[Request] Feedback on my Writing

by atucker1 min read30th Oct 20119 comments

7

Personal Blog

I've written some posts.

I'd like to get better at writing posts.

I still have some more material for posts.

I'd like to write it well.

 

So, would people be willing to critique my work so far?

Particularly helpful-awesome would be pointing out things I did well somewhere that I didn't do well somewhere else. Also nice would be pointing out what I did badly and well.

Crocker's Rules apply.

 

Miscellaneous:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/7ix/story_rejection/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/80t/thinking_in_bayes_light/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/64t/foma_beliefs_that_cause_themselves_to_be_true/

Consciousness:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/7pm/blindsight_and_consciousness/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/7yr/neural_correlates_of_conscious_access/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/81w/the_protagonist_problem/

Just do it:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/53e/just_try_it_quantity_trumps_quality/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/4up/dont_fear_failure/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/4ln/go_try_things/

9 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:01 PM
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I will focus on your miscellaneous pieces.

Rejection

I will go through the story pointing out stylistic problems, semantic contradictions, and things that are unclear to the reader for no good reason. I will then try to summarize everything in a few points.

I felt electric. It was as if my blood was made up of cool and charged water, chilling my bones as it energized my flesh,

This metaphor is confusing, because it clashes with the metaphor of blood being weak and helpless when it's like water (consider the meaning of "blood thicker than water"). "Flesh" is too Biblical and archaic a word to be used alongside the modern "energize". Finally, the energetic feeling you want to convey here might be better served with a direct metaphor (not "it was as if...", but simply "My blood was..."). Just something to keep in your toolbox and be aware of.

Reflecting, I decided that I would be in a more central position if I stood in front of the exit door, and my body swayed over there.

You don't need to reflect to decide that - that's something you just feel immediately with your awareness of the space around you. Near the exit door == central position, not much thinking there; "reflecting" implies a nontrivial chain of thought. You might have reflected you wanted to be in a more central position - that would take reflection.

More importantly, if you decided to go to the front door, your body didn't sway over there (strongly implies lack of conscious intention).

My head was a bit foggy, but my path was clear.

It isn't clear whether "path" here is meant spatially or metaphorically (perhaps the path to the exit door as your body is swaying over there - who knows how far it is?). Probably metaphorically, but the reader is momentarily confused.

The outside world or my thoughts were racing by, but I could couldn't tell which.

This is a bad cliche. You always can tell which. In this case it was possibly both. The more frequent sibling of this cliche is "I don't know if minutes or hours passed [as I was contemplating or feeling something]" - almost always false, and horribly overused.

The girl who had glanced at me while I was sitting down looked up.

She goes in and out of the story in one sentence. You're setting up a false expectation for the reader for no good reason. Why not say something about her later on? E.g. you may have glanced at her as you were exiting the train and seen her gaze glued to her book.

I noticed a few other eyes glancing up towards me while I was walking, and felt like I was at risk for shattering into a bunch of pieces.

I think you're already standing at the door at this point, so "I'd noticed", or move that earlier. It's also not clear why people would glance up at you as you walk towards the exit door, unless you were swaying really dramatically.

I was ready for anything,

Doesn't really mean anything.

but there was only one thing I was thinking of doing.

Too bombastic and so creates a comic effect.

The train stopped moving.

This really stumped me, because as I was reading I took this to be metaphorical - you feel stunned, having just said the words it was so difficult to say, and intensely anticipating the reaction, so things like the sound of the moving train tune out. But later on you walk off the train in just a few seconds, so perhaps you mean that it literally stopped at just this point. If so, it's not at all clear when reading. You should set up with some earlier words either the metaphorical or the literal reading, and take care that it's not surprising that you just walk off the train a few seconds later (or postpone the walking off, if you decide this happens mid-stations after all).

I intended to look around, but I'm not convinced that I actually did. [...] I looked around expectantly

Yeah, you did. Choose one and stick to it. Also, perhaps "I'd intended". And actually, chuck the "intended", it's too academic a word here.

I wanted to have some time to see other people's reactions, but as far I can tell, I could only look at an oblique angle through the window that was above where I was sitting when I was reading.

This sentence doesn't work: the "but" part doesn't explain why you didn't have some time to do that, it explains why you didn't do it. Maybe "spend" instead of "have"? Also, "as far as I can tell" is too uncertain: it was definitely clear to you that you couldn't move your head and face the crowd.

to the side of people who did not fit my demographic expectations of a person who would actually say yes.

Too vague. I don't have even the slightest idea of who you thought might say yes.

A few went back to their distractions.

Were the others still staring at you, or did they not look up at you in the first place? And why 'distractions'? You're the distraction, not whatever they were doing.

[cont'd]

[cont'd]

I semi-purposefully turned around and walked off the train.

If you wanted to walk off and you walked off, it was full-purposefully. Semi-purposefully is when you go through the motion and hesitate.

My legs were shaking in the way they did back when I was scared of public speaking, my knees feeling like rounding errors in their control code was threatening to make them send my shin in all sorts of nasty directions, while the tensed muscles in my leg seemed to hold it all together. The world did not end. Weird.

Too purple. Perhaps if you broke this huge sentence into three, so that the "digital" metaphor in the knees didn't feel out of place in the immediate presence of quite normally physiological legs and muscles.

I felt like throwing up. Luckily, the sensation was blocked in my chest by a collision with some coldhot coming from my arms.

I'm having trouble imagining this, and it seems unintentionally funny more than anything else. Sorry. If you really felt this "collision", rather than just feeling both cold and hot in your arms and about-but-not-quite to throw up, try to find other words to explain it better. E.g. maybe the feelings in your extremities distracted you from your plan to throw up. "Collision" brings up an image of some kind of physical nexus where they meet up and sit for tea.

They seemed to be really in control.

The arms seemed to be in control of what? Your entire body, your throwing up reflex?

“You should've focused on individuals, made direct eye contact no that would be creepy”

Your thought wouldn't contract "have", just like it wouldn't say "ain't". It doesn't speak to you in the vernacular, it speaks directly in the thought-language (let's ignore the fact that this whole thoughts-speaking thing is a literary device anyway).

“Why did you do this on a metro? People don't talk to other people here, just go to UMD or a party or something and you'll win so hard”

But I thought you needed to lose, because that's the game? I'm confused.

My heart sank a little, but not as much as my first rejection.

This makes your rejection sink. "not as much as during/after my first rejection".

My pride caught it -- I had done exactly what I had intended to do.

Why the accosting thoughts then? Also, the image of your pride sprinting to catch the sinking heart is just too comic.

General impressions:

  • Your prose is unfocused. Not enough attention is given to every word and sentence, and consequently it's often unclear to the reader what exactly are you trying to say. There are small contradictions between nearby sentences that make it difficult to maintain the mental image of what's happening to the hero as I'm reading through the story. There are many stylistic blemishes.

  • There're surprisingly many confusions between the literal and the metaphorical sense of words/phrases. Try to remove your knowledge of the story/feelings and read the story with the fresh eyes of a reader who wasn't there. Keep up a mental image of what the reader already knows about the situation from your words so far. Question every sentence, asking whether it's clear to the reader, whether it unintentionally relies on some part of your understanding you neglected to convey beforehand.

  • Your characters are unfocused. It's not clear whether the narrator wants/expects someone to answer (says so at one point) or not (seems to set up the scene to exit immediately after his words, pride at the end, the nature of the rejection game). It's even fine if you want to hide that from the reader, but you're sending mixed signals. The other characters don't exist at all. That is weird. If you were so tense you noticed absolutely nothing about that, say that in some way that's clear to the reader (and remove the words about the "demographic expectations" because they make it seem like you'd coldly studied the passangers and could say something about them).

  • You don't spend enough time indicating to the reader what you felt, rather than saying it directly. You keep saying you felt this and you felt that, but even when narrating from the vantage point inside your skull, it will be more interesting to the reader to infer some of the feelings rather than be given a verbose list. Sweat can indicate tension. A smile as you exit (or open your kindle) can indicate a feeling of pride or accomplishment. You can shake your head to make the nagging thoughts go away. You can grasp a handlebar awkwardly as you step off the train, hinting at the strain you're feeling. Your weak knees can make you almost, but not quite, stumble. In short, show yourself, show your behavior and let us understand through that some of what you're feeling, even if you're also narrating a mental picture at the same time. Your readers will feel closer to the character, will feel they understand the character better. Reading short stories written in various styles, and paying close attention to what is said, what is implied, and what is left unsaid and unimplied, should help. E.g. Hemingway's stories - "Hills Like White Elephants" famously so - manage to say a whole lot by focusing on external behavior only, and that very sparsely.

atucker: if I were to read just one of these nine articles, which one should I pick?

The Protagonist Problem.

Thanks -- I read 'The Protoganist Problem' and, necessarily, 'Neural correlates of Conscious Access'.

Overall, I liked both articles (I missed them before, somehow). I learned a few things about the research into consciousness - especially from 'Neural correlates...'. For me it didn't really add up to a real understanding of consciousness, but that's hardly the fault of these articles.

In 'Neural correlates...' the jump from these EEGs to Global Workspace Theory seems a bit sudden. In 'The Protaganist...' it would be nice to start with a rough overview of the various theories. It could be made a bit clearer how the Global Workspace Theory relates to the Self-Model Theories of Consciousness (they're at different levels, I gather). Also, how do the models that e.g. Dennett and (related) Drescher have proposed fit in?

So -- fairly minor things. Overall, I liked your articles, and hope more will follow.

Are you asking for public criticism in comments here, or private criticism in a message to you?

Interesting point: saying "Crocker's Rules apply" doesn't really tell.

Hm. If someone says (in public) "Crocker's Rules apply" and I respond (in public) with that in mind and they later object that they meant in private, that feels pretty clearly to me like a bait-and-switch. If there's anyone around for whom that isn't true (including but not limited to Vladimir) I'd love to have that confirmed... I'd be very surprised.

Interesting question.

I'd like most comments to be in the comments here so that they can be upvoted/downvoted.

I suppose that if a commenter says something that they don't want to be public, they should PM me.