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Delivering a Critique Burger

Isn’t that such a snobby name for a burger joint? You just picture all the customers criticizing every single bite of their burgers and saying, “meh. I’ve had better.” But it’s alright, that’s what the restaurant invites you to do in order to improve customer satisfaction!

Likewise with writing, receiving criticism can help improve one’s craft. Since writers usually expose the depths of their inner most desires and concerns within the world through the abstractions of fiction, receiving criticism may sometimes feel like it’s their entire personhood that is being criticized. Their work is an extention of themselves and so it may be hard for them to have emotional and objective distance from the glaring flaws that may be present in their work.

photocredit: www.clipartbest.com
photocredit: http://www.clipartbest.com

In order to keep a writer’s self-esteem in tact, and let them know you really are trying to help, use the Critique Burger style of delivery.

Imagine this burger represents your thoughts on a certain piece of work. The top and bottom buns are positive things you could say about a written piece, while everything in between represents the negative aspects that can be improved on. That is where the meat of criticism resides!

TOP BUN:

Since the top bun of the burger is bigger, this is where you should start off with huge compliments to help cushion the impending critique. It’s important to show that you understood what the piece was trying to convey in terms of emotional and philosophical themes.

For writers who like to write deep and meaningful stuff (such as myself), it is an absolute honour for readers to relay back to them what moral lessons they’re trying to instill their work with, or at least any subtle nuances that takes a clever mind to notice. So once you’ve begun your critique pointing out what the writer did right, you move on to the meat of the matter.

THE MEAT:

Pointing out the flaws in somebody’s work is the most juiciest and rewarding aspects of delivering criticism. When a writer opens themselves up for criticism, they must do it with the utmost humility and vulnerability–and the ones delivering the criticism must empathize with this–or the whole operation will stink. Sometimes the bearer of bad news lacks the tact to criticize effectively, the writer takes everything too personally, or a combination of both may occur, and that could lead to some sour interactions.

To increase your chances of keeping a critique session productive, keep in mind that constructive criticism comes in two forms: Conclusive Criticism and Inquisitive Criticism.

Conclusive Criticism

Conclusive Criticism comes in the form of bluntly telling the writer what may not be working out in their writing. This could be in the form of essays, poems, even memos, but since fiction is my forte, let’s focus on critiquing novels.

Every other form of writing will require criteria unique to each individual medium, but common criticisms for writing novels include:

  • Inconsistent plot points
  • Inconsistent characterization
  • Grammatical incoherence
  • Events or characters that don’t move the narrative forward
  • Verbal vomit that doesn’t serve the overall narrative
  • Scarce narrative that could use more detail
  • Pacing
  • Convoluted concepts
  • Lack of conflict
  • Lack of depth or direction
  • Lack of relatability/accessibility

…and much more. If you have some to add to this list–or a list for any other form of writing–feel free to leave a comment below!

At the meat of the matter, you’re basically given free reign to tell the writer where their story falls flat on its face so you can help them either trim the fat or fill in the gaps. Since most writing is rewriting, your criticisms (whether they’re rejected or accepted) are valuable in determining if there needs to be more or less–or a complete removal–of certain aspects in the piece.

Only by eliminating the fluff can you help a writer focus on where their story stands firmly on its feet, and gravitate towards strengthening the positive aspects you have pointed out in the top bun process.

Inquisitive Criticism

There have been times where I’ve opted for asking clarifying questions, instead of making any conclusive statements, in order to help fellow writers understand their own stories better. Inquisitive Criticism comes in the form of open ended questions that are designed to help a writer figure out the solutions to their work on their own terms.

This is my favourite method of giving and receiving criticism because who doesn’t love feeling like they’ve figured things out on their own? What gives me even greater joy is helping someone out without ever telling them what they need to do, because often times they already know somewhere deep inside, or just through Inquisitive Criticism do they figure it all out themselves.

The kinds of questions I’ve asked were in the lines of:

  • What kind of character is X supposed to be?
  • So then why did they do this instead of–?
  • Who is the character that contrasts their personality?
  • Why not put them in more scenes together?
  • What’s the importance of this scene?
  • What is your charater trying to achieve?
  • When was this particular scene foreshadowed?

