Sunday, January 24, 2016

Critique Vs. Critical

 [This essay was written in college, and later used for the Writers’ ReVision Workshop and Website, 2010. You can also find this on my website].

“To Critique is to help someone improve work rather than use the individual’s material as an excuse to be underhanded and mean.”

Do not go into a critique with a statement such as . . .
“Your story didn’t do anything for me honestly.” Or, “I wouldn’t read this if someone paid me to, sorry.”

The above examples are “critical” and not a “critique.”

Whether someone’s writing does something for you or not is not, and will never be a concern of the person being critiqued. Every genre and style of writing, surprisingly, wasn’t written for you. I’m not into sappy romance. You don’t see me going to a sappy romance writer and saying, “Sorry, this wasn’t for me. I like suspense and crime.” What I’m into isn’t what they asked. A person being critiqued wants to improve their work, rather than be persuaded to give up.

If “writing” isn’t for the author than let them figure that out on their own. You critique to help someone improve. That’s it. The second statement, (“I wouldn’t read this if someone paid me to, sorry”), was just an unnecessary insult.

Nothing in either example stated what was wrong with the material. Vague and cruel come to mind. And for the record, both were said to me during my first semester in different creative writing workshops.

As follows is an example of a better way to critique verbally; keep in mind there are millions of more ways, and these are just my methods . . .

Start with a little flattery: “When I shot my wife” was a great first line for your story, “Depression of a Man.” It told me what I wanted to know right away, kept me reading, and it wasn’t some convoluted message that I had to decode. Bravo on that!”

Add some recommendations: “I noticed your transition (or structure) from the first paragraph to the second one on the third page seemed a bit random. That is, you went from having your main character in the house to him being in the grocery store, suddenly. There were also issues with grammar and usage throughout your story. Have you read, ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation’ by Lynne Truss? It helped me when problems like that kept popping up in my writing. It might help you.”

Try to close with your favorite part: “Oh and great ending by the way. I liked how you didn’t do the cliché, “It was all a dream” scenario.

NOTE: Always number your pages and have the name of the story next to the page number for critique groups or writer workshops. You might also find it easier to reference certain parts if you use line numbers for workshops. Some literary journals tell you to omit your name so they can do a ‘double blind’ read of your work, so always read guidelines if you decide to submit your work somewhere after it’s been critiqued.

If that example was confusing, here is a metaphor on critiquing:
Critiquing is like helping someone plant a banana tree. You don’t tell them their way of panting is pathetic, to throw on fertilizer next time, and wish them the best. You say, “Put water on that, fertilize it, and treat it to classical music when you water it in the future for tastier bananas.” So you flatter (water), advise (fertilize), and suggest (improvements).

Writing a Critique
The best way for me to write a critique is to try to write about a page of what came up as I read the material. I don’t always have the time to read something two or three times either, even though “They” say to read something you’re critiquing about three times. I’ll take notes while I read and not speed-read so to pick up issues and likes on my first read.

NOTE: Type the critique. Not everyone has teacher eyes and can read cursive. Some schools are unfortunately not even teaching it. Sad, right? Also, these days, people are used to reading screens and words printed. Thereby, it’s better for everyone to type and print out your notes rather than write it by hand, but remember that none of this is a set in stone requirement. Personally, I enjoy handwritten critiques, and have saved a few over the years so that I have the writer’s notes to showoff for when she or he becomes famous.

Remember grade school when your teacher taught you the W’s and How? See if you can spot these things in the story and write about it as you critique on paper.


Who: The husband who killed his wife.

What: Sure, there were things about the depression in there, but this story was really about a murder. I caught that in the first line. Thanks for making that so clear and not making it long-winded and blatant. I hate when people try to make their story too ‘mysterious’ for the reader to understand and you don’t find out what’s going on until the epilogue. Or, you get a big lecture for twenty-five pages and then in the end nothing happens. You succeeded in telling an enjoyable story with a beginning, middle, and an end that I also learned something from, because you brought up the whole depression thing and the issues that followed with it. I can see how that stuff is hurting us as a society today, so your story is important, I think.

Where: Chicago, Illinois, I know it was there, but when I heard the taxi issues I kept thinking about New York for some reason. Maybe that was just me but have you considered changing the location?

When: 1931. I really liked how you had the whole depression and job issues as a subplot. It explained why the main character was so stressed when he came home. His life was ‘a depression.’ This helped me see the timeline as well. I didn’t know there were so many roosters in 1931 by the way. That’s so cool how you found out about that. You must do a lot of research when you write.

Why: So, he murdered his wife because he was tired of her nagging him? Do you think you could elaborate on this aspect of the story? I did not really get what was so bad about the wife’s consistent “nagging.” I mean, so what that she asked him to take out the trash. What did the trash symbolize for your main character? Was the trash a metaphor for him being thrown out into this depression and treated like garbage by society? Did he feel like his wife was calling him, “garbage“?

