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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Critical Thinking

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

If you missed my post about my favorite summertime Bradbury reading, find it here.

Some time ago, I found an interview of Mr. Bradbury at the Point Loma Nazarene University's Writer's Symposium by the Sea. The long version is here. The shorter, here. (You can also find Anne Lamott, Eugene Peterson, Donald Miller, and many others.)

Critique-al Thinking

As you know, we're starting a new feature here at Critical Thinking--Critique-al Thinking? Post your ready-to-send-off-to-the-editor short stories at the drop.io (password: rewrite) designed for that purpose, and watch your fellow inmates rip them to shreds. (If you're lucky. If you're not, they'll shrug, give you an "Eh," and walk away.)

Some far-thinking individual (I'm guessing Henry) put up Guidelines for our little experiment. They are as follows:

For writers:

1) Be sure you want honest criticism of your story before you post it here. If you think criticism may hurt your feelings, you're not ready for this.

2) If you want all criticism delivered in a specific way, such as email, include those instructions as the first page of your document. Remember, you'll have to give an email address if you want people to respond by email. If you do not include instructions, all criticisms will be left as comments to your story.

3) Be civil to those who take time out of their daily schedules to read your story and offer you an opinion.

For critics:

1) Be civil. That doesn't mean you have to only say good things about a story, but flaws in the story can be discussed in a civil tone.

2) Be honest. Don't downplay or ignore flaws in a story for fear you'll hurt the writer's feelings (though remember rule 1 for critics).

My additions:

If the author does not leave an email address, critiquers can leave their comments by hitting the "More" button by the entry, then selecting "Leave a Comment." Or they can wait until I select a victim and disembowel it here in public. Either way, hopefully this will help us encourage each other as we strive toward that most noble goal of being published. Also, if you post a story, please edit at least two others. Not that there's a flood of stories being posted, but editing will help your writing as much as it helps the author's.

Without further ado, I present to you this week's victim. Read the story, assemble your thoughts, consider if you think my points fair or completely off-base, then leave your comments and suggestions either in the drop.io, or in the comments below. And writers, remember that every comment is someone's personal opinion. Unless the author is identified as "Stanley Schmidt," take all suggestions with a grain of salt and know that you are always ultimately responsible for your own story.

The Nomod
(are you ready for this?)

Nitnoid Stuff:

Page 1
- line three: change “couldn’t” to “and failing”; good truncated dialogue
- I squashed a surge of irritation at the cliché.
Explain specifics to show Tanner’s personality—does he hate clichés, or is he very precise and know that whistles aren’t clean?
- I looked at the nomod, “You’re not going to…
-- Comma should be a period.
-- I have the same problem—everybody “looks” or “turns.” Find a different way to put in the beat.
- I appreciate the use of repetition as a literary tool, but there are too many “get the ideas.”
- …but I expect I’ll be getting some new ones, too. That’s why you’re so scared of nomods, after all.
-- Awkward.

Page 2
- The Guard let go of the Nomod.
-- Tame. How about “shoved him into the chair”?
- Two more “looks”
- Paragraphs six and seven—figure out your standard for “guard” capitalization. You lower-cased it for the adjective in “guard phrases” and then capped it again for the non-specific group “Guards.” If that’s intentional, it’s all right.
- …knowing full well what he meant.
-- This sounds too submissive. Needs something else to keep up the patronizing air.

Page 3
- First paragraph, should the Guard be in quotes? Also, maybe italicize the “doesn’t”?
- Toward bottom: Slightly alarmed, I was about to call the Guard…
-- Could be better.

Page 4
- You seemed to have changed from italics to underlining.
- “Said” and “asked” are supposed to be the great invisible attributions. You could still use some actions to thin them out a bit.
- The boy looked puzzled, “Why would…
-- Comma should be a period.

Page 5
- “Yes Dr. Tanner,”
-- There should be a comma between the “Yes” and the “Dr. Tanner.”
- …looking dejected.
-- Show
- “Post-birth,” not “post birth.”

Page 6
- I thought she was the most beautiful girl on earth but I couldn’t…
-- Comma before the “but.”
- In the middle of the page, there’s a “nomd” instead of “nomod.”
- “As with the Guard, the children are-”
-- Change to m-dash, not n-dash.
- …edge of irritation…
-- While I appreciate your endeavor to “show, not tell” here, this is first person. He can say how he felt.

Page 7
- Middle paragraph: “Look Moore’s Law…”
-- “Look up Moore’s Law…”
- Middle paragraph: “thiry” --> “thirty.”