BOTTOM BUN: 

Finally, at the end of your critique, you could restate the positive aspects you’ve already touched upon, or you can quickly mention a few more surface level positives. These could include word choice, notable dialogue, notable narrative points, or simply saying that you liked it as a whole. Coming full circle, this is where you can also state that if you did X, it could help embellish aspect Y of your story, and therefore Z can happen more logically.

Build Your Own Burger

Just like a real burger, people customize what they like to put in between the buns in conjunction with the meat. Likewise, you can choose between Conclusive and Inquisitive Criticism or combine them to your liking, and it will always ultimately be up to the writer whether to implement or discard your criticisms to the best of their judgement.

Understanding the the burger method of delivering criticism increases the guarantee of having your criticisms considered. Even if the writer doesn’t end up taking your advice, they will at least be given a lot to think about in the realm of possibilities.

“Constructive criticisms are merely suggestions, not commandments.”

How to apply this to your life:

Delivering a Critique Burger can immensely help you in having your opinions valued, either in a writing workshop or any other aspect in your life. This could range from personal to business relationships, and providing feedback this way will help others know that you recognize their merits, while also noting that there can be some improvements they can make so they become the best versions of themselves. Likewise, receiving criticism in this fashion will also give you an interesting and objective perspective on yourself where a variety of aspects can be considered and worked on.

Why this exercise is important:

Let’s face it, nobody’s perfect and nobody gets everything right the first time. With a little constructive criticism, we can help each other improve in many aspects in life. There is so much I could say as to why this exercise is important, but I think the ending quote of this post will be sufficient.

“We all have blind spots, but thankfully we don’t have the same ones.” – Stefan Molyneux

What are other methodologies of delivering criticism that you have found useful?

What did you think of the burger method? Do you believe that it could be helpful? If not, why not?

Whatever your thoughts are, I’m interested!

Feel free to criticize this very article if you’d like!

Save $20,000 on Therapy by Buying a $20 Journal

Gotcha! There are no shortcuts to self-knowledge.

Obviously you can not achieve the same results you would in therapy through journaling alone. However, there is still a goldmine of value you can gain from jotting your thoughts down on paper.  You can potentially save a sum of money by doing your own self-work before hand, but let me make this clear: I am not at all claiming that therapy should be replaced with journaling. Put together, both tools go hand in hand like different instruments in a band.

photocredit: http://www.bookriot.com

If you can’t afford to go to therapy or just don’t feel comfortable with opening up to a stranger you may or may not connect with, journaling could be an affordable and more comfortable alternative to dipping your toe into self-knowledge.

Journaling can be used in a variety of ways including outright emotional release, decluttering your mind, and organizing creative ideas to name a few–but for the express purpose of this post, let’s focus on pursuing self-knowledge through this practice.

Following in the principle I provided in The Free Fall Journal, you need to feel comfortable with writing down your thoughts and feelings, most especially when you journal for self discovery. It’s an invitation to have an open and honest dialogue with yourself, after all.

Now, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of that crazy guy you saw downtown arguing with himself at the street corner that one time, but I assure you it’s nothing like that. In fact, the reason why this man lost his mind enough to shamelessly berate himself in public is because he never learned how to keep it to himself and journal it out.

Just kidding!

Though within every joke, there is a hint of truth. We are not all that different from that guy, you and I. We all have an inner dialogue that runs through our heads all day, he just chooses to express it out loud, albeit in an unfiltered and frightening manner.

Keeping your most distressing thoughts and feelings to yourself doesn’t make them any less frightening unless you choose to write unfiltered. When we write about our experiences, we provide evidence to the contents of not only our minds, but most importantly the expression of our hearts.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

You can just as easily journal for the sake of emotional release, but when you pursue self-knowledge through journaling, it’s important to also examine the evidence so you can understand yourself better. Self-knowledge is all about understanding what sets you off and gets you off (your couch 😛 ).

Having the luxury of reading back what you’ve written, you’re bound to notice a few patterns. When you recognize certain patterns in your thought process, you can then spend the time to explore why you may have them, and then decide on whether or not to break them.

