Category Archives: On Writing

Give Webnovel a Hard Pass

Should I be flattered? I think not.

Like many writers, I got the email:

My name is May. I’m an Author Liaison representative, representing Webnovel.

I found your work Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock, which comes highly recommended … I am very interested in a business collaboration with you, and would like to offer you a Non-Exclusive Contract that will not affect your novel distribution and earnings [through other distributors]. We think that the theme and genre of your novel would be a great fit for our readers here on

The message instantly triggered my scam radar, and a quick online search confirmed my suspicions. Says Terrance Phillipe aka Whatsawhizzer:

“Qidian [Webnovel] doesn’t give a shit about things like copyright or human decency.”

If you get a solicitation email from Webnovel, please don’t respond before you read the blog post “Why Do People Hate Qidian Webnovel?” Indeed, I’d recommend that you not respond at all. Webnovel is just another way to cheat a writer.


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Ruminations on the Third Draft of the Fourth Book (with a blurb-in-progress)

When I sat down to write a fourth book in my Waterspell fantasy series, I wondered whether I still had enough to say about my characters and their world to produce a novel-length work. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. I got Drafts 1 and 2 down on paper in record time: started May 6; had a nearly complete second draft by September 6. After leaving the manuscript sitting for a couple of weeks, I started again at the beginning of the story, checking it against my stacks of notes, looking for loose ends and adding material to address every thread that I wanted to bring forward from the original trilogy. The result is a third draft that’s very nearly complete at just shy of 90,000 words. Book 4 will be the shortest in the series. The previous record-holder for “short” was Book 3, at about 115,000 words.

Book 4’s conciseness stems partly from my not needing to include so much description. The story takes place in settings that readers already know from Books 1 through 3.

I’m aware, however, that I’m relying more on narration in Book 4 than I did in the previous volumes. Between now and the early months of 2021, I plan to let the story sit largely untouched as I hear back from my beta readers and get some distance from the narrative. I’m a bit concerned that this story lacks the immediacy of Books 1 through 3, which were built on you-are-there, “real-time” scene-and-sequel with lots of dialogue and limited narration. Detailed scenes take more words to lay out for the reader than narration requires.

As a writer (and as an individual) I’m in a very different place from who and where I was when I finished the trilogy. It’s no surprise, to me, that my approach to Book 4 differs in tone from the original books. I’m trusting my beta readers (and my gut, once it has gained the necessary distance) to tell me whether my approach to Book 4 will satisfy readers who enjoyed the original story of Carin and Verek, or whether the “new me” is straying too far from readers’ expectations.

In the meantime, here’s the working draft of the book blurb. Any and all comments will be appreciated:

It’s five years later, Carin and Verek are married with children, and the grandparents are calling. Readers of the Waterspell fantasy series will welcome this long-awaited fourth book for the answers it provides to questions raised in volumes 1 through 3: Does the wysard Verek regain his powers, and will Carin make her way back to him? Have Carin’s parents survived the bleeding disease that devastated Earth, and will Carin ever see them again? How is the woodsprite faring in its new world? Has it forgiven the treachery committed by its greatest friend? Will Carin ever forgive herself for abandoning the creature? Does Megella get her wish, to be the wisewoman who midwifes Carin’s children into the world? Will those children bear the mark of their ancestry, or are they fated to be disappointingly ungifted? Did Lanse survive? Is Lord Legary really dead? And not least: Did the necromancer die in the jaws of Carin’s conjured dragon? Remember: There was no blood in the water. These questions and more are answered in Waterspell Book 4: The Witch, which picks up the story of the lovers, Carin and Verek, five years after readers last saw the pair separated in the closing chapters of the series’ third book.
By the blood of Abraxas, it’s about time we learned what happened next.

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Where Do Ideas Come From?

My habit of letting the draft of a novel sit for at least two weeks has paid off: On my walk this morning, I suddenly got an interesting idea for introducing a plot twist that will bring readers face-to-face with characters who have previously appeared only in the background. Adding this element to Draft 3 will require additional writing but minimal rewriting. The idea arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, on the 14th day of me setting the ms. aside to marinate in its own juices. The subconscious is a powerful asset when it’s allowed to work its magic in its own time and way.

