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Sample of Writing Feedback

The sample writing feedback here is an abbreviated version of a manuscript evaluation, which normally provides 6 to 10 pages of feedback.

I. General Comments for Your Story

I imagine that you poured your soul into the writing of this piece, and the authenticity shows. You provide a gratifying social context that illustrates both the sad reality of young people forced by events to live in an environment of fear, and also the disquieting vulnerability of expatriate life in another country during a time of political unrest.

Your writing is accomplished and I found your story both moving and fascinating. The protagonist, possibly still somewhat roughly drawn at this point, manages nevertheless to create a strong impression. At no point did I find him unbelievable, and I found myself rooting for him whenever he encountered any opposition. You handled the dialogue well, and you used speaker attributions sparingly and with skill, while also managing to write natural-sounding dialogue.

You demonstrate Character A's strength well through both actions and dialogue. The story could, however, be enhanced through deeper characterization, and by creating more tension throughout the story. As the narrative is not plot oriented and has no strong story question, increased tension in the writing will pull readers forward all the way through to the end.

II. Content

A. Organization

The writing loosely follows a conventional short story structure, but the focus is on character more than on plot. Nevertheless, you have unified the elements through the use of the school year, and through your characters [I'll call them A, B, & C to preserve the author's privacy].

The result is what editors call a "quiet" story, which really means that there is not a lot of plot activity, though the hockey game provides some potential. This quietness is unlikely to cause literary editors a problem, as long as you have very compelling characters, which you do. However, you could do more with these characters, and you could also strengthen the story by introducing more conflict and tension.

The hockey game strikes me as a missed opportunity because you could crank up the tension in the game, and do slightly more with the dodgy win that A orchestrates when he gets the goalie disqualified. The trouble at the end will have more of an impact if you make more of that action. Don't overdo it, but readers need to experience A's elation with the win to feel the corresponding disappointment when B doesn't acknowledge him after the game. I also wonder if you might introduce B and his motivation earlier in the story. He comes in on page five now, and you will create a unifying effect if you introduce him around the same time you have A in a hockey meeting on 9/11.

B. Characterization

You've done a fine job with characterization, but you could improve the story further by doing more. A and C stand out as memorable characters, but too much about them is told, rather than shown. If the reader experiences more of the sensory details as the characters experience them, the characters will become even more compelling. B, however, gets a bit lost in the story. Part of the problem with B is that readers don't know at first who he is.

Is he the chemistry professor? If so, shouldn’t you call him Professor B? For a long time I wondered if he was the thirdrate player (mentioned only once) who now owns a store. Much later in the story, I learned that man is the unnamed coach.

For better clarity, they all need names, so unless you have a good reason not to, make it clear the first time you mention the third rate player that he coaches. Once that is all cleared up, Professor B will seem to play a larger role, and indeed can play an even larger one if you show what is currently told in summary.

C. Dialogue

You don't use much dialogue in this story, but when you do, it feels authentic. You have chosen to summarize, rather than to show through dialogue, and the story would benefit if you reversed the current balance so you have more dialogue and only occasional summary.

You also write strong internalizations or inner monologues, which are also interesting and genuine. However, you might change how you introduce these internalizations. I've demonstrated this in marginal comments in the text, but you needn't say something like "A wondered if he'd want to go to college in the U.S., given the opportunity, or if he would prefer to go back to Canada."

That tells the reader what he thinks, when you might instead allow the reader into his head. The immediacy of that approach will add power to the piece and is in keeping with the third person limited POV. So show, don't tell. For example, you might get the same thought across more directly by writing, "Did he want to go to the outside college? Probably not. Not even if it meant a hockey scholarship. Not even if his parents thought he should. Especially if they thought he should." (You would not use the quotation marks, however. Never use quotation marks for thoughts.)

D. Setting

The setting is largely missing in this story. I recall only the description of the rink, with its wall of tall glass windows. You could do much more with this. Before you do, ask yourself what mood you wish to get across. Is it fear, inner turmoil, or vulnerability? Whichever fits, make your setting contribute to that overall feeling.

If you wish to convey fear, you might place shadows, have dark corners, or creaking floors, anything you can think of to contribute to the sense of fear. You might have him park around back where everything is eerie, not in front under safe bright lights. To portray vulnerability, brainstorm fresh ideas. Solitary items may suggest vulnerability, in certain circumstances. Someone staring him down while simultaneously crushing a lone soft drink can might suggest vulnerability, as might the big empty rink, or wide, barren fields.

Much of the story focuses around the hockey rink, so I found myself wondering what that meant to you.

E. Believability and Research

I never once questioned the authenticity of the story. It ends rather abruptly, however, and I am surprised when A says B knows "dick" about hockey, as A has not come across as an angry person. However, just as when he says he doesn't care about the war, his response is entirely appropriate, and serves to remind readers that he is only seventeen.

F. Point of View

The POV is inconsistent. Initially, I believed you wished to write in the third person limited POV, limited to everything A experienced or thought. Then, with the introduction of this line: "He had an uncanny ability to produce only sufficient marks to ensure his freedom to play ball hockey after school," I believed you wanted to write in the omniscient POV, with an external narrator, as A would not think of himself as having "an uncanny ability." The summary also suggests an omniscient third person narrator. However, in other places in the narrative A, or occasionally C, tells the story from a personal perspective. So make a conscious decision about the POV you will use, and work to remain consistent.

G. Topicality

This story is particularly topical at the moment, and you handled the subject matter well with C, who is at first supportive, but toward the end seems more suspicious and confrontational with A.

The themes of the story—struggle, nationalism, fitting in, living in fear—all of these are archetypal in nature and always of interest. My one caution here is to decide what you want this story to "say." A conventional plot structure arranges the story events so the reader sees, through the setup, the story world in its normal state. Then something happens to change that normality and present a problem that the character, with difficulty, sets about trying to right. Before he rights his world, he experiences many complications, and something big happens to test him, and he acts. This action leads to the resolution of the problem, either to his satisfaction or not.

Considering these conventions may help you determine what would add clarity of purpose to this story. In the conventional narrative, when things go awry initially, and the character makes some decision about how to right his world, it is that decision that creates a story question. If A decides he wants to prove himself as a hockey star, then the story question becomes, "will A succeed and become a star?"

Of course the question is often much subtler than this, but readers need something to wonder about. If you don't give them that, you have to give them something else to draw them through the story. So the events you have chosen, and the ubiquitous nature of hockey in Canada, make good choices, as they tap into cultural interests. And you pull it off. The story is indeed worthwhile reading.

III. Writing

A. Technical Ability

You exhibit much technical proficiency, as outlined above, and use the elements of fiction to advantage except where noted.

B. Style

You've written this story somewhat passively, and this "telling" would be better rewritten to make the language more active. I have noted many places where you might work on that. You use language skillfully and have no grammatical concerns, so if you focus on showing rather than telling, your style will be even more engaging and readable.

IV. What to do

To recap, you will most improve the story if you give the following areas priority:

  • Rewrite to "show" rather than summarize so readers can have the same sensory and emotional experience the character would have

  • Expand your characterization by putting characters in situations where they must react, and then show that reaction

  • Make the protagonist's purpose clearer

  • Add a new layer of meaning to the story by detailing the setting

This process of evaluating your writing necessarily focuses on suggestions for improvement, but I hope that my comments also reflect how much I enjoyed this piece. I admire your ability. You managed the narrative well, with great subtlety. The story made me think, and your characters remain with me, particularly C, as you gave him such an interesting quality by making him a devil's advocate and by having him turn or change slightly at the end. I wish you much success in your rewrite, and in further writing, and I hope these notes provide ideas that spark your creativity.


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