That’s not to say that all patterns are negative, but generally speaking, the ones that fill us with the most doubt and distress are usually the ones that require more than one entry.In fact, some of the best journal entries are the ones that span beyond different dates, either in chronological order or streamlined between other topics. If you find yourself revisiting certain events or themes in your life, it just means that you’re comitted to understanding that aspect of yourself.

“Pain demands to be felt.” – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I cannot promise your entire life will be saved and understood through journaling, and I can not speak much for therapy in that regard, but the only guarantee I can offer is that if you commit to this practice frequently, you will develop a better relationship with yourself. It doesn’t have to be everyday, sometimes you need the break, but come back to your journal frequently and you will notice that you gradually become more honest in your writing.

Be sure to have compassion for yourself when you come across things you may not like re-reading, especially immediately after writing. Those are indicators that you might need to make drastic changes in your life, or at the very least, learn to play the hand you have been dealt.

Keep in mind that your journal is a safe place for you to express yourself authentically. So just like free fall journaling, do not worry about poise or eloquence in the way you write. Sometimes I decide not to separate paragraphs and write in the most unreadable chicken scratch possible (take THAT, would be invaders of my private journal!)–vulnerability is expontentially more important.

photocredit: http://spectralfairy.deviantart.com/
photocredit: http://spectralfairy.deviantart.com/

It has been in my experience that the less I filtered myself, the happier I became. I used to just reiterate what I learned from the plethora of self-help books I read with the intent of simply reprogramming myself to think positively. Although it helped in the short term, it only masked the pain, rather than helping me understand and heal it.

When I go back to my old initial journal entries, I can sense how inauthentic it was to cover up my pain by forcing myself to think positive, just for the sake of faking happiness. I don’t doubt that thinking positive can have its benefits, but there’s a disconnect between mind and heart when it’s not genuine. When I realized this–and wrote from a place of truth instead of falsehood–that’s when I finally got to experience what authentic positivity feels like.

 

Do you journal? If so, how has your experience been?

If you’re new to journaling or thinking of trying it out, what do you look to gain from it?

 

Goal, Motivation, Conflict

One of the most important driving forces of fiction is characterization. Without character, there is no story.

The reason why many of us are drawn to the art of storytelling (be it from film, music, TV, theatre or books) is because we like to relate to the characters who have clear goals, motivations, and conflicts to help build their character arcs.

It may not be clear to them–at least not right away at the beginning of a story–but as an audience we can easily identify with these concepts because as human beings, we all have unique goals, motivations, and conflicts to be confronted with in our own lives.

hiking-hiker-standing-mountain-top-1024x682

Writing is just like anything in life, it not only requires practice to make perfect, but also preparation. You can not just run a marathon without having gone on your own runs every morning to exercise them leg muscles. Well, you could, but you would most likely not have the endurance or capacity to do so. If you do, then you are a unique super human whom I will bow down to and feed grapes to from now until the end of eternity.

To help prepare your character for the journey that lies ahead, you outline their goals, motivations, and conflicts in a chart that looks a little something like this:GMC Chart

This GMC Chart is designed to help you gain clarity in undertanding exactly what your character wants, why they want it, and the conflicts that will arise to help challenge them. Without pressure, challenge or conflict, characters cannot grow. Think about your own life for a second and all the hardships you may have faced. Can you imagine who you would be today without having had overcome them?

“Pressure makes diamonds.” – George S. Patton

Let’s take a quick look at the purpose of each section of the chart and why they’re important.

WANTS TO/GOAL: This is where the clear cut desire is stated and outlines what the character wants to achieve. At the internal level, it’s what they would like to achieve at a personal level and  how they will grow as a person. The external level describes the effect they would like to have in their immediate world, or the entire world at large depending on the size and scale of your story.

BECAUSE/MOTIVATION: Why does the character have this desire? Internally, what do they struggle with or wish to improve on within themselves? Externally, what is it about their current circumstances that drive them to action? Once a goal is set, they need to have logical (sometimes illogical) reasons why they desire these things or we won’t understand why we should root for them in the first place.

BUT/CONFLICT: The but is the meat of fiction (hehehe) where the character will face obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. Internally, what holds them back from moving forward? Ego, lack of confidence, vanity? Externally, what are the circumstances in the empirical world that stand in their way? Could it be a family member, a friend, or a flat out foe? This is the most essential aspect of a story for the reasons I stated above. Without challenge, there is no growth.

SO: And finally, the so describes the actions the character will take in order to overcome (or attempt to overcome) their challenges and grow from them. Internally, what will be the ultimate personal growth gained from this battle of attrition? Externally, what effect will their overall actions have on their friends, family, and the other characters in their proximity?

Have they gotten what they wanted, or have their desires changed throughout the course of the  story?

Let’s take a quick look at that question in greater depth. Typically, a character should have a desire that gets fulfilled at the end of the story in a linear fashion. The internal and external goals stay the same and they receive the right challenges they need to achieve their goals.

However, sometimes the internal goals change while the external goal stays the same. For instance, a man who was bullied in school may have the external goal to become a teacher for the internal purpose of regaining his lost power. Then maybe he confronts one of the bullies from his past and that bully actually apologizes for his past behaviour. And so this character may remain a teacher, but instead of using his position for power, his internal goal transforms into being an inspiring source of education for his students.

On the flip side, sometimes the internal goal may stay the same, but the external effect will change like for a woman who’s internal goal is to help people. She may start out as a real-estate agent and fulfill her goal by helping people find afforadble housing in areas convenient to their lifestyles, but as the story goes onward, she loses interest in flipping houses. Though since she still has the yearning burning desire to help people, perhaps she becomes a self-help author and motivational speaker to inspire people on how to live instead of where to live.

How to apply this to your life: 

The GMC chart is both used for the long-term and short-term clarification for what drives a character. A GMC chart can be made for an entire story’s overall narrative, but it’s also recommended that writers chart out the GMC for each chapter so there’s logical cohesion and progression throughout the story. You can do the same for the overall trajectory of your life and help understand your own goals and motivations, and then help identify the buts that butt in your way of achieving them. If you know what prevents you from your goals, you’ll have better understanding in what you need to do to overcome those conflicts.

“Knowing is half the battle!” – GI Joe. 

 Why this exercise is important:

Like writing the narrative of a character’s life, you can take control over your own with the GMC chart by identifying what your desires are and why they are important to you. Take the time to understand what’s holding you back in terms of your own inner-critic, as well the outer-critics in your life, and you can formulate an action plan to overcome them. It may be something as large as cutting poisonous people from your life or attempting to repair and transform your relationships–or it may be something as simple as stepping out of your own way.

 

Download the: GMC Template here!

The Free Fall Journal

One of the most common challenges in writing is the dreaded “Writer’s Block” phenomenon. It’s when you just don’t feel like writing for a variety of reasons, some of which include; lack of inspiration, doubt in one’s own abilities, and real life just to name a few. Perhaps in the future I will cover Writer’s Block in more depth, but for now I would like to present to you a helpful exercise that helps in combatting this wall of infinite confidence destruction.

free-fallThe Free Fall Journal is where you set a timer for yourself (from 10-30 minutes) and write to your heart’s content until the timer ends. The goal here is not to be fancy or eqloquent in your writing, rather free in expression as you fall into the page and simply let your thoughts out without stopping or editting in the process.

Whether you’re writing in long hand or typing into a document, never lift your pen off the page (except between words and punctuation of course) or your palms off your keyboard. Just write whatever comes to your stream of consciousness, even if it’s “I don’t want to write now, this is stupid. What the hell is that Marlon guy talking about?”

Writers and non-writers alike suffer from the plague of perfectionism, and writing a Free Fall Journal is a way of saying to hell with perfection as you allow yourself to write whatever feels natural. Maybe what comes to mind right away is gold or maybe it’s absolute crap. Who cares?!

The point is to feel free to express yourself without censorship and without self editting. We live in such a self-conscious society where we constantly worry about what people think of us, and sometimes we go insofar as to filter our own thoughts and think that they are worthless. Well, as long as you’re not planning anything malicious against another human being and are actually considering doing it, then feel free to think what you like. There’s no such thing as Thought Police except for in our own minds. Set your thoughts free! Try writing a Free Fall Journal.

How to apply this to your life:

Even if you’re not a writer, this exercise will help you feel comfortable with your own thoughts. You can write whatever you like; a delicious (or disgusting) recipe, manual instructions, a journal entry, or even the beginning of a story. The possibilities are endless. Remember, no one ever has to read it but you, and you might not even want to keep it, though I suggest you do for interesting re-reading purposes. You’ll be surprised by your own train of thought, sometimes even scared, and often for me, I get amused by what I’ve written.

Why this exercise is important:

As I mentioned earlier, we do live in a self-conscious society, usually afraid of outside opinions. Take back your dignity and self respect by trying out a Free Fall Journal. The only judge is you and it’s up to you to be fair, harsh, or even nice to yourself. A Free Fall Journal is a place where you can feel safe being unfilitered and unexamined by others, unless if you want to share it with people, that’s fine too.

So try it on for size, give yourself 10-30 minutes a day to free fall and you’ll be amazed by how freeing it is to your self esteem. I personally free fall to let myself write the stupidiest, incoherent, sometimes most vile crap just so I know it’s okay to express myself in a safe and creative way. Give yourself the same luxury! 

Mental Movies and the Method of Madness

Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book.
Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid, I used to staple stacks of blank paper into a book-like form, and write my own novels for my own entertainment. I would just spend countless of hours illustrating and writing among the pages after happily drawing a cover and slapping my name at the bottom.

Structuring the story according to how many more pages I had left, I knew that when I got to the 3 staples in the middle of these makeshift novels, it was the halfway point of the story and the stakes had to increase. These stories would usually follow a group of super heroes fighting the most dastardly villains, who eventually reformed to join the good side until there was no one left to fight.

I fondly remember writing these novels so vividly because little did I know back then, I was already living out my dream of being a writer. For as long as I could remember, I have had a fascination with playing mental movies in my head, and most of the time, I excluded my self from the action as a huge array of fictional characters would play out their roles in dire situations.

For years, this self entertainment would keep me up at night and it actually took a while to register for me that I should start jotting these mental movies down. Finally! I could have a place to contain all the insanity that went on in my head, and I would bleed it all out through ink onto a page, which would serve as a film if you will, to create a method for all the madness.

I always knew this fire of creativity erupting within me could never be stifled, for in elementary and in high school, every time we were assigned to write short stories for English class, teachers would be dismayed by how drastically I would disobey the 2-5 page limit. I could never, ever conceive the idea of being able to tell a whole story within such a short amount of pages.

I would end up writing a 20+ page story that would contain much more vivid descriptions and bits of dialogue than any of my classmates’ work. And I try to say that with the utmost humility, because of course to most of them–most of them, but not all of them–it was just another assignment to get done. For me on the other hand, I took as an opportunity to challenge myself and actually give my all to a school assignment, which was something of a rarity for me throughout my life because I never found school work to be all that rewarding to do.

Hello and welcome to Your Write to Live! I am Marlon Manalese, and I am an author and bookworm whose taste in literature has transformed drastically throughout the years. Where I once started with an interest in medieval fantasy, I have gravitated towards contemporary fiction (both adult and young adult novels) because I find it more pleasurable, valuable, and relatable to read about the modern life and everyday people–as opposed to the battle hardened badasses you would find in the Dungeons and Dragons and urban fantasy novels I used to read.

It is my belief that we are drawn to fiction because we see like to see ourselves in legendary protagonists who overcome insurmountable challenges in order to achieve their goals. No matter what genre or age range, usually the best novels are the ones people can relate to because they invoke empathy in not just the protagonist, but also the antagonist and supporting cast.

My intention with Your Write to Live is to provide practical writing tips that can also be applied to life. From my years of study in crafting a novel, I have gathered that authors do a ton of organizing in terms of character development and understanding the conflicts that challenge their goals and motivations. As someone who is heavily invested in self knowledge and personal development, the idea clicked: why can’t we use these tools to help improve our own lives?

Perhaps through this blog, like I did with the makeshift novels of my youth, I can help ally with the superheroes of your mind to reform the villains of your subconscious.