The Critical Eye

Published Wednesday, February 4, 2009 3:12 PM

    I’ve said numerous times in this blog that you have to read a lot to be able to write a lot. To take this a step further, I think that it is essential for a writer to view what he or she read with what a critical eye, that is to say, while you’re reading be on the look out for things you like and things you dislike.
    If you see something you like take a mental note of that, put a star in the margin or maybe write a note in that idea folder that was mentioned in my post “Ideas for Capturing Ideas: The Conundrum of What to Write.” I gave my mother a reading journal for her birthday one year because she told she reads so much she has trouble keeping books straight after awhile (a problem I wish I had). For a writer, such a reading journal could help you analyze what you’ve read and determined what you would like to steal (never borrow, remember?) and then what you would do different if you were the writer.
    This little game of “If I had written it…” is the other side of viewing a work critical and one I find personally to be very fun. If something doesn’t quite seem right in a story don’t just take it lying down! Too many people treat reading as a passive activity. Stand up and fight back. Or should I say write back. (Wisconsin called they want their cheese back.)
    Exploring the options of how you would write a story differently is a positive activity that can only help your writing and how you edit your own work. They say you learn from your mistakes but you can learn from other’s as well. For example, my little brother comes home and reports that he didn’t do anything in school that day except watch movies and find himself on the receiving end of my mother ranting about how he isn’t learning anything and how terrible schools are these days – from then on I knew to just accept good things and not brag about them.
    In writing, taking a careful look at the things in a story that didn’t work for you can show you what you might like to write and may lead you to rewrite the story from another perspective or with different characters or a different ending and it may end up better. You should always write what you want to read and this is a good way of finding out just what that is and is part of the whole idea of constantly being on the look out for material you can use in your own fiction.
    This works for TV and movies as well and if you’re a fan of the show “Firefly” (if you’re not you should be) then this example will be more meaningful to you Browncoats. I was recently rewatching the episode “Shindig” and my fiancée and I started talking about some of the things that don’t quite work in this particular episode. I ended up developing the ideas and posting them to a fan site here http://www.fireflyfans.net/mthread.asp?b=8&t=36578 and ended up generating a hearty discussion (550+ views and 50+ responses) with other fans about the series.
    If you’re worried that authors might get upset, don’t. First of all, I’m not saying tell them but if you want to write them a letter most welcome criticism. Orson Scott Card sometimes publishes portions of his novels online briefly so fans can tell him what they think. As I’ve said, a crucial part of being a good writer is being able to accept constructive criticism but being able to give it is important too.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI
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