Author has written 13 stories for Essay, Humor, Life, Fantasy, Thriller, and Western.
My full name is Peter Michael Hall
I am a staffer for a magazine called The Sand Canyon Review, which operates out of Crafton Hills College. The magazine is looking for author submissions, and if anyone would like to have their work published, send it in now to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well we have finished The Sand Canyon Review, and have sent it in to be printed and published. If anyone wants to be featured in next years edition please send in your material now. We accept poetry, short stories, non-fiction essays, art, and photographs.
Here are some helpful guidelines to make your writing the best it can be.
Critiquing Poetry (Including Your Own)
by Gwyneth Box
It's always difficult to be objective about your own writing, because of the personal associations. Despite this, if you hope to find a publisher, you must try and write as well as you can, which includes objective assessment and often ruthless editing.
Here are some things to consider when critiquing your own or other poets' work:
Subject. If the poem is personal, does it rise above the purely individual and become more widely relevant? It's easy to forget that poetry is art, not a diary entry, nor journalism. It does not have to reflect the truth exactly as it happened. The facts are no more than raw materials and you should manipulate, adapt and polish until they fit your needs. This alteration gives you a greater chance of writing something that touches other people, rather than something that is dismissed as an adolescent angst poem.
Does the poem deal with one of the 'big' subjects like love or peace? If so, does it show a new perspective? Or is it stating what has already been said many times? It's usually better to avoid the big issues, or, at least, not to try and deal with the whole thing at once: one specific small incident or image is usually worth a lot more than overwhelming generalizations which tend to result in cliché-ridden verse.
Title. Not all poems have a title, but if they do, it should add something to the piece. The first line is useful for reference or filing purposes, but rarely works as a title. Nor should you necessarily use a direct quote from the poem. This is particularly true of short poems where the repetition of a phrase in title and poem may detract from its effectiveness.
Form and Structure. There are many formal poetry structures (sonnets, sestinas, dizains, villanelles etc), but sometimes one is more appropriate than another. A well-written sonnet, for example, is a lovely tool for putting forward two contrasting ideas or views of one subject, and then rounding off with a conclusion in the couplet. It is not, however, the ideal form for narrating a story.
Of course you don't need to use a traditional form: there's nothing wrong with free verse, if it's the best form for what you're trying to say. But do make a conscious decision: the form and content should complement each other.
Rhyme. Rhyming couplets and iambic quatrains are difficult to use for serious poetry as the idea often gets subordinated to the form, resulting in doggerel. The same is true of constant end-rhyme: it's tempting to twist the word order, or use archaic vocabulary, to force the content to fit the form. Remember that you can use half rhyme, which is less obtrusive than full rhyme, and internal rhyme, too. And, of course, there are other sound devices such as assonance and alliteration, which can (and perhaps should) be used.
Meter. Very few people nowadays believe that verse must have a perfectly regular meter; however, it is still an important aspect of poetry. Even free verse makes use of rhythm to convey or strengthen meaning. One way to find out if your poem works metrically is to read it out loud. If you find that you have to put unnatural stress on an article or preposition, or you have to scurry to cram too many syllables in too short a space, go back and re-work it. Don't ever be satisfied with 'I can make it sound right'; ask yourself honestly if someone else could.
One more thing -- don't think that slipping in an extra article, pronoun, 'and' or 'but' to make it scan is always the best solution: consider whether that syllable is really necessary. Don't pad; rewrite.
Layout and line breaks. Line breaks and verse structure don't automatically make something a poem. The breaks work together with punctuation to show the reader how the poem is to be read. Again, reading out loud is important to find the natural pauses, and the places where you need to guide the reader.
A common beginners' error is to end-stop all lines instead of using enjambment -- where the grammatical sense continues beyond the line end onto the next line -- which can make a big difference to the flow. In rhyming poetry enjambment can make the rhyme less obtrusive.
Poetry has been described as writing where the author has more control than the typesetter over the finished presentation. Even so, it's important to think carefully before you start using complex designs. You may think that your work looks better centered, or with every second line indented, but what does this actually add to the poem? A weak poem will not be improved by fancy layout.
