's going on.

richardshagrin
Updated:

I admit I like to (try) to be clever. Mostly success is elusive. What motivated me is mentioned in the post. Yet another all ten review, for a story that has been reviewed before, that doesn't add all that much to what readers will expect if they read the story. I am not saying the story isn't very good or shouldn't be read.

I am saying even good stories might be able to use improvement. I don't know if using an editor would have pointed out any of what I saw as imperfections. Probably not, I needed to look at things with a high powered magnifying glass to see things that might be done differently. The Brandon-Brandon decision was fairly jarring to me. I tend not to be anal about commas, my pet peeve is homonyms, particularly Principle for Principal when talking about the head teacher. Head Teacher is an English expression as far as I know. Except for Physical Education, most teachers teach heads.

This is a Reviewers hangout. Well, Editors first, but my comments might be useful to them, as well. I am a reviewer as Barron of Ideas. (I know Baron is spelled with one r, but I am getting ready for the Barren of Ideas comment.) Reviews ought to, in my opinion, pay attention to the entire story including minor niggling bits about punctuation and whether a new paragraph is needed whenever a character speaks if he or she was speaking in the paragraph before. More precisely, if you give tens to everything you review, unless you cruise the top 50 lists exclusively to review stories that score in the high eights or more, you should save tens for the really exceptional story. Eight is a high score, an A. Nine is really exceptional, an A plus. Even if you like a story a lot you don't have to give it a nine. Its three standard deviations above the mean. I am assuming a six is a C, a seven is a B and an eight is an A. Mean scores are adjusted to give average stories a six. My assumption is that a standard deviation is one, so that five to seven rated stories are two thirds of all stories, with about 16 or 17 percent above 7 or below 5.

Too much training in fairly elementary statistics can be a curse or a blessing. There are other distributions than the normal curve but with nearly 40 thousand stories in our sample, the chances are pretty good the normal curve applies.

Reviewers should really look at the Technical Quality of a story before they give it tens across the board. If they don't want to, or don't feel they have the ability to notice all the possible issues, they have the option of not giving a score. The only score that affects writers, as far as I know is Appeal to Reviewer. Those numbers go into adjusting the number of pages credited to the author for getting a premier membership. If authors want one, they should be sure to leave their stories open for rating by readers. I think authors can set things up so reviewers can't. Argon has done so, I think, with some of his very good stories I would have reviewed if I could. Once you have your free premier membership, I think authors can turn off voting, if they choose, but it makes it harder for readers to decide whether to read their stories.

I suspect this posting is too verbose, again, and may not defend my rationale for making my original post. To summarize, I am a Reviewer, I get to Hangout here.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

Reviews ought to, in my opinion, pay attention to the entire story including minor niggling bits about punctuation and whether a new paragraph is needed whenever a character speaks if he or she was speaking in the paragraph before. More precisely, if you give tens to everything you review, unless you cruise the top 50 lists exclusively to review stories that score in the high eights or more, you should save tens for the really exceptional story.

I agree with you, not about the 10 rating, but if you're going to list a story as a 10, a review really needs to qualify such a rating by pointing out the things readers might notice which contradict this. That doesn't diminish their enthusiasm, but it gives a more detailed picture of the story (i.e. that it's the story itself which gets the high rating, and not the quality of the writing.

That said, I'd limit how much detail I went into. Just as you don't send an author a first letter listing everything he did wrong, you also don't list a story's every problem. Instead, I'd only list a few of the more substantive ones to show the story's weaknesses. That way the review doesn't come off as nit-picky, and it doesn't burden the reader with details they might not be interested in.

richardshagrin

@Bondi Beach

Right off the top of my head I can think of two outstanding stories---Aftermath, by Al Steiner, and Second Best http://storiesonline.net/s/43768/second-best, by Thinking Horndog


I certainly agree with you about Second Best. Another good thing about it is that is has a sequel and an almost sequel in the same universe with a few of the same characters. There are a lot of really good non-Swarm Cycle stories on the Thinking Horndog list. For the last couple of years he has been writing stories as T. H. Barker on for pay sites. Some of those are a little too BDSM, but still interesting to read. You can get the first 10% for free to get an idea if you want to pay.

I am less thrilled with Aftermath. Other stories used some of the same post apocalypse gimmicks and I lost the drive to find out "what happens next."
The name, After Math, bothers me some, too. I would expect Recess or maybe Lunch. No one would schedule a difficult class after Math.

Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

Third Paragraph: "I had gotten my key, and my room assignment, and headed up with the first batch of my stuff. I went to my room, and found the door open."


Well, the first thing that hits me with this paragraph is: the first 'and' is superfluous and it would read better without it, making the sentence a list of three action separated by commas.

Next, most introductions I've come across are along the lines of: "I'm Jake Atkinson." or "I'm Jake Atkinson, but everyone calls me J.A." - second is giving the commonly used nickname to be used.

BTW Why do you think Don Lockwood is so great?

Replies:   richardshagrin
Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

I am less thrilled with Aftermath


I couldn't get through the first chapter of "Aftermath." I found it incredibly boring. I kept it in my library in case I wanted to give it another chance and it's been there almost 6 years ago.

Grant

@Bondi Beach

The evil bitch woman HOA president in Aftermath is so over-the-top she's laughable,


Until such time you meet and have to deal with such a nut job.
The one in Aftermath certainly was taken towards the extreme, unfortunately I've met people like her- those that live in their own version of reality and are unable to accept anything that differs from their view & so just ignore it.
Not fun to deal with in the slightest.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
richardshagrin

@Ernest Bywater

BTW Why do you think Don Lockwood is so great?


I don't think Don is nearly as strong a name as Frank. Frank is straightforward and honest. Don is sort of like Don Juan. Lockwood is also a little strange. Why would anyone want to lock wood?

Richard is almost the ideal name for a man. Almost all of us want to be Rich and hard.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Bondi Beach

@richardshagrin

ist. For the last couple of years he has been writing stories as T. H. Barker on for pay sites. Some of those are a little too BDSM, but still interesting to read. You can get the first 10% for free to get an idea if you want to pay.


Thanks for this. Not a big BDSM fan, but I may take a look. Two things about "Second Best"-I'm not into the whole slave thing, and after a while I got tired of the mom's complaints about how fat she was and how the tow truck guy couldn't possibly love her. Never mind that we already know she's gorgeous. Enough, already.

What I liked about "Aftermath" was the focus on the good guys vs the gun nuts, i.e., specific defined groups, and the whole who's gonna win thing. OTOH I haven't read much post-apocalypse stuff. Maybe there's much better out there.

My wife's a big fan of The Road. Never going to read it. Never going to watch it, thanks very much.

bb

Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

Rich and hard.


Hard as in rigor mortiss hard = dead - sorry, I want to be soft and alive and able to feel.

Bondi Beach

@Grant

Until such time you meet and have to deal with such a nut job.
The one in Aftermath certainly was taken towards the extreme


No question, but he went too far and the characterization lost its punch as a result. Never mind what happened with her later (not mentioning spoilers here).

bb

The Slim Rhino

@richardshagrin

Frankly, that was quite a diatribe, and it reeks off jealousy to be honest.

A rating system is just that. People rate according to what they feel. And I felt that story was perfect in every way. How else am I going to express that than using the highest score available.

One sentence in your rant irks me: "Men don't cry unless the plot requires it."

With all due respect, but that's bollocks. Crying is a reaction to emotions and men have it as much as women. I cried when I had to attend the funeral of my great grandmother. I cried when my father was told he has less than a year to live. And even as a sixteen year old, I used to cry when my grandmother left after a visit, because I knew, with the only possible witness out of the way, my mother would resume battering me for no reason. I also cried over many scenes in Don Lockwood's stories, because he wrote them in a very moving fashion.

"Men don't cry" is the single biggest bovine-excrement line in human history.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin
Updated:

@The Slim Rhino

"Men don't cry" is the single biggest bovine-excrement line in human history.