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When Characters Speak

I’m having a great time working with a skilled, extraordinarily talented professional narrator to turn the first three books of Waterspell into audiobooks. The way the narrator has moved into the body of my wysard is uncanny. The man sounds exactly like the voice I heard in my head during all the years I devoted to writing Books 1 through 3. I look forward with eager anticipation to each newly recorded chapter the narrator sends me. He’s finished Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock and is approaching the one-third mark of Book 2: The Wysard. We plan to release both audiobooks together or within about a month of each other, since Book 1 ends on a cliffhanger and I believe listeners will want to move immediately into Book 2.

For me, an unexpected side benefit of hearing my characters’ voices come alive in the real world, is the inspiration this experience has provided to finally get me writing again. After my husband’s sudden death in 2012, I had no impulse to write. People would ask about a possible Book 4, and all I could tell them was that Life with a capital L had kicked me hard, and I wasn’t writing. Then came 2016, and the shock of discovering that I wasn’t living in the country I thought I was living in. The country of my birth was, in fact, a breeding ground for the absolute worst in human nature.

Therefore, after spending four years trying to patch together my life, I found myself obliged to join the Resistance and spend the next four years attempting to save the soul of my nation.

Then came 2020 and Covid-19, and a months-long self-isolation that has been a godsend for me. I hate the pain, the loss, the suffering that this virus has heaped on other people’s heads. I’m a walking example of white privilege: I get to stay home, safely isolated out in the country, ordering stuff for delivery to my gate and going into town only to pick up groceries and my mail. My pandemic experience has been 180 degrees from the devastation that others have experienced.

After years of no motivation followed by years of exhausting nonstop effort to resist the tide of fascism, I suddenly found myself with both the time and the desire to create something of my own again. Almost immediately upon entering my bubble of self-isolation, I hired my audiobook narrator. After six or seven weeks of listening to his breathtakingly good interpretations of my characters and their story, I placed my fingers upon the keyboard and started pounding out Book 4.

I started Draft One on May 6, and completed Draft Two on September 6. Record time for me (Books 1–3 took me 16 years to write and publish).

The second draft will need to sit for a couple of weeks. I do still have obligations to my state and my nation—I’m supporting candidates and contributing to Get Out the Vote efforts. I’ll spend the next couple of weeks engaged in that effort.

But then I’ll be looking through my notes again, and settling down for a close reread and re-edit of Draft Two. I’m tentatively planning a Summer 2021 release date of the Book 4 ebook, to coincide (I hope) with the release of the Waterspell Book 3 audiobook.

How good it is to be writing again. Strange, how inspiration will arrive unexpectedly, and opportunities may arise from cataclysm.


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The Fight Against Book Piracy

Authors and publishers have filed suit against book piracy entity Kiss Library,  obtaining a restraining order that requires domain registrars to disable the domains controlled by Kiss Library. Kiss is “a pirate online bookstore based in Ukraine that illegally sells pirated ebooks at discounted prices to unsuspecting U.S. readers. The defendants dress their websites up to make them look like sophisticated, legitimate sites, intentionally deceiving consumers who are unaware that authors, publishers, and legitimate booksellers are being denied their legal share of the sales price,” reports the Authors Guild.

“This filing joins together bestselling and emerging authors with industry leaders in a united fight against piracy,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild. “Every purchase from an illegal piracy site represents a theft of earned income from the author and publisher, causing massive losses to the industry that, over time, will diminish the industry’s ability to publish a wide diversity of voices. This outright theft must stop.”

For more, see “AG Members Join Amazon Publishing and PRH in Suit Against Kiss Library” at News & Events, the Authors Guild.


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Having Fun Again

How great it is to read that Far Side creator Gary Larson has published his first new cartoons in 25 years, and he’s sort of coming out of retirement – though with no deadlines. Larson said he is having fun, “exploring, experimenting, and trying stuff” – without the pressure of daily deadlines.

“So here goes,” he wrote. “I’ve got my coffee, I’ve got this cool gizmo [a digital tablet], and I’ve got no deadlines. And – to borrow from Sherlock Holmes – the game is afoot.”

While I’m not in the same league as Gary Larson, I completely identify with the delight he’s taking in all the creative potential contained in new technology. He wrote: “I hail from a world of pen and ink, and suddenly I was feeling like I was sitting at the controls of a 747. But as overwhelmed as I was, there was still something familiar there – a sense of adventure. That had always been at the core of what I enjoyed most when I was drawing The Far Side, that sense of exploring, reaching for something, taking some risks, sometimes hitting a home run …”

I feel the same way about my Waterspell books. I began writing the story in 1996. Created my first website for it in 2000, using what was then a modern app called Web Express. I attended writers conferences and pitched my books to various editors who invited me to submit the manuscript. Some of them never gave me the courtesy of any reply, afterward. Several did reply, but every one of them rejected it with some version of: “Definitely captures interest, it’s beautifully written, it’s very cinematographic” … but, “The first book of the series must be a standalone. We won’t commit to publishing all three books of a trilogy.”

