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My writing partner is Laura Oleniacz and I’m doing a critique of her piece, “One night with unbearable guests: An adventure in the Shining Rock Wilderness.”

First of all, Laura, I’ll say I enjoyed reading this crazy story! You and Dan are braver than I’ll ever be. I often tell people, “I don’t camp without a toilet that flushes.” So there ya go. I’m maybe not your target audience– ha. With that said, here’s some of my advice!

LENGTH

I looked up the contributor guidelines for Our State magazine. From their site:

Our average feature article length is about 1,200 words. Departments run 500 to 800 words.

I did a rough count of your article in Microsoft Word and it comes in at about 2120 words, so I think if you were submitting to Our State, it would probably have to get cut some. I’d actually cut the section where you talk about bear facts and about how they’re losing the wilderness. I don’t think it fits as well with the narrative of the rest of your story.

That would probably mean that you’d need to re-work the conclusion a little bit and maybe pepper in some other in-the-moment feelings throughout the essay about how you feel about bears. Are you scared but also impressed with their ingenuity? Are you feeling threatened but then realize that the bears are also threatened in a way and this is how they survive? It feels a bit abrupt to talk about your feelings about the bears’ habitats way at the end without a set-up for it.

REPETITIVE WORDS AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE

I think a quick read-through to change up a couple of words and sentences will really improve the flow of this piece. For example, you use the phrase “laughed off” twice in fairly rapid succession near the beginning of the essay, and then the word “beautiful” twice in one paragraph.

You also have a lot of sentences with the same basic structure. These all appear next to each other in the essay:

But the rock fell, missing the branch.

“Let me try,” I said, taking the rock and moving farther back for a throw.

“One, two, three, ‘Steph Curry!” I said, trying to borrow some of the recent success of the Golden State Warriors, which had recently beaten LeBron’s team in the finals.

PASSIVE VOICE

Passive voice is one of those ones I have to work really hard to get out of my writing, and it usually happens on the 2nd or 3rd readthrough. My most helpful hint is to go back and find any “to be” verbs and see if you can make them more active. For example,

The rolling gray-blue mountains were visible in the distance.

could be rewritten:

We could see the rolling gray-blue mountains in the distance.

Sometimes you can also just take them out completely. Your sentence,

My dog was visibly excited.

isn’t actually necessary because you describe in the very next sentence the actions that show your dog is excited, rather than telling that your dog is excited. Your reader will still get that the dog is excited if you drop the first sentence of the paragraph.

A FEW OTHER LITTLE THINGS

You’ve got a word missing in this sentence:

My boyfriend tied a rock to [the] end of our rope.

Also, poor Dan doesn’t get a name until 2/3 of the way through the essay! I’d refer to him as your boyfriend Dan the first time and then switch to just Dan. That’s personal preference a bit, but I think it’s easier to read that way.

Again, I really enjoyed reading your piece and I’m so impressed with your adventurous spirit! Those doggies are some lucky fellas to be able to go adventuring with you.

One Response to “Critique for Laura Oleniacz”

  1. Laura Oleniacz

    Thanks for the feedback, Sonja! I’m glad you reminded me about passive voice. That’s something I definitely need to be more cognizant of. I’m not totally against passive voice as a general rule, but I agree that in most instances, my writing could be stronger without it. I read the Strunk and White passage on this, and then had to Google it to refresh on it.
    I actually thought repeating sentence structure could make things more understandable, and could potentially read pretty well. But I understand it could also be annoying/bad. I definitely will delete those repeated words.
    I think you are right about the conclusion. I think it probably a different tone and structure from the rest of the story. You hit the nail on the head when you said that the point is that I’m feeling threatened but also realize the bears are also threatened and this is how they survive. I’m not sure how to weave that into the text to a greater degree without it being an abrupt change in the story.
    Thanks so much for the close read.

    Reply

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