WOW! Thank you. Shucks, it weren't nothing. I never expected to write the biggest anything in human history. Before my head gets too swelled, perhaps I need second opinions.

I knew criticizing Don Lockwood would be offensive to some, even though I was just doing my job as a reviewer, although with somewhat (ok, a lot) more intensity than normal. The kind of analysis that normally gets saved for holy scriptures or maybe doctoral thesises in Literature. Or would that be Thesi? Plurals tend to escape my spell checker.

Its a story. It is subject to the same analysis other stories get. Because it is highly rated does not mean it is without flaw. Sure, I had to look pretty hard to find any, but IMHO I found a few. It might have helped a few editors or reviewers look at their next project to look for other things they might want to discuss. Or not, sometimes I just like to hear myself think. But if this forum for Editors and Reviewers isn't the place to discuss things in stories that could be better, why not?

Most of the stories I read don't have men crying. Its not like the dad hadn't anticipated leaving his son at Stanford for a long time. There isn't anything in the story that indicates a highly charged emotional moment precipitated the crying. They got in the car and drove off. Guys are mostly trained not to cry. I was surprised the author decided to have his un-named character (ok, Mr. Carruthers if he has the same last name as his son) cry leaving the story, probably forever. I haven't got much past the first couple of chapters.

Some of the motivation for the female lead seems a little hypothetical, constructed out of thin air. The hero is right, being surprised she is interested in him. Athletes and Nerds are an unlikely combination. It is one of the reasons the story has a hypoglycemic reputation (sweet, sweeter, sweetest) that the author chose with due consideration to help provide conflict to a story without a lot of conflict otherwise. Tutoring in Calculus is not an everyday lead-in to romance. Authors get to chose. Readers need to suspend disbelief. Its not stranger than faster than light spacecraft or magical powers or mind control. The hero's motivation to want to have the heroine is clear. Her motivation is not, but then its hard for guys to understand girls. He is likely to have a good career at more than adequate remuneration if he graduates from Stanford in Computer Science in the time frame of the story. That might be an unspoken motivation for her.

Stop me before I analyze again.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

Guys are mostly trained not to cry.


I didn't cry when my parents died or when my sister died. So I guess I'm a guy who doesn't cry. I feel sad inside, but that doesn't generate tears. I never gave it much thought as a general rule, though, and in the YA novel I'm writing, my 17-yo hero cries. So go figure.

I just thought of something. I cry when watching movies. At least my eyes tear up. Interesting!

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I didn't cry when my parents died or when my sister died. So I guess I'm a guy who doesn't cry. I feel sad inside, but that doesn't generate tears. I never gave it much thought as a general rule, though, and in the YA novel I'm writing, my 17-yo hero cries. So go figure.

I've never cried when a family member has died. Of course, they never died in my arms either. But then, I cry every time I see the movie "Hook", which is basically a comedy for kids!

Crying is a funny things, and despite expectations, everyone responds to it differently. There's also a big difference between 'tearing up' (is that a regionalism) and outright crying (i.e. bawling). Likewise, people respond to trauma differently, with many behaving as expected while others shut down. Essentially, there's one 'one size fits all' emotional response. Still, an overwrought emotional response will stop many readers cold, especially if it comes out of the blue without any build up.

red61544

For me, the problem with "Second Best" is that it took 136 chapters to cover a time span of two weeks. "The Iliad" by Homer only had 24 and covers the entire Trojan War! Many authors think that if you can say something in five words, it sounds much more edu-ma-cated to say it in sixty.

richardshagrin

@red61544

Homer had less explicit sex. It takes time to insert all those tabs a into slots b, not to mention the threesomes.

Switch Blayde

@red61544

Many authors think that if you can say something in five words, it sounds much more edu-ma-cated to say it in sixty.


I believe that's a major flaw in amateur writing. And maybe why I find so many of the long stories boring. They say the same thing over and over again. They have redundant words. They have stuff that doesn't move the plot forward or build a character -- filler.

Even professionals start out with too much. Stephen King says he cuts 25% out of his first draft (I think that was the number). And one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes was what he wrote at the end of a letter to a friend. It went something like:

"I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn't have the time to make it shorter."

richardshagrin

@Switch Blayde

Few Editors, and even fewer Reviewers will tell an author his story is too long. There isn't much market, even on a free site, for stories that say something like "Hero (select short name, Bob is one a superior, prolific author likes) faces difficulties, overcomes them, gets girl, lives happily ever after." We can pad the story length by specifying the difficulties and how they are overcome, how Hero Bob meets girl (or girls, for longer stories with sexual variations), gets girl, may lose girl for a while, for a longer story, gets girl back (or a different girl) and how he ends up living happily. Ka Hmnd used to do this in a final, very short paragraph. Whatever works, works. Move on to another story, or a sequel. If you arrange for Bob to have offspring, you can use them in the next story.

Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

There isn't much market,


You're missing my point. You can have a short story with a single plot that revolves around a single event with 1 or 2 characters. Or you can have a long story with many characters and sub-plots. The second isn't what wordy means.

Wordy can happen in both a short story and a long story. It's when cutting out the extra stuff makes it a stronger story. That doesn't mean eliminating good stuff. It means getting rid of the bad stuff.

It takes more words to show than tell. Those extra words makes for a better story. They're not the problem. But show something AND tell it because you don't trust the reader to "get it" (I've been guilty of that) has extra words and weakens the story. Describing what the character ate for breakfast when it doesn't matter to the story weakens it. Putting a scene in that doesn't really move the plot forward makes the story larger, but weaker. Some people put this kind of filler in simply to make the story longer. Sometimes they do it because they don't really have a plot in mind so the story wanders.

graybyrd

Rule #2 of George Orwell's six rules:

"Never use a long word where a short one will do."

Rule #3 of George Orwell's six rules:

"If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out."

Replies:   richardshagrin
Ernest Bywater

@red61544

Many authors think that if you can say something in five words, it sounds much more edu-ma-cated to say it in sixty.


In a way this is very true, mainly because the education system teaches people to use lots of words. The system also praises flowery writing (which is nothing to do with actual story length). Thus many beginning writers feel they have to use lots of flowery words, but with experience and practice they learn how to cut down to the needed number of words.

When I took over the writing of Shiloh I left the description of everything in the first 25 chapters as they were. The description of one room and it's contents took 3 pages in my story template which is set for a 6 x 9 inch paperback book. Later, after I got The Scot involved in the project again we went over that description together and it ended up as about a third of a page after the excess wordage was removed - 3 pages to describe a home office was a little excessive. The finished result is a much easier and smoother read than the original.

However, one also has to watch out they aren't too brief in what they write as well. It's a hard line to split the difference properly, but, thankfully, it's a wide line.

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

"I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn't have the time to make it shorter."

I can't remember who it was who, when asked to give a few comments, replied:
I can give a speech immediately but a few off-the-cuff comments take a few days.

richardshagrin

@graybyrd

Its possible to shrink rule 3. Something like Reduce word count. Or maybe Fewer words are better. Failing all else, when you cut a word, isn't it out? Maybe, "If possible to cut a word, do so." Tom Swift said cuttingly.

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

Stephen King says he cuts 25% out of his first draft (I think that was the number).


In a chapter on Merism Mark Forsyth cuts 44 words in the standard wedding vow to 5. Try cutting War and Peace by 88% and who would read it?

Where I worked we c o u l d cut our standard 66 page contract to marginally over one page but what customer would accept that it was genuine and enforceable?

People trust verbiage even if it is superfluous

graybyrd

@sejintenej

People trust verbiage even if it is superfluous


If they're awake after reading it ...

There was a character similar to an oracle in Al Capp's comic strip, Li'l Abner, who specialized in exalted business advice. He charged $10,000 per word. That's back when $10K would buy a new car!

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej


Where I worked we c o u l d cut our standard 66 page contract to marginally over one page but what customer would accept that it was genuine and enforceable?


A contract is totally different than fiction. Superfluous verbiage in fiction is boring.

Capt Zapp

@sejintenej

but what customer would accept that it was genuine and enforceable?


Isn't it strange how people will accept something long that they don't fully understand over something that is written so anybody can understand it. I once questioned something in a sales agreement and the salesman couldn't even explain what it meant.

Kinda like bills in government. Make them long and boring so that nobody bothers to read it.

Replies:   sejintenej  graybyrd
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@richardshagrin


Few Editors, and even fewer Reviewers will tell an author his story is too long. There isn't much market, even on a free site, for stories that say something like "Hero (select short name, Bob is one a superior, prolific author likes) faces difficulties, overcomes them, gets girl, lives happily ever after." We can pad the story length by specifying the difficulties and how they are overcome, how Hero Bob meets girl (or girls, for longer stories with sexual variations), gets girl, may lose girl for a while, for a longer story, gets girl back (or a different girl) and how he ends up living happily. Ka Hmnd used to do this in a final, very short paragraph. Whatever works, works. Move on to another story, or a sequel. If you arrange for Bob to have offspring, you can use them in the next story.


The key isn't word count, it's focus. Many SOL authors, who've read the other long ongoing series, just start writing and keep going, without a clear focus.

But once you begin thinking of stories in terms of books, you focus on the essential conflicts. Each book has a different conflict. You need to clearly identify that conflict, and then cut the chaff which doesn't advance to address that conflict. The story can continue beyond that. Often there are major conflicts (such as Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort), but each book in the Potter series has it's own internal conflict, and you resolve each one separately on the way to the final conflict resolution.

The key, is identifying each new conflict and then writing the text to address that conflict, rather than simply writing the next chapter--which often sounds just like the previous one.

@Graybyrd

Rule #2 of George Orwell's six rules:

"Never use a long word where a short one will do."


Sorry, but I have problems with this. This harkens back to the 'the majority of Americans only have a fifth grade education, so write to them', which misses the point that most readers are largely self-education because of their extensive reading! You aren't writing for the blue-collar car mechanic, you're instead writing (at least many of us are) for the more discerning readers.

The caveat, though, it to fit the language to both the story and the character. You can't have everyone using 10-dollar words when the situation calls for 50 cents. Readers generally know more than we give them credit for, and can follow more than we assume. What's important for us, as authors, is to stay on point. I've always loved long descriptive passes, but I've learned that stories that pack multiple threads into a single sentence are simply hard to parse, and stop a readers as they try to separate each concept out one at a time. Writing shorter sentences that focus on a single concept at a time simply make more sense--even if you toss in more appropriate words to describe the scene.

sejintenej
Updated:

@Capt Zapp


Kinda like bills in government. Make them long and boring so that nobody bothers to read it.


Back in the days when divorce required an Act of Parliament there was inserted in a Waterworks Bill a clause about stopcocks and filter beds the phrase "and the Town Clerk's marriage is hereby dissolved".! Nobody noticed and the Act was passed.

Under an act of 1361 which is still in force justices can bind over to be of good behaviour those of good reputation (ie found not guilty). The Act missed out the crucial "not" or, in the original French "ne".
Story authors are not alone in making mistakes.

I once questioned something in a sales agreement and the salesman couldn't even explain what it meant


.

I once had to check about six inches thick of loan agreements relating to an oil field. It was so complex that it took a whole Sunday for me to be confident that I fully understood the meanings and cross connections between about four clauses. We are talking hundreds of millions of USD many years ago

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@sejintenej

If you want hard to understand prose, look at insurance contracts.

graybyrd

@Capt Zapp

Kinda like bills in government. Make them long and boring so that nobody bothers to read it.


Amen

Which brings us to Orwell's Sixth Rule of Orwell's Six Rules:

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.

Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase … into the dustbin where it belongs.

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