In other words: Every major publisher who looked at it wanted to publish only the first book, and if it wasn’t immediately as profitable for them as the Harry Potter series, they’d kick me to the curb. I’d be on my own to publish Books 2 and 3.

That being the case, I decided my only rational response was to publish all three books on my own. How fortunate for me that I went the indie route! Have I made any money? Nope. My royalties have not come anywhere near covering the time and effort I’ve put into these books. But I’ve retained control, which has me in a great position to enjoy the benefits of new technology. Like Gary Larson, I’m having fun exploring modern tech’s creative potential, while freeing myself from deadline pressures.

The creative spark for my current project began in December 2019, when my sister-in-law gave me an Audible audiobook gift membership. I immediately downloaded The Lord of the Rings, the unabridged edition narrated by Rob Inglis.

My god! What a masterpiece. Inglis’ narration is astounding. He speaks Elvish, Dwarvish, and Orkish. He sings the songs. He correctly pronounces unpronounceable words. I found the whole audiobook experience to be far superior to rereading the books myself, and even better than the movies. The audiobooks combine the best of both: the dramatization of movies, with the completeness of  books.

My readers had been encouraging me to produce audiobooks of the Waterspell series, but I thought the cost would be prohibitive. After so immensely enjoying The Lord of the Rings, however, I decided to look into it.

And that’s when I discovered the creative potential of new technology.

It turns out that Audible has this nifty “Audiobook Creation Exchange” (ACX) by which writers and narrators can find each other, and work together easily and affordably. I’ve been astonished by how simple it was to post an excerpt, invite auditions, and immediately find the world’s most perfect narrator.

(More about him in a later post. We’re still working on Book 1. When we’re nearing the end of Book 2 and the books are set for release on Audible, I’ll be launching a bragging campaign about the extraordinarily talented narrator I found through ACX.)

My delight with new technology extends also to the ease of getting book covers designed these days. Even in 2011, when Waterspell Book 1 was initially published, getting decent covers proved difficult. I was never satisfied with the covers on the first editions, and I’ve been thrilled to discover that things have evolved to the point where writers can easily connect with talented graphic designers who’ll create good-looking covers using stock images. The new covers, created by Vila Design, are vastly more appealing than the books’ first-edition covers.

And like Gary Larson, I’m now doing this work for fun. I’ve got my coffee. I’ve got no deadlines to meet except those I set for myself. I’ve got no one to please but myself. No editor’s opinion counts with me now, for “Book 1 must stand alone” has been established as the fallacy that it is. Readers and reviewers have described the Book 1 cliffhanger-ending as “wonderful” and the series structure as “getting bigger and bigger.” I always knew that I knew what I was doing.

Having a new collaborator, however, in the person of the professional narrator who’s hard at work on the audiobooks, has sparked my creativity in an unexpected way. Hearing the narrator give each of my characters a distinctive voice has made the entire story seem new to me again. I swear the man has become Lord Verek — he voices the wysard so powerfully, and so close to the voice that I’ve heard in my head for years, that it’s simply uncanny. You just wait ’til you hear him.

Working with the narrator has proven to be such an inspiration, I actually cranked out the long-neglected Book 4 in a mere two months: May 6 to July 6. It’s a roughish first draft, it’ll need fleshing out — particularly as I work through the existing trilogy with the narrator, and recall details that I’ve forgotten. But it’s a solid start, and by this time in 2021, I expect to be publishing Book 4, which ties together some of those threads (not really loose ends) that remained from the first three books.

That’s how I’ve been spending the 2020 coronavirus lockdown: working with an excellent audiobook narrator, working with a talented cover designer, and writing a fourth novel. Like Gary Larson, I’ve been freed by the creative potential of all this new technology. It’s making my life fun again, after several dark years of grief, and feeling like I’d never write another word of fiction.

I wasn’t actually sure I still could write fiction. But I’ve shown myself that I can. And I’ve got my sister-in-law and other family members, my narrator colleague, my graphic-design colleague, Audible, ACX, Rob Inglis, and all my lovely and supportive readers to thank for pulling me out of my personal black hole and getting me creating again. Love you all! ♥

Waterspell, a fantasy trilogy by Deborah J. Lightfoot

Waterspell, a fantasy trilogy by Deborah J. Lightfoot

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People Don’t Change? Yes, They Do.

“Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” —Cheryl Strayed

This quote has meant the world to me at different times in my life, and in different ways.

After my husband died, suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving me nonfunctional for a trackless time, Cheryl Strayed’s words helped me on my journey toward understanding that his death had changed not only the circumstances of my life … his death had changed me. For a long time afterward, I was incapable of feeling any deep emotion except anger. Grief had wrung me out and left me emptied. Grief had taken my motivation, ambition, concentration … my caring. There were years when I truly didn’t care whether I lived or died. I’d lost my identity. All my old ideas about myself weren’t true anymore.

During those years, I felt no desire or impulse to write, or even to acknowledge that I had written. Cheryl’s words gave me permission to give up the idea that I was a writer. It wasn’t true anymore, it was an old, defunct notion of myself, and if I tried to cling to an identity that I had worn in my death-haunted past, it would mean surrendering the tiny sparks of joy that were slowly beginning to appear in my present.

After the unthinkable happened in November 2016 and America began marching toward fascism, my patriotism awoke and I got deeply involved in political activism. I made protest signs, I took to the streets, I registered voters, mailed postcards to voters, knocked on doors for progressive candidates, held office in a local group of liberal women … put in long hours doing everything I could to save my country from a dangerous sociopath. Few of my fellow and sister activists even knew that I had had a professional career in publishing, had edited magazines and books, and had written seven books including a fantasy trilogy.

Then came the year 2020, and coronavirus.

The virus was in America in January, but as I look back at my January 2020 calendar I see only my activism: political meetings, blockwalking for candidates, registering voters, attending the nearest Women’s March. Then February, and more of the same: protesting the treatment of asylum seekers at the Texas-Mexico border; attending candidate forums; getting trained on new computers for Election Day; working Early Voting. In amongst the activism I had the flu (or was it coronavirus? an antibody test may eventually tell me). While working Early Voting I caught a terrible head-cold that still plagued me when I put in a 15-hour day on March 3 as an election judge for the Democratic Primary.

My final political meeting happened on March 10. By then, cases of Covid-19 were being reported in the urban county next-door, and all my activist friends decided it was time we hunkered down. I went to the supermarket on March 13—my final time to actually go inside the store. Since then, it’s been all pickup orders, with me staying safely in my vehicle while heroic grocery workers bring food to me.

Physical isolation = Time

I suddenly found myself with time again. After years of being exhaustively involved in political work, I was suddenly cocooned at home with my computer, my Internet connection, and a Nook tablet full of audiobooks. Thanks to my sister-in-law, who gave me an Audible membership for Christmas 2019, I had recently finished listening to The Lord of the Rings narrated by Rob Inglis. A masterful performance.

And an inspiration. Though I wasn’t writing now, I had written. I had a fantasy trilogy to my credit, which many readers had described as cinematographic. While I was writing Waterspell, I saw the story play in my head as a movie, and evidently that’s how it plays for my readers. I found the LOTR audiobooks to be even better than the films—they were as cinematographic as the movies, but unabridged, complete in every detail, the perfect synthesis—book-plus-movie equal audiobook.

Inspiration begat action. Production on the Waterspell audiobooks began on March 18. My narrator is breathtakingly good. He gives me goosebumps with his interpretation of my story.

And once again, Cheryl Strayed is helping me give up an old idea so I can embrace the joy—the change—that comes with a new idea. I spent years trying to save America from itself. But honestly, if coronavirus isn’t enough to remove a pathological narcissist from office—and all his soulless enablers with him—then there’s nothing I can do with my protest signs, political meetings, and earnest postcards.

I’m not willing to surrender my newfound joy for my old idea that I’m somehow essential to saving the country. If it were ever true, it isn’t true now. I’ve acknowledged anew that I have written. Whether that will translate into new writing (Waterspell Book 4?) remains to be seen. But once again, I am changed. I can feel again. I can care again. I am experiencing emotions that are higher and better and deeper than anger. Motivation is returning, and even a hint of ambition.

Thank you, sister Suzy, for the gift of audiobooks, which planted the seed of the joyous new idea. Thank you, Cheryl Strayed, for giving me permission (thrice) to let go of the old and receive the gift of the new … The gift of the future.



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Add the Arts to the STEM Curriculum and Unleash the Full Power of STEAM

This year as Lewis Carroll fans worldwide celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was privileged to attend a presentation by sculptor Bridgette Mongeon at the spring meeting of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA), held at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, in conjunction with the Center’s special Alice exhibition.

