You’re writing. Your fingers can’t keep up with the words floating around your mind. Then, without warning, the Inner Critic crawls onto your shoulder. It whispers its dishonest remarks in your ear. Your fingers freeze with the realization that the Critic is right. You can’t write another word.
So, you scroll back through the words you wrote earlier. The Critic goes to work, and repeats its insults. You think. You agree with the critic again. Now, writing seems like a chore. You slink away from your keyboard, and hang your head like a scolded dog. You feel like one.
Does that little tale sound familiar? Chances are, it does. And that’s a shame. In this post, I’m going to talk about ten things the Inner Critic tells us, and why it’s right.
The Inner Critic is what the layman calls “gut instinct”. In our writing, our gut instinct manifests itself as the Inner Critic. It tells us things about our writing, and we’d better listen. If we’re reading our work as a reader might, the Inner Critic is bound to pop up. If we want to make our work more suitable for readers, then we need to analyze what the Inner Critic says.
So, let’s do just that.
#1: The Plot Isn’t Working
In this case, the Critic may be right. Always trust your gut when it comes to plotting. But your first draft is no place to start fixing your plot. At this stage of the game, you’re just beginning to learn the rules (so to speak). You can fix your plot later, after you’ve finished the story and understand it better.
No one is going to read that first draft. So, you can think negatively and tell yourself that the plot doesn’t work, or you could think positively and tell yourself that you can fix it later.
Now, if you’re in the middle of editing, the situation is a little different. You have the power to change the story. Analyze the problem, and see if you can’t get down to the bottom of it. (If you’re having trouble solving the problem, send me an email. I’d love to help!)
#2: The Protagonist Is Boring
This is one of the tricky ones. Sometimes the Critic is right, but sometimes it just wants to trip you up. To find out if the Critic is right, we need to do some analyzing.
- Does your protagonist sound like one or more of the other characters?
- Does your protagonist act like one or more of the other characters?
- Does the plot present a problem for the protagonist to solve?
- Does your protagonist whine too much? (Even if that is part of your protagonist’s personality, it can be annoying. Use the whining strategically, and not too often.)
- Does your protagonist have unique mannerisms?
- Is your protagonist actively engaging in the plot?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then the Inner Critic is right. Solve the problem by digging deeper, and finding ways to remedy the situation. Ask yourself questions like the ones I laid out above, and then answer them.
If you realize that your protagonist sounds like one of your other characters, go through your protagonist’s dialogue and switch it up. How does your protagonist sound like your other character, and remove those similarities. Give your protagonist another speech pattern. Give him new favorite words, or words that he uses often. Give him mannerisms when he speaks.
Make him unique.
#3: The Minor Characters Are Boring
The Inner Critic might be wrong about this, too. But your minor characters are a vital piece of your story, so we’d better find a way to analyze the Inner Critic’s remarks.
Ask yourself the following questions when the Inner Critic starts talking about the minor characters in your story.
- Do they sound alike?
- Do they act alike?
- Do they have unique personalities?
- Do that have unique mannerisms?
- Do they enrich the plot?
- Are they actively engaging in the plot and their surroundings?
It’s tough to decide which minor characters should stay, and who should bite the literary dust. But when the Inner Critic begins to buzz with contempt, listen. It may be a clue.
#4: The Antagonist is Boring
I’m sorry to say this, but the Inner Critic is probably right. Your antagonist is the heartbeat of your story, as the protagonist is the lifeblood. The Critic has a sense about these things. If you have no antagonist, you have no story — regardless of how well-executed the other aspects are.
If you want to decipher the Critic’s remarks, ask yourself the following questions.
- Does your antagonist have sufficient motivation?
- Does your antagonist represent a threat to the protagonist and his way of life?
- Is your antagonist actively engaged in the plot?
- Is the antagonist threatening from page one?
- Is the antagonist present (in body or spirit) at all the major points in the plot?
- Does your antagonist remain one step ahead of your protagonist?
If you answered no to any of the above questions, the Inner Critic is right. Dig deeper, look further, and ask questions. Examine your antagonist’s goals throughout the story, and make sure he’s a worthy opponent for your protagonist. If your antagonist isn’t not strong enough to potentially destroy the protagonist, then yes, he’s boring.
#5: The Writing Doesn’t Read Well
The Critic is probably right about this one. If you’re reading your work, and it sounds a little “off”, pay attention to what you’re reading. Ask yourself the following questions when the Inner Critic starts whispering.
- Is it a specific word?
- Is it an entire sentence?
- Is it a paragraph?
(If it’s a paragraph, ask yourself these next questions.)
———Is it a piece of description?
———Is it a piece of internal monologue?
———Is it a piece of conversation between two characters? (Which is not really a paragraph, but still.)
———Is it an action sequence?
Once you figure out what the Inner Critic is talking about you can solve the problem. Always dig deeper, and ask a lot of questions.
For example, if a specific word is bothering the Inner Critic, examine that word. What emotion are you trying to convey in that sentence? Does the word you chose accomplish that? Is the word vague, or hard to understand? Is the word something a layman would look up in a dictionary?
The Inner Critic is right about a lot of things. Too many to cram into one blog post. So, sometime in the future, there might be another article about the Inner Critic. Because it’s such a cool guy, am I right?
Until next time, keep writing.
Tell me, what does the Inner Critic say to you about your writing?