Critiquing to Catch Gaps

No matter how fluently the words flow from the pen or the 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 keyboard when an author is writing no matter how strong and vivid the inspiration is that drives that pen across the paper, or the cursor across the page – there is one problem that besets writers of all skill levels and styles: the tendency to leave gaps in the structure of the text, gaps of which the author himself or herself is typically unaware.

These gaps are not a grammatical flaw or a stylistic error, such as a misplaced punctuation mark or a clumsily-crafted sentence. Instead, they are lapses in the narrative mosaic of the written text itself – something that is not adequately explained, or perhaps not mentioned at all, but which is vital to creating a whole, finished piece of writing.

Examples of such a gap might include an instruction manual which tells the user how to create a webpage but omits mention of saving one’s work before moving on to adding subfolders, or a military history article that mentions the feudal Japanese terms for different types of weaponry – katana, o-yoroi, horo – without explaining at any point that these are a sword, a suit of armor, and a spherical cloak stretched over a light bamboo frame which marked the messenger of a great lord.

Gaps occur for a very simple reason – the author knows what the entire message of their piece is before they write it, and if they overlook writing part of the sequence, the finished article, essay, or book will still make sense to them because they are aware of what is unwritten as well as what is written. In the first example above, the writer of the webpage instruction manual already knows to save their work before adding subfolders, and is so well aware of this fact that it does not even occur to them that someone might not know to save their work, and thus lose hours of labor by going directly to the creation of subfolders.

Gaps of this kind are particularly insidious because they are difficult for any but the most experienced writers to spot easily – and sometimes elude even the most skillful. They “hide in plain sight” because the author is not even aware that some information is missing – the subconscious mind fills in the absent details reflexively, bridging the gap without the writer knowing it has been bridged. The narrative as a whