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By Johannes Helmold

Woman shrugging
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writing critique
So far, I’ve been acting like a super-duper writing expert, giving wise advice and being all educational and wizardly. However, as any writer, I have my own flaws—I make elementary and silly mistakes, and my stories and articles sometimes suck. So, today I would like to analyze an excerpt from one of the short stories I wrote a rather long time ago, when writing was my hobby rather than a profession. I’ll pretend to be a grumpy editor, and comment on my own writing. I’ll mark totally bad fragments with red, moderate ones with orange, and neutral, or good ones with green. Don’t miss your chance to snicker at a professional writer.


We were looking at each other silently, as if the space around us suddenly became too thick for words to pierce through it, and our survival depended on how much energy we could save by remaining silent. The city outside the window continued to live with its normal life: cars scurried back and forth, people moved in strange trajectories, and a shiny little plane divided purple evening skies in two parts, “before” and “after.” I watched Her dry eyes gaze at some abstract point somewhere behind my right shoulder.

(comment) This paragraph is both good and bad, and awful, and everything. To start with, what is with that pronoun naming? Where are the real names of your characters? Did mom simply call her daughter “Her,” or what? Don’t tell me that you kept using pronouns instead of the main characters’ real names throughout the entire story (well, I did). The “space around us” metaphor is quite good, but looks inappropriate, or even excessive, to the situation. However, the line when she gazes behind your shoulder looks incomplete; it makes me want to ask you, “So, what happened next?” However, I liked your description of the evening city.

She felt like she was unexpectedly punched in her belly, so that all the air she had in her lungs came out convulsively, causing a suffocative pain to climb up to her throat, pouring into a short muffled cry. She wanted to ask me so many questions, but she couldn’t, and this sad impossibility floated in the air around her, striking my head with thousands of tiny sparks of regret. I was shocked too.

(comment) Somehow, I’ve figured out (this is sarcasm) that you are writing on your own behalf. In this case, how can you know what she felt? Unless you are a telepathic person, you cannot describe the thoughts and feelings of other characters if you are writing in first person (or unless they explain it to you themselves). Besides, your description of her feelings is overloaded with epithets and comparisons. However, I like the next sentence, even though it is also full of somewhat strange epithets—maybe, because it reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s style, which I enjoy. But, the next sentence is just horrible. “I was shocked too” is totally NOT a proportionate description of your feelings, compared to the other character. She was all “punched in a belly and so on,” and you were just shocked? Come on, it sucks! And, by the way, where is the description of the problem between the two of you?

A couple of hours later she finished packing her suitcase, and slammed the front door, leaving me forever. Trying to get rid of the approaching depression, I turned on my laptop to play some video games (too direct + rather silly, especially compared to the more or less atmospheric descriptions before). I could not decide, whether I was glad or not (what about the depression you mentioned?).

(comment) Once again, are you a prophet that knows that she left you forever? And what is with that unprofessional all-explaining word “depression?” Of course, it’s easier to say “I was depressed” than to look for synonymous phrases, like “I felt devastated, and the cold rain fell deep within my heart” or something like that. But you are a writer—it’s your job to dig for such descriptions! And what is this stupid way for a literary character to deal with depression? Video games? Come on! You tried to create a dramatic and intense situation (and you even managed to) to spoil everything with video games. I know that all people have different ways to deal with grief, and in real life video games can help better than, say, alcohol, but in the type of literature you are attempting to write, it looks weird. Try to come up with a more serious way of dealing with your loss.


As you can see, the ruthless anonymous critic has completely destroyed my thoroughly constructed reputation as a writing expert—so the only way for me to save my samurai honor is to wear a long robe and go meditate in the mountains for 10 years. Considering these circumstances, I’m not sure when I’m going to write the next blog post. Stay updated.

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