Yesterday a friend e-mailed a short story he’d written for a college course. Could I look over the story and make grammar and word suggestions? he asked. It was no problem, I said, and I’d be glad to do it.
I read through the story last night, making a few notes as I went. The story, truthfully, wasn’t the sort of fiction I read, but it was interesting to me in that it took a look at something with which I have zero familiarity. The writing itself was generally good–sentence structure worked, phrasing was good, an evocative sense of place. The narrative, though, was weak, and I saw two changes that, if executed well, would make all the difference.
So I sat down this afternoon and began marking up the document using Word’s comment feature. It’s a nice feature–you can leave little word balloons in a document–even if I think the implementation could be better, such as the use of pop-up balloons. After about two hours, I thought I had done something useful with the commentary, and I wrote up an e-mail that explained the ideas I had for fixing the story’s narrative.
This was no tough-love treatment of the story. It didn’t need that. I’ve read stories that have. I’ve delivered the tough-love message when necessary. What I think I did, though, was to point out some structural flaws that, if fixed, would result in a better story with a better sense of drama and character development. I posed some solutions to the story’s flaws, but they weren’t gospel–ultimately, the decision on what to use, and what not to use, remains with the writer. They were just ideas I had–he may have better ideas.
In the end, I felt productive today. I felt as though I’d done some good, for someone who could have used it. 🙂