Of course it can be fun to fit a piece about a mouse into the animal shape or to give it a long tail, as Lewis Carroll did, but is it more than a gimmick? Remember that poetry is, to a great extent, a verbal art form: do you really want your poem to rely on visual presentation?
Sound. I've already suggested reading out loud, but it's so important that I have no hesitation in repeating myself. The sound of poetry is fundamental, and unless you read each draft out loud again and again you cannot begin to make the best choices. By which I mean choices of vocabulary, punctuation, line breaks: they are all so tightly interwoven that they can hardly be considered separately.
Incidentally, reading out loud also helps with proof reading, which is fundamental: it's extremely irritating to see an otherwise effective poem ruined by typographic errors. If the poets care so little for their own work that they aren't prepared to use a dictionary or spell checker, why should I be interested in it?
Finally, a few more points that you need to be on the lookout for:
• Clichés: 'Emerald green hills' and 'wintry winds' have been described so often that they should be avoided, as should 'poetical' words like 'heart', 'soul', 'moonlight' and 'love'. They may be fine in parody, but it's very hard to write something new and serious using such worn vocabulary.
• Internally consistent images: metaphors and similes are a poet's tools, but they need to have some kind of internal logic. Consider 'the train disappeared into the tunnel like a mouse into its hole'. It's true that the tunnel entrance might be like a mouse hole, but can the train be like a mouse? It isn't shaped like a mouse, nor does it move like one. Try and be as objective as possible about your comparisons and images. Will they work for other people?
• Appropriate vocabulary: you may consider that moggy, pussy, cat and feline are synonyms, but I don't think you could necessarily use them all in a serious poem.
• Superfluous adjectives and adverbs: often the image comes across more effectively if the reader has to work a bit: don't use a list of adjectives where one judiciously chosen one will work as well. Each adjective tends to weaken the noun; each adverb weakens the verb.
• Showing or telling: if you say 'I was happy' I have to take your word for it. If, instead, tell me the symptoms of your happiness -- how you saw the world around you, how your body felt etc -- I can deduce your happiness for myself and empathize with it.
Hardcore Critique Guidelines
by Amy Sterling Casil
When we criticise work, we are commenting for the purposes of publishability, and our goal is to help authors to become publishable and published writers.
For prose pieces, the following issues are critically important:
1. Plot - does the action make sense? Is what is written moving the story forward? Sometimes, the pieces are too short or are fragments, so a complete plot analysis isn't possible. Most pieces can be judged within the first few sentences for effective plot beginnings, however. That's what editors do.
a. Does the story start at the right place (the beginning?) Most stories by beginning writers start far too early - way before the key action takes place. Some, however, may start too far forward. These writers have taken the advice of "start with the action at full steam" too literally.
b. Is the pacing appropriate to the story? Too fast? Too slow? Just right?
c. Is the plot a real plot (a character, in context, with a problem)? Are things happening which seem to have no discernable reason or purpose?
d. Are there unconvincing coincidences passing for plot? "I saw Prunella at the A & P that afternoon. I couldn't believe it when she told me that she had the other half of the key to the Ancient Peruvian Treasure Box which I had been seeking, the very one which had brought upon the murder of Uncle Henry by the ravening pirates."
e. The ending: is the payoff adequate to the buildup? Does the ending make sense? Is it satisfying? Does it arise from character and situation or is it "deus ex machina," where the Cavalry suddenly comes riding in over the hill to save the hero and heroine? Most importantly: were the seeds of the ending sown in the beginning?
2. Hook - Is the beginning adequate to catch the reader's interest? Another key issue related to publishability. Is there the proper balance of action, dramatization, and narrative? Sometimes, more narrative is needed, as in the pieces where the author will begin with a lot of unattributed dialog. The dialog might be saying exciting things, like:
"I'll kill you, Jim!"
"No you won't, I'll rip your arms out of their sockets first."
"Darn you, Jim! Just pass me that ketchup."
OK, here's killing, anger, conflict . . . but who? Where? Who cares? Other beginning errors include hooks that are a bit too strong: and I've seen child abuse, rape, incest, this type of thing. The reader has to care about the story and characters first, not be thrown into a situation from which they will instinctively recoil.
3. Characterization - are the people of the story believable? In the case of some of the work we've seen, one wonders if the characters which are being written about are people. Some beginning writers use genderless, nameless characters. While this might have been done in some avant-garde writing, this isn't usually the type of writing which is accepted in the SF world.
Urge the basics:
a. Names - good ones - indicative of character, which make sense. "Tom, Dick and Harry" just don't cut it. With all the great names in the world, let's promote some creativity in character-naming.
b. Dialog and action fits with and supports character. Meek, sensitive characters shouldn't scream or suddenly pull out Ninja weapons unless it's a comic piece.
c. Gender, place, time, dress and manner of characters should all go together to support good characterization.
d. Physical descriptions are appropriate to the piece. A viewpoint character should not be able to describe himself, unless it's integral to the plot. The good 'ol, "Susie sees herself in a mirror" trick should always be pointed out to the author. Physical description of viewpoint characters can be done indirectly, by the reactions of others to the character and the character's own interaction with the world of the story.
4. Point of View - whose story is being told and who is telling it?
a. Omniscient narrators are pretty much on the outs in the current publishing world. The omniscient narrator hops from head to head, from scene to scene and place to place and there is no single point of view or voice, other than the author's.
b. First-person narrator. A difficult voice for the beginner, though many people often think it is "easy." The first-person narrator can only tell what he experiences and knows. This can be a powerful, but also a limiting voice. It is often thought to bring the reader into the story, but poorly-done first person narration has the opposite effect. The reader becomes aggravated by the character, and generally quits reading. A good example of when first-person narration is inappropriate: stories told by people who are dead or in comas, unless it's a horror or surrealistic story.
Of course, Dalton Trumbo's, "Johnny Got His Gun," the famous World War I story, was told from the point of view of Johnny who had no arms, legs, eyes and was deaf from a war wound - a unique and effective story not likely to be repeated.
c. Third-person narrator. Also called, "limited third-person point of view." This is the most common narrative style used in novels and short stories. The technique uses limited authorial intrusion, and done properly, can bring the reader in as close to the story or closer to it than can first-person narration. A point-of-view character is selected and the story told from that character's perspective.
d. Common mistakes include:
i. Head-hopping: switching back and forth between different characters' thoughts and opinions.
ii. POV slipping: telling something that the POV character couldn't possibly know.
iii. WRONG point-of-view character. Sometimes stories are told from the wrong character's point of view. This is an error in plot, related to the point-of-view issue. If the author more fully understood the story's plot, he or she would have automatically and easily chosen the appropriate character to "tell" the story.
5. Style - is the writing appropriate to the story? Style is subjective, but true errors in style are glaringly obvious.
a. Tone. Is a serious story being told in a flippant tone? Or a comical story told in a plodding, self-conscious style? Most common, especially with younger writers: inappropriate irony, otherwise known as "smarting off."
b. Anachronisms or Freudian slips. In historical stories, are characters using modern phrases? Or, do inappropriate comments slip into the narrative, for instance, in a tense scene of financial intrigue, does one character suddenly say to another, "I love your see-through blouse, Frieda?" Are characters acting appropriately for their age and stage in life?
c. Usage/Confusion errors. The gerund problem is among these. "Pulling on his boots, he leapt to the door with his gun." Gerunds used in this manner are usually associated with two unrelated clauses jammed together with a comma. The author needs to use separate sentences which portray clear and understandable action and narrative. This is lazy, confused writing.
Psychologically, I think it signifies a confusion as to what the appropriate story and/or action is, because most often, I've seen very beginning writers do it when they are tired or bored and don't know what to do with the story.
Misplaced modifiers and split infinitives also fall into this category.
Sentence fragments? Sometimes they are appropriate, if they seemed planned or intentional and are not excessively used.
d. "Taking the reader for granted." Otherwise known as "The urge to explain." The great phrase, "RUE" or "Resist the Urge to Explain," is used in the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne and King.
"I'll never darken your doorstep again, you thieving hussy!" Johnny slammed the door furiously. He was angry. He had never been so angry in his life. Thank you, author, I got it the first time . . .
Simply put, authors make this error when they use dialog, narrative summary and action to accomplish the same purpose. Dialog and action can both be strong methods of communicating plot developments; narrative summary less-so, but it has its place.
"Thirty years passed and Monica had never kissed another man." That's narrative summary - preferable to detailing Monica's turn-downs of men over a 30-year period.
e. Lack of variation in sentence length or sentence structure. Too many short sentences? Too many long, run-on sentences? A long sentence or two can be interesting, but not every sentence. An ungrammatical, confusing sentence is exactly that, and is never good writing.
f. Excessive use of passive voice. Passive voice is often mistaken for the past-perfect tense. Passive voice refers to the reversal of the "normal" subject/verb order of a sentence. Tenses of verbs serve to indicate time and order of events. When writing about the past, or indicating various moods, past-perfect verbs are very useful, and they have nothing to do with "passive voice."
"Bob hit the ball" is "active" voice, the normal sentence order in English.
"The ball was hit by Bob" is passive voice. The subject, "the ball," comes before the verb.
You might see something like "The speech by Mayor Bob was given in his usual sarcastic tone." Normal sentence order would be: "Mayor Bob gave the speech in his usual sarcastic tone."
Passive voice isn't a major point in fiction writing: if it is used to excess, there are usually other severe problems in plot and style which are more harmful than passive voice alone.
g. Internal dialog passing for emotions or plot. Many beginning writers do this. At its most extreme, the internal dialog is actually the author's own thoughts as they ruminate along the page, not those of the character. "What would Mary do? Would she fire the gun at John, or would she turn it on herself? What would happen if she fired the gun at the floor? How could she ever decide?" Please, Mary, decide. Please, author, don't tell us what happened until Mary decides. Sometimes, this sort of internal dialog can be unintentionally hilarious, like the authors who are going along with the story and suddenly say, "this is really boring. When is this going to be over?" Soon, I hope.
6. Dialog: is it good? A good ear for dialog is something which is difficult to learn. It's easy to spot when a writer is good at dialog. Conversations should be believable and serve to advance the plot. Good dialog is not realistic dialog, it is dialog which advances the story, shows character and echoes in the reader's mind.
a. "Maid and Butler dialog" is dialog where two characters tell each other things they already know. It is often used to attempt to tell backstory or to explain concepts the author thinks the reader won't understand. In SF, we know this as the "infodump."
b. Flowery dialog: sometimes found in Romance writing, Historical writing or Fantasy writing, these are characters who speak language which never issued from a human mouth. High language can be appropriate in all of those genres, but dialog like this:
"Margaret, your lips are as sweet as the nectar from a honeyed buttercup," Lord Brockston Bragg ejaculated.
"Oh, Brockston, I can feel your . . . it's . . . it's pulsating, Brockston," Margaret exhaled.
. . . is never appropriate.
c. Bad tags. "Said" is fine, as well as the occasional whisper or shout, indicating volume (but even that's not necessary). Bad tags include "exhaled," "ejaculated," "shrieked," "sputtered," "muttered," "murmured," and all other verbs attributed to a line of dialog instead of appropriate action, description and good dialog which speaks for itself.
Marianne cupped her hand by my ear. "He's going to try it now. Just watch," she said. Whispering is pretty much understood.
Bob sighed and opened his mouth, then sighed again. "Can't," he said at last. "Can't do it." (Beats "stuttered," or "sputtered," followed by "Bob stuttered. He had stuttered since he was seven and the Burnsey boys had whipped him behind Old Man Gruenpfluegel's barn.")
7. Originality and creativity. The most important part! We should be encouraging people to use their imaginations and to think beyond the first ideas which pop into their heads. Cliched plots and characters and situations, like "Worldmaster Gray" and "the spacefaring couple who crash on a planet and turn out to be . . . Adam and Eve!" fall into this area. Originality in character, plot and setting is very important and goes a long way toward contributing to the quality of any kind of fiction writing.
Amy Sterling Casil © 1996
This article is Copyright. Reproduction and distribution specifically prohibited. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with the author's permission.
Air -- Gemini, Libra, Aquarius -- "These signs can communicate well; they tend to be intellectual, and they are able to handle abstract reasoning. They are logical, broadminded, objective, idealistic, and unprejudiced. Misused, they can be cold and impractical." I am a Gemini and I think that this describes me pretty well.
I am 21 years old, and I have two brothers. One is my twin named Josh, the other is 12 and his name is Phillip. Phillip is Autistic and has cerebral palsy, but aside from being classified as mentally retarded, and being mildly physically handicapped, he enjoys life; and can do almost everything that boys his age enjoy doing. Despite having cerebral palsy, he walks, runs, and jumps, without a wheelchair, or braces, walkers, etc. He enjoys swimming and can dogpaddle pretty well, even in deep water. He also has seizures, but they happen infrequently, and he recovers from episodes quickly. Phillip likes music and art, and for an odd reason toilets and bathrooms. I often joke that if he isn't a professional musician or artist he will be a plumber.
Josh and I attend Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa California, Josh wants to be an actor, and I want to be a writer. I work at McDonald's, Josh is unemployed, but he got excepted into ROP which stands for Regional Occupational Program, and they will train him for a career. Well Josh is no longer interested in Forestry and is taking classes in Library Science. We still live with our parents, but I will try and move out in the next few years.
I am a Non-Denominational Christian. I am half practicing, because I don't attend church on Sundays. I do go to a Christian group called Praxis on Wednesdays.
Favorite Adult Shows
Top 10: All the CSI's, All the Law & Order's, Criminal Minds, 24, Prison Break, Cold Case, L.A. Dragnet, 2&1/2 Men, Life According to Jim, Everybody Loves Raymond.
Favorite Kid Shows
Top 10: Spongebob Square Pants, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Mr Meaty, Teen Titans, The Bat Man Series, Dexter's Laboratory, Tom & Jerry, Looney Toons, The Old Rugrats series.
Favorite Books: This could take a while to find out because I have a lot of favorites. I think that I should list at least one non fiction book. I like Fiction better than non-fiction, however I should read more non fiction to expand my mind.
I just finished a good non fiction book called "Confessions of a Spy." It is about a man named Aldrich Ames who worked for the CIA, and eventually became a double agent for the KGB in the mid 80's. He was caught 10 years later in 1994. I recommend this book to anyone who has not yet read it.
Top Ten: The Harry Potter Series, Piercing The Darkness, This Present Darkness, The Animorphs Series, Calvin and Hobbes comic book collections, The Peanuts comic book collections, (I don't know if this qualifies and I don't care)
RACISM IS WRONG!
Racism is wrong and can often times destroy people's self confidence. It's a horrible and cruel way to treat people. To prove that we are all alike, try this simple experiment: Hold your hand up to a light of some kind. You'll see a shadow cast nearby. Now, have someone of a different race hold their hand up too. You'll see, essentially, the same image. Five fingers and a palm. Skin color doesn't matter when you get right down to it. If you are against racism, copy this message and my symbol for equality to your profile.
( o o ) = ( o o )
Here is a ballot that I would like to see in the Presidential Elections, or any election for that matter.
A. Vote for Pedro(That’s me, the guy who created this ballot.)
B. Yourself (Insert your name here)
C. (Insert the name of whomever you think would be a good President. It doesn’t matter, vote for past or even dead Presidents, other historical figures, celebrities, fictitious characters, this would be a perfect way to vote for yourself twice, even better vote for me twice.)
D. Vote for everybody(For people who don’t know who to vote for. Or for people who believe that everybody should have equal, and shared power.)
E. Vote for nobody(For people who don’t believe that any of the candidates deserve to hold the highest public office)