This Week (27/29 March)


For our longer class, Tuesday morning, we will:

1. Discuss the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart” which I asked you to read last week (the link is in an earlier post). We will especially talk about flat and rounded characters, and the idea of suspense.

2. We will do a group critique of one story. (I can’t remember whose.)

Our second group critique will be on Thursday morning.

I discussed the critique method briefly in class, but here’s more of a description:

Normally, the person whose story is being discussed is silent during the critique, except to choose which direction he or she would like to start with. (Left or Right.) Then, we go around the room, and each student gives at least 3 minutes of feedback. The feedback should include the following four parts:

  1. What you think this story is “about” in a thematic sense. Like, say, for Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, “This story is about wanting it all, and refusing to make a choice,” or “This story is about the cost of ‘success’.” Don’t just tell the plot: talk about what you think the story is, deep down, really all about.
  2. What you think the author did well. It’s important to know what is already working, effective, or good in the story. Start with this makes the stressful experience of undergoing critique less painful, but it’s not just a way of being nice: it’s also a way to telling the author what he or she is doing well… because people don’t always know, and in writing, they often don’t. Even if you have to struggle to find something, you should at least find one point you can praise. (More is better.)
  3. What you think the author could do better. This is where you get to criticize the story. Whatever didn’t work for you, or wasn’t effective, or whatever you think could be better, you mention here. Be honest, but don’t be harsh — and most of all, try to find a way of critiquing that tells the author what he or she was “doing wrong” by suggesting a way it could work better. For example, “I hated that character,” isn’t helpful, though it’s better than, “That character sucked.” However, a much better way to talk about it is this: “I found I didn’t really care about the character. I asked myself why, and thought about it, and I think it’s because he never seems to do anything. He complains, and he suffers, but he never chooses to do anything. Maybe I’m supposed to feel sorry for him, but I don’t. Maybe if you make him make some real decisions on the way, and force him to take action, he might be a more sympathetic character.”
  4. Choose one thing the author could work on to get an overall improvement. If you were an editor, and this story or screenplay or whatever needed to be revised quickly — with limited time — you would have to choose what to ask the writer to focus on. That’s what you do here: choose one thing that you think the author could focus on in his or her revision of the story, that would make an overall improvement possible.

That’s the critique method.

By the way, I’ve created a Google Docs folder for the class, but only sent out invitations at noon on Sunday, so I’ve extended the submission deadline to 6pm Sunday for this week’s work only. If you have not received an invitation to the folder (check your Google Mail account) then please email me at my work email ([email protected]) and request an invitation.  Note that I may not be in front of my computer when you do so — it may take up to 24 hours for me to invite you.

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