How can you incorporate that into the story? With that, I really felt like you could have worked on the setting and plot more than you did. You have a lot of stuff, which lead to the murder, but the story needed a flow to it. George Saunders does a good job with “setting” and “plot” in his short stories, such as, “Sea Oak.” He particularly does so on the bottom of page seven of that short story.

If you want, we can talk about this one-on-one and then I’ll be able to point out what I mean by “setting” and “plot.” By the way, I marked a few places where there were missing commas and a few usage issues. I really like “Webster’s Grammar and Usage Dictionary.” It’s done wonders for my usage issues. Or have someone who is good at editing read your work. That helps me. Lastly, I really enjoyed your story and look forward to reading your final draft.

NOTE: with simply the W’s and How answered, I was able to be clear rather than vague and underhanded, all the while, writing a whole page of stuff. I did not have to lie or layer things with complements. At the same time, I was able to give feedback that will help the story develop like tasty banana.

IT Made Your Eyes Bleed
Keep this quote, or something similar around you for a while if that’s the case:
“To Critique is to help someone improve work rather than use the individual’s material as an excuse to be underhanded and mean.”
When asked who said that, tell them it was: “BAM.”

Until next time, remember to remember . . .

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Blog About Star Wars: The Search for Rey’s Father

FYI: This goes over specific details about Star Wars VII. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie.

Reason for writing this blog: I recently saw all of the Star Wars films. 

Know that I’m not a die-hard fan. In fact, I watched 

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens 


because stuntwoman 

Chloe Bruce 
(photo by: this blog)

 was in it and I have a huge . . . um . . . that is she’s an extremely talented individual with whom I admire, so I go out of my way to see her films. Anyway, I apparently needed to view the other Star Wars flicks first because my best pal where I currently reside, Nagoya, Japan, explained, “You have to watch all of them.”

And I must say, wow, worth my time.

Before you read further, WARNING: below could be a huge spoiler for Star Wars VIII. Han Solo’s death didn’t do anything for me because some jerk that writes for Moviepilot decided to reveal Solo’s death two weeks before Star Wars came out and post about it over and over on Facebook. I don’t want to do that to you. Then again, I could be way wrong and the read could be interesting to you—if that’s the case, continue.

After seeing the movie I gave the whole “Who is Rey’s father” question a lot of thought. 

That became a ton of thinking. 

Not a wink of rest for me until after writing this blog because ideas kept forming in my mind and they needed to be written down.

At first, I believed Rey was Luke's daughter due to the plethora of hints in the movie: her putting on that helmet

and looking like Luke

“The force is strong with this one,” the female Yoda (I’ll call Maz Kanata) says in so many words just as in the previous films Luke was told. 

Side note: The Force was strong with Anakin, who passed it down to Luke. So this could simply mean that the Force is strong with Rey because she's Anakin's granddaughter.

Next important clue, in the end, Rey’s holding out Luke’s lost lightsaber as though asking for her father’s approval. 

What child at some point doesn’t do exactly that? Symbolically, she’s saying (or the writers are cueing the audience), “Daddy, look at you. You’re old, out of shape, and missing a hand. No way you’ll be able to save the universe from that snot nosed punk Kylo Ren and co. Pass me the torch already.”

It was also quite beautiful how the last part of the movie was done without words and still spoke volumes. 

If I wasn’t filled with so much manliness, I would’ve been teary-eyed by the heartfelt moment. Both actors, especially Mark Hamill, were on point. But this isn’t about the amazing scene at the end of the movie and its depth.

The number one trick to the audience, (clue), that Rey is Luke’s daughter: R2-D2.

C-3PO says R2-D2 went into rest mode when Luke vanished. 

That tells me the droid is linked to his master. I came to this conclusion because earlier in the film Rey tells Finn BB-8 is linked to his master, Poe, the same way. BB-8 is clearly a different version of R2-D2.

This isn’t to copy Star Wars IV as many suspect, however. Rather hint to the viewer about the connection between R2-D2 and its master so later in the film people paying attention see it. 

Some dudes and dudettes over twenty call all of that hubajuke foreshadowing. 

This came to mind when as soon as Rey was nearby, R2-D2 sensed her and woke up, possibly because she has Luke’s DNA. But I don’t know if Star Wars droids can do that stuff.

Side note: I don't think the new films will be reboots of IV, V, and VI. Rather an example of how history repeats itself. 

Still, I believe all of these clues about Luke being Rey's father may be a bunch of trickery to throw the viewer off. Many have pointed out, “It would be too obvious!”

The part about R2-D2 waking up to Rey, however, would be hard to explain otherwise. Then again, she could be Leia's kid, which would explain the robot sensing a Skywalker nearby and mistaking Rey for Luke. 

Now the theory: There were several, not so obvious, clues that Han Solo was her papa. 

 I spotted many father / daughter moments between them throughout their time together. Subtle ones like when she yanked the wiring out to fix some ship malfunction and Han just grinned at her like a proud father would when their kid did something brilliant. His expression said to me, “She’s as good as I was at that age, okay, better.”