"Move One Place On" -- Copyright Bridgette Mongeon 2015

“Move One Place On” — Copyright Bridgette Mongeon 2015

Bridgette, an artist, sculptor, writer, educator, public speaker, and wife and mom too, has been commissioned to create a monumental bronze sculpture of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter tea party, to be placed in a Texas park (the exact site has yet to be announced). Visitors will be able to not only admire the sculpture, but also sit themselves down to it and have a picnic lunch with Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, and the Hatter, as shown in the above digital model.

In her talk to the LCSNA, Bridgette spoke of the STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, and math) and how vital it is to add an “A” for art, which turns STEM into STEAM. She has given STEAM programs to young women in grades 6 through 8, in which she ties it all together: Art, Technology, Medicine, Math, AND Literature. Bridgette creatively fuses art and technology: she creates sculptures using both traditional (clay and wax) and digital processes. Lewis Carroll fits well with Bridgette’s many interests because he was an artist and photographer, a mathematician, and, of course, a writer.

I was fascinated and inspired by Bridgette’s LCSNA presentation. In my freelance work as an editor for a national educational organization, I specialize in STEM and STEAM subjects. I’ve edited manuscripts on animation, archaeology, architecture, energy, environmental science, oceanography, photography, textiles, and theater, among others. Even the most technological subjects need the “A” added for “art.” Art imparts the human touch and often creates a fresh perspective that can lead to new discoveries.

Bridgette cited the example of an artist who sculpted her cancer tumor, and how the creation of “a full-on object that they could walk around” is changing the way oncologists approach the treatment of cancer.

I was also reminded of astrophysicists’ reactions to the computer-generated black hole in the movie Interstellar. Actual observational data was used to create the movie’s visualizations, leading physicist Kip Thorne to realize: “Why, of course. That’s what it would do.” From the art, he got something he didn’t expect: a scientific discovery.

With arts programs on the chopping blocks at too many schools, we all need to be championing STEAM. While the current emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math is very welcome, we must also keep a central place in the curriculum for art. While science and technology may reveal the structure of things, art reveals the heart.

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The “Alice” Books and Waterspell: How They Connect

Writers are often told to write what we know. Thus, it is not surprising that many authors choose to write about books and the people who love them.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak tells of a girl who steals the things she can’t resist—books. The hero of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story becomes a character in the mysterious book he is reading. In When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, the protagonist relies upon her favorite book, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, as a kind of “life compass.”

Pool of TearsFollowing in that tradition, Lewis Carroll’s Alice books appear “as themselves” in my Waterspell trilogy. My heroine, Carin, first encounters Through the Looking-Glass (TTLG) and discovers the book holds within it a powerful weapon that only she can wield. Later, Carin gets her hands on a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (AAIW) and continues to find veiled connections between the Carrollian world and her own perilous situation.

As an enthusiastic fan of Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice, I like to imagine how the late Mr. Gardner might annotate the Waterspell trilogy as he picked up on my novels’ subtle homages to the Alice books. I think he would remark on the reversed order in which Carin encounters the books. Lewis Carroll wrote AAIW first, then TTLG some years later. Throughout TTLG, things “go the other way,” so it is appropriate (as well as necessary to the plot of Waterspell) that Carin reads the books “the other way”—second book first.

Another play on the “other way” can be seen in the spelling of the names of the two leading ladies. “Alice” is vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel, while “Carin” (also five letters) is consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant.

The names of things are important in the Waterspell trilogy. In AAIW, the dormouse speaks of drawing all manner of things that begin with the letter M. I don’t doubt that Martin Gardner would notice the characters in Waterspell whose names start, like his, with M: among them Myra, Megella, and Merriam.

And on it goes. In Waterspell Book 3: The Wisewoman, Carin is required to travel under an alias. What name does she choose for herself? “Alice,” of course.

In no way, however, are the Waterspell novels a retelling of the Alice books. Though there are analogies—Carin’s reflective “mirror pool” recalls Alice’s looking-glass—my story follows its own unique trajectory.

To capture the gist of Waterspell, one might say it’s “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” The relationship between my main characters is reminiscent of the stormy sparring between Jane and Rochester. Waterspell is a story for young adults and older. Though an Alice motif runs deep in my trilogy, Waterspell is no more a “children’s book” than is The Hunger Games or Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy of fantasy novels, His Dark Materials. My characters encounter great danger, violence, murder, and betrayal.

