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A request for constructive criticism

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I'd really appreciate it if you guys could give me some constructive criticism on my latest short story: Black Swans

After it was posted, I spotted one annoying mistake: the word "activity" is repeated in the first paragraph and it stands out (at least to me).

Any comments at all, either what's worked or what hasn't, will be gratefully received.

Graeme :)

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I'll need to reread it with my editor's thinking cap on. I read it the other night, and just read it as a general reader. I was tired too, so a "critical thinking" reread is in order. I'll summarize, then, what I retained from the first read, and my impressions, and what I found in the second reading.

Other editors will probably notice the above paragraph is a bit choppy and comma-laden. My apologies. I'm scattered today.

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After it was posted, I spotted one annoying mistake: the word "activity" is repeated in the first paragraph and it stands out (at least to me).

Graeme, I'm just a beginning editor, and I told you by email that after I finished editing "Black Swans", Aaron saw some things he would have changed that I didn't spot. He has shown me that I did fail to correct some of your "annoying" mistakes. I apologize for that.

I do see the word "activity" used twice in the second paragraph, but I don't think it stands out or is annoying. The noun "activity" is used once in one sentence and once again in the following sentence. I don't see a problem with that.

Rain, about to retire from editing before causing more problems

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Please don't retire, Rain. Think how much WORSE the story would be if you hadn't fixed lots of my mistakes. :( I'm still learning, and you've already made a big difference in how you've been showing me some of the basic grammatical mistakes I've been making. :D

Graeme :)

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Rain, like Graeme say's, don't give up. I've made a few mistakes myself and learned from them. And you've got a good teacher there with you.

My "about to retire" comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek. Yeah, Jan, I do have a fine teacher in Aaron, whose constructive criticism is done in private, not in an open forum. I was shocked and hurt by Graeme's public slamming of my editing, that criticism based on his opinion that I left unchanged something that he perceives to be "an annoying mistake". (I don't see it that way, but we didn't discuss it privately.) And hey, that was just in the first paragraph! (Actually, the second.) Oh, well, moving past that...............

Since this thread is in Writers' Workshop rather than Editor's Desk, we think that Graeme is asking for opinions about the concept and content of the story. I'll paste in part of our comments to him from about a week ago, and maybe that will stimulate some discussion: Some of us suspect, though, that some of your readers ... will see the story as too black/white, with no gray, especially in the area of Eric's cheating and Paul and Steve's apparently total rejection of him without a hearing. We wonder if readers might see the black/white swan comparisons in differing ways, even including (among American readers) racial symbolism and stereotyping (young blacks are promiscuous, unfaithful, etc.). And some may see the black swans as the gay ones and the white ones as the more perfect straight ones. Whatever anyone reads into it, it's a great story that will be meaningful to multiple generations.

We told Graeme that we think "Black Swans" is his best short-short story to date.

Cheers to all,


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You know, it is amazing. Graeme came to us and to DeweyWriter not long ago -wearing the paper hat labeled newbie writer status. Even as a beginner, his stuff was good and with positive feedback, in very short time, as he got better and better, he became one of the pillars of this site.

Not only that, Graeme has constantly shared his feelings and experiences selflessly to other writers making that same climb, not only here in Writers' Workshop but especially in the Editor's Desk. When Black Swan came along... I think most of us read it... and smiled... and recognized that Graeme had 'done it again.'

This is his finest short story yet. But why didn't anybody say so? It could be that once you reach that point in your writing... people just expect your story will be top rate. I think that's what has happened here. I was deeply moved on many levels by Black Swans. More than even Love Never Dies -even- which admittedly hit me in the solar plexus.

I am sure that Stephen King gets fewer fan letters now than when he first started writing best-sellers... but then again he makes a hell of a lot more money. People expect it from him. I say it time and again, but this writing for the web involves just as much blood, sweat and tears as producing a novel for hardback publication. I think so many of us forget that and take especially for granted our better writers.

Another factor in generating reader and even peer response is the type of story. A short story may profoundly affect you as you read it -usually in one sitting- then before you can jot off something to the author, either in an email or in the forums, zap something comes along to divert your attention and you forget. Or worse -if you're like me- forget and forget you forgot! Those who write serial novels are more likely to get responses especially as readers are constantly reminded of the story by seeing a new chapter coming out regularly and often get around to writing after one or two chapters have been posted.

Let me just say this Graeme... I loved Black Swans and will read it again and again, I'm sure. If you didn't get immediate responses on it -I believe- it's just because a fine story is expected of you.

And to Rain - just as writers don't come out of the box as polished authors, neither do editors. Aaron and AJ and Emjaycee, Jan and Pecman invested a lot of time and effort getting to their skill levels. And you'll find that even the most even-tempered authors (and webmasters :roll: ) have a tendancy to be human - with all the good and bad that may imply.

Seriously. I am so proud of the community of writers - editors - and readers we have put together here at AwesomeDude... I could just burst! Let's go into the year 3AD (third year of AwesomeDude) by getting back to the basics.

More in the March 26 edition of News & Views. And also look for another addtion to Graeme's Family Snippets as I am about to work on some formatting snafus over a fresh pot of coffee!

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I'll just add that I was berating myself about what I considered to be a too repetitive use of a word. That's a personal judgement and as Rain has correctly pointed out, he doesn't think it's wrong. As the author, I have to take final responsibility for what appears, though I have to admit I rely heavily on my editors in many areas.

Yes, it is the story concept and delivery that I predominantly want feedback on, not the editing. This may mean some fine detail commentary, as it could be individual phrases or paragraphs that a reader feels detracts from the overall impact.

I am doing this because I want to improve. I am at the stage where I think I need an outside expericenced eye to make comment on things that I may be too close to the story to see. I'm not asking to solicit "well done" comments.


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To Graeme: Lack of commentary means I'm busy / tired / distracted, not that I didn't find "Black Swans" engaging, and certainly not poor writing.

I believe Graeme is showing both his desire to improve his writing and his creative insecurities, in worrying, "is it alright, is it good, did people get what I intended, is it well written?" -- Those are common to writers (and creative people) and they're good, in small doses.

To Rain and the Crew: I caught that your comment was tongue-in-cheek; certainly hope so. Please take Graeme's post here as simply wanting other authors' and editors' feedback, a peer critique, if you will. He's not the type to want to diss you, even unintentionally, IMHO.

Editing and writing are very much learned skills. I am still learning with each person and each piece. Hey, even a good editor misses things, and different editors have different strengths. Aaron is stronger and firmer in some areas than I am. That gives me a fine goal, to improve my technique and concentrate as much on the whole as on the details. It's rather humbling, but also very encouraging, to see someone who has talent develop.

Rain, from what I can see, you're doing really well, and you've only recently started. Keep up the good work. Don't sweat the moments when you realize, "D'oh! How did I miss that?" We all have 'em, even guys and girls who get paid to do it for a living. -- And I'm drawing more attention to a small comment than is perhaps warranted. You're doing great, Rain. Trust your talents, they are gifts. Sharing and growing those, in you and those you meet, are a big part of what The Mail Crew is really about.

When I eventually coax a story out of my stubborn brain, past the EE-vill Plot Bunnies, and onto the page, rest assured, I'll want feedback from beta readers to tell me what I've gotten right and what I need to rewrite. That will mean I'll ask The Mail Crew (past and present) and Graeme, and two or three others, to beta read my work. One other truism is that an author, even when he's an editor, will miss things in his own work, just by being too close to it for too long. Writing's not easy work. But it is satisfying work.

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Graeme: I like it because I think that you've got the formula for short stories nailed. Short stories can't lumber out of the gate and wander for a few thousand words like a novel. By their very nature, thy have to pack as much punch as possible in a small package which I believe is a strong suite of yours. Another very good example of what I think makes a good (great) short story is Dog by WBS or Ambush by you.

This short story was a bit of a departure from your past efforts as it takes place in several scenes with protracted periods of time in between. The transitions are done well, easily understood and are natural and not forced. Don't think that I didn't notice the symbolism behind the interactions between the black swans and the townspeople.

Rain: Until you work for Doubleday or Ballentine and are making the big buck$, don't sweat it. Editing is much more an art than science or some Java-head would have written a program (that I couldn't afford) to do the job of editor.

The task of editing means different things to different writers. I need an editor to help me round up stray commas, semicolons, adjectives and adverbs. Other writers may want other types of suggestions and criticisms of things like characterization, transitions, plot and dialogue. The key to a good writer/editor relationship is to find the spot on the editorial spectrum that you are both comfortable with.

For a person new to the task of editing, you did a fine job. Just understand that editing is a lot like writing- there is always more to learn.

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