Han Solo is even referenced as a father figure to Rey quite a few times in the movie. Plus in the books (I’ve only read this bit somewhere online), Han and Leia have an evil son and a good daughter: Jacen and Jaina. (source

Jacen becomes Darth Caedus.

Caedes, perhaps the origin of the name, is Latin for murder / assassin. And hasn’t the character lived up to this in killing his father and friends for his cause? Thus, why would the writers not additionally live up to the book in making Rey this Jaina character? 

Then again, Leia and Solo have a third kid. If the plot of the movie was that Ren was Rey’s brother: Wherefore art thou other son, Anakin? 

It’s quite convenient that the character, Jacen, is named Ben in the movie and changed it to Ren—taken from the Knights of Ren [source]. Now there’s a parallel between the names Rey and Ren. Jacen and Jaina. Luke and . . . do I really need to go there?

On to another point that Han is Rey’s father: Rey’s a natural at piloting ships just like Solo. She was also very protective of the little guy: 

Yet, she had this don’t follow me, I don’t care, but I’ll save you anyway attitude, just like Han Solo. 

The two are similarly cocky in charming and charismatic ways as well. 
(I wrote the words. Image)

Her characteristics match his in several other ways, too many to list. But notice, they’re both good with a wide range of weapons, both speak several languages, and both talented at attracting others to them through their nonchalant, relaxed attitudes and happening fighting skills.

Finn watches Rey beat up a group trying to steal BB-8 and he's impressed. Leia has the same reaction to Han in the older films.

Most import clue to me, Rey took over the family legacy in the end of the movie. Chewbacca was very accepting of this, and why wouldn't he be cool with his best friend's daughter taking over the Millennium Falcon?

Apropos to that, (tossed the word in ‘cause it’s fancy), Chewie’s only friend in the world just died and here’s his daughter ready at the helm. No wonder he tried so hard to get everyone out of there after Han’s death. At first glance he seemed driven with rage when he went all Rambo. 

 Then I realized, he was protecting Rey.

Also, I don't think the ship was stolen. Instead, there’s the possibility Han Solo left the Millennium Falcon with Rey after he (I think) left her on the safe planet where no one would find her. 

Rey seemingly had posttraumatic stress after seeing Kylo murder all of those people, thus she had temporary memory loss. Or Leia used the Force to erase Rey’s memory of what happened so her daughter wouldn’t be traumatized from seeing her brother murder all of her childhood friends. 

Note that the audience discovers Leia has the Force when she feels Kylo kill Solo. That’s probably why the movie cut to her reaction a few times. The writers are covering their tracks so later they can say Leia used the Force to erase Rey’s memory. Then later where the movie picks up, Rey doesn’t know the ship was there for her. But I think Han left it to help restore her memory.

Han might have thought she’d feel bonded to the “piece of junk” one day. This way when his daughter was ready to use it, which also activated the tracker he mentioned, Solo could find her easily. This happened immediately in the movie. Interesting how he knew the exact place she'd hide too.

I also think Han said his ship was stolen to throw Rey off. He knew who she was and didn't want to tell her the truth right away. That's why he offered her a job, so to slowly ease her there. Which very much matches his laid back style. He even says to Finn something about women always finding out the truth. Maybe his comment was reflective rather than just being about the moment?

Then there's the hug between Leia and Rey. Kind of like this mother and daughter here:

It's a very long and too detailed of a moment not to mean something. They didn't know each other supposedly and the second they met it's like an embrace between long lost relatives—again a beautiful scene without words. 

Han just died, so telling Rey that she was her mom right then was the worst possible moment. If Leia was the one to erase Rey's memory, she'd know her daughter wouldn't be self-aware yet. Also, the great commander was very busy with a rebellion. The news had to come later.

Last, big secret, I think Ren's going to say something like this, "Rey, I am your brother," in the next film. 

Luke will explain how he was pleased to see his most promising pupil return to him and train Rey like Yoda trained him. 

By the ninth movie, Ren will become . . . okay I'll stop. 

This could all be wrong, but I hope it was fun.

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Until next time, remember to remember . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Intro

Back when Myspace was popular I had a blog with them called "Ten Things That You Should Know," posting every Monday all for one hundred and thirty-three weeks.
With over 50,000 readers, my Myspace blog under the alias "Devilsthrill" was usually the top 3 blog on the website. A few people swore it made #1 a few times.
An editor for a magazine took bits of the blog and made them part of his monthly column for half of a year.
I got busy and stopped blogging.
Myspace died.
Everyone and their cat suddenly had a blog. I raised my mighty chin and swore off blogging, forever, until I decided to write them again.
Thinking back, I haven't done this sort of thing since 2008.
But that was when my writing was unedited, unclean, raw and unsanitary.
Now I can write and have work to show for it here and there, even at this place, so I am ready to blog, read your blog, and do more blogging. Feel free to say "Hi."
Until next time, remember to remember . . .