Becoming Your Own Critique Partner
By Janet Lane Walters and Jane Toombs
Zumaya Publications, September 2006
236 pages—$14.95. EBook—$6.99
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Book Review By Patricia Fry
Here’s a new book from our own Elizabeth Burton’s Zumaya Publications. But rather than the usual fantasy, thriller, historical novel or romance, this is a nonfiction book for writers of fiction. They’ve published it under their Zumaya Writer’s Workshop series.
Authors Janet Lane Walters and Jane Toombs bring to this book more than fifty years of writing experience. Their purpose is to help writers polish their novels without the help of a critique group.
How many of you rely on your critique group to help mold your novels? And how many of you have moved and lost contact with your group or watched your group dissolve over time? It can be devastating and depressing. But, according to Walters and Toombs, all is not lost. Their little book, Becoming Your Own Critique Partner, guides you in critiquing your own work. Using loads of examples throughout the book, they demonstrate the difference between show and tell, and point out when each is appropriate. They adequately cover such fiction necessities as how to naturally advance a scene, how to appropriately use senses, writing tight, point of view, pacing; and they include a lively discussion about the use of—and the avoidance of—clichés. They also provide an impressive English lesson in an easy-to-follow style.
I found the chapter called Modifying to Death; About Choosing When and Where to Use Adjectives and Adverbs, particularly interesting and entertaining. The authors ask, "As a reader, have you ever plowed through such heavy thickets of description you felt in need of a machete to fend off strangulation?"
They say that often this is caused by an overdose of adjectives and adverbs—also known as modifiers. They advise against using too many of these, and give examples, such as "The diminutive, tiny, little child pouted angrily." Yikes, that’s four modifiers in a seven-word sentence. As the authors indicate, the overuse of modifiers weakens a story. Their point: don’t over-modify if it makes your material too difficult to plow through.
Likewise, they give a lesson on tightening your writing by trimming away the words that pad it—repeated words, repeated scenes, etc. They tell writers to use caution with punctuation. Over-exclaiming is as destructive to a story as over-explaining.
Do you use the same words and phrases in your sentences and paragraphs or are you careful to introduce fresh ones? The authors provide excellent examples showing the difference a few new words can make in your writing.
In their book, Walters and Toombs present most of the problems fiction writers face during the writing process. Unfortunately, some novelists don’t realize that they have a problem. If you write fiction, I recommend you purchase this book and read it. You may discover a weak area in your writing style. Not only will these authors guide you in resolving the problem, they provide exercises and encourage you to practice what they preach.
Two things that would make this book even more powerful as a tool for fiction writers are an index and a resource list. But to end my review on a positive note—because I am mostly positive about this book, let me say that I particularly like that it has a hands-on, workbook element to it.