Page 8
- “…and we aren’t going to take it anymore.”
-- Seriously? He’s announcing the ruin of civilization as they know it by quoting Bat Benetar? :)
- The use of the words “ilk” and “ample” don’t feel particularly true to the nomod’s personality.
- Repeated use of words is more acceptable in dialogue than narrative, but there are still quite a few “evacuations”/“evacuates,” and “amples.”
- “We will do our best to minimize casualties, so when you receive…”
-- “We want to minimize casualties. When you receive…” Dialogue usually has choppier phrasing.
- Bottom: “While we tried to stop their attacks…”
-- Could be better. Also sounds defensive. We don’t “try to stop terrorist attacks,” we bomb the heck out of the Afghan mountains.

Page 9
- Needs to be fleshed out. Maybe those “nomod tykes” use their creativity to defeat the resistance, and the resistance stops fighting as they realized the fact they’re losing means they’ve won?
- Tanner’s change of heart needs to be fleshed out, as well. Sure they’re “inquisitive,” but in what specific ways are they helping humanity?

The Big Picture

The biggest issue I have is Tanner’s personality and motivation. Is he an amused, patronizing psychiatrist? He’s not an aggressive interrogator, because he gives the nomod the lead throughout the entire conversation.

- Bottom of page one, he asks the nomod if he’s going to get any ideas. It reads as a patronizing assurance for the guard, as well as an assumption of submission of the nomod.

- Top of page two, he speaks “sharply” to the Guard. Why? If he’s treating the Guard as a child, he may speak “sternly.” “Sharply” infers he’s not in as much control as he lets on.

- Just after, the nomod insults the Guard, and Tanner returns to patronizing him—while going along with the nomod’s joke.
-- If he is feeling as patronizing toward the nomod as he is toward the Guard, I’d think he’d make a comment in defense of the Guard—something to show his dominance over the nomod.
-- As written, Tanner is giving the balance of control to the nomod.

- Middle of page three, Tanner starts explaining Guard training to the nomod. What’s going on here? What was the purpose of this little meeting? If Tanner was supposed to be analyzing or interrogating the nomod, it appears to have flipped—the nomod is now questioning Tanner. Which would be fine if Tanner was trying to patronizingly convince the nomod that modifications were good. But he spends very little time justifying his work.

- “…knowing full well what he meant.” If Tanner is supposed to be patronizing, this needs to be elaborated on. As written, it sounds like Tanner’s intimidated.

- Page 3—“Are you suggesting there is something wrong with that?” is a classic passive-aggressive phrase, but doesn’t really mesh with an objective psychiatrist. It could be a lead-in for someone who’s trying to convince someone else, but, again, there’s no counter-point.

- Following him out to see the kids—confuses me even more. Is the nomod a prisoner undergoing psychiatric evaluation? If so, he wouldn’t go near the kids. Is the point for Tanner to try to change his mind? Then Tanner needs to be more aggressive in the rest of the encounter.

- Bottom of page five; if nomod’s being evaluated, the doc wouldn’t go into detail about himself. If nomod’s being turned, doc would spend more time elaborating how the modifications improved his own life.

- Bottom of page six; the “edge of irritation” again derails. It doesn’t match the arrogantly amused psychiatrist vibe or the nostalgia above. Too quick from patronizing to irritated. If he’s an interrogator or analyst for this big deal, I’d think he’d be able to keep the façade of control, even if his thoughts reveal growing misgivings.

- Bottom of page seven/top of page eight Tanner gets really threatened. I don’t get the whole “That’s preposterous! How dare you—” Have terrorists seriously never threatened them before? Why is Tanner personally threatened by a prisoner? If he has faith in the system, he’d believe the prisoner would never escape and never be a threat to anyone. He’s acting like he’s in the process of being captured by the nomod. Or, on a grander scale, Tanner could be outraged that any organization could threaten the mod organization, but again, if he believes in it so much, why is he afraid?

- Then he calls the Guard to take the nomod away—not because he has to rush away and warn the bosses, but because he’s emotionally unnerved. I could see him reacting that way if the nomod had actually caused him to doubt the efficacy/morality of what he was doing, but they’ve been talking about terrorist attacks.

It feels like the entire story is a set-up for the nomod to speak his peace. But he’s in hostile territory, surrounded by people who unthinkingly, vehemently disagree with him. Decide who Tanner is—even if he’s a cliché. Don’t be afraid to reveal the first-person’s thoughts and internal reactions directly. And thanks for affirming our decision not to give the Creature growth hormones!

Kersley Fitzgerald's mom's birthday is today. Happy Birthday, ma!
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