Alice150LogoWriting this blog post has helped me pull my thoughts together as I prepare to attend the April 18 meeting of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America in Austin, Texas. In the company of fellow Carrollians, I might have occasion to explain how my books connect to Alice. I want to be prepared, for I can think of no more appropriate readers than a group of Lewis Carroll enthusiasts who know the Alice books backwards and forwards. (There’s that reversal theme again!)


Waterspell trilogy by Deborah J Lightfoot

“If you like epic fantasy that sweeps you to amazing, immersive worlds and while following intriguing characters, be sure to add this series to your to-read list.” —Once Upon a YA Book

“Keeps you enthralled until the final sentence. Carin and Verek are such rounded and full characters.” —Kim Durbin

“I really loved the main characters, particularly because they are complicated. I also enjoyed the writing. It is stylized perfectly to the story, so you feel you are in the Waterspell world. I definitely recommend these books!” —Beck Digs It

“I was hooked instantly when I started reading [Waterspell Book 1] The Warlock. I willingly gave up sleep and honestly could not wait to get up to read more of this book. I’m reading the whole series, and I absolutely am loving it.” —Sarah

“… a fabulous trilogy that should be read by every fantasy reader who would like something a little different. The author cleverly creates tension without resorting to the battles, complex political intrigue and predictable structure favoured by many in the traditional fantasy genre. I give it 5 stars without hesitation.” —Tahlia Newland

“The writing is absolutely fantastic with so much detail and description. The imagery was so vivid that I felt like I could see this mystical world forming around me.” —Laura Hartley, “What’s Hot?”

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The Guidelines for Critique

Excerpted from “The guidelines for critique,” author/source unknown—a handout I found while sorting through old notes from writers’ conferences. These are excellent guidelines, well worth sharing. If anyone knows where this material came from originally, please tell me so I can give credit where it’s due.


 Critique Group Guidelines

  • Leave personalities out of it.
  • Keep it short and to the point.
  • If you don’t have something to say, don’t say it.
  • Have something to say.

Personal preferences as to genre have no bearing. If you don’t like a particular genre, chances are you haven’t read enough of it to make an important critical explication. This does not mean, however, that you cannot critique individual elements such as word choice, spelling, and punctuation. If you have a question concerning what genre a story is, ask.

Critique content only if relevant to the saleability or context of the book; e.g., blatant racism is generally unacceptable, and if the book is about a tea party [meaning a pre-21st century tea party], references to fighting in ‘Nam may have no place.

All critique, if valid and dispensed with good intentions, is positive. Even critique which may on its face appear to be negative is positive in that it points toward a goal of solid reconstruction. Praise, while nice, is not truly critique, and is rarely practically useful — keep it very short. “This is good,” springs to mind as a possible time-saver. As a rule, “negative” is more constructive than “positive.”

All critique, if valid and dispensed with good intentions, is positive.

Critique is not debate. As a critic, don’t get into a debate with the [writer] or another critic concerning any point you may have to make.

Don’t recount anecdotes of your own unless they’re directly and immediately relevant — and short!

Don’t repeat others’ critiques unless it is very important. Saying “I agree with such-and-such” is short and gets the point across nicely. Reiterating what that person said at length is unnecessary, time-consuming, and redundant in the broadest sense of the word.

Don’t contradict another’s critique unless you feel very strongly that it needs contradiction. Remember, it’s up to the [writer] to make the decision as to what he keeps and does not keep. An exception to this guideline is when you feel that another critic has missed the point of the reading or hasn’t a full understanding of genre requirements, or whatever. Sometimes the [writer] needs to know that his point was not missed by everyone.

Don’t ask questions unless you need a specific point of clarification.

Keeping It Short

The following is a list of individual points that critics often get hung up on when they should be looking at the broader scope of the [writing]. These are valid points. However, too much time may be spent noting specific references at times that might be better spent critiquing the larger, more deadly aspects of the work.

Checklist for critique:

  • Too many gerundal (-ing) endings
  • Too many adverbial endings
  • Too many adjectives
  • Too much “tell” and not enough “show”
  • Too slow
  • Too fast and superficial
  • Not enough emotion
  • Touch all the senses, including smell
  • Too many dialogue tags
  • Not enough tags
  • I got lost in the geography of the reading
  • The following words appeared frequently or in close juxtaposition: __________

(This series continues with Readers Facilitate Valid Critique and Critiquing Common Writing Errors.)


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