The following is part of the handouts for my presentation, Critique Acumen: a Heads-up for Considerate Critics.
Tips from Dynamic Opinions, a Critique Group
Keep Your Writing Flow
Imagine these scenarios:
× Abuzz with creativity, you relish a rare writing experience—everything works. Your dilemma: too many metaphors are like too many cooks in the kitchen. But you’re feeling euphoric, and you cannot decide what to keep and what to cut.
× You’re not positive about a word you thought you knew, but you’re on a roll, and don’t want to stop to look it up in a dictionary. If the word is not used correctly you’ve thought of a substitute phrase—a phrase you’re apt to forget if you don’t write it down immediately.
What do you do? Postpone making a decision.
Preserve your alternative phrases inside a pair of brackets, [ ] and keep on writing. For example, [Elaine’s and Jim’s house // Elaine and Jim’s house]. Later search through the document for a bracket. When the cursor stops at the bracket, you’ll remember to check a grammar guide, and keep only the correct “Elaine and Jim’s house.”
If you remain indecisive, you can leave the brackets in place to solicit your critique group’s opinions. On the critique copy, flag the bracket areas by putting them in bold. Members of Dynamic Opinions know, without extra explanation, that [... // ...] requests a reader’s vote. Readers circle or underline their preference. Sometimes members cross through all choices, offering their own ideas.
An example of writing that uses brackets
to postpone decisions and invite opinions on word choices
Brenda caught movement in her peripheral vision—black, [it skittered across the wooden chair seat at cockroach speed to disappear over the edge. // at cockroach speed it flashed across the wooden chair seat and disappeared.] In response to the horror, Brenda’s heart drummed against her ribs; her stomach convulsed with spewed acid and foaming gas. She scanned the carpet while she grabbed the lightweight chair and [flipped it to its side. She // flipping it to its side, she] jerked the shoe from her right foot.
She eyed a creature centered on the chair’s underside, huddled motionless as if resigned to a fateful, deadly blow. Brenda slipped her loafer back on. She dumped pencils from a nearby jelly jar, eased the spider into it, and moved toward the patio door. Exquisite, she thought, studying [it // its articulated body] as she stepped outside. Releasing her captive to a planter of zinnias, Brenda’s fascination grew. In the outdoor sunlight the spider’s black body shimmered iridescent with [color // jewel tones // jewel toned color] --purple, cyan, and cobalt. She watched as the spider landed, turned toward her and crawled up a leaf as if to face and thank her. Brenda started in amazement. [Emerald green eyes! // Its eyes were like emeralds, glorious green emeralds!]
Briefly those living gems locked onto Brenda’s eyes and pierced an inner consciousness. Her decision to call the exterminator [suddenly moved // careened] from her mind’s area of lucid logic to murky rumination: does the damage from spraying for household pests outweigh its benefits? She simply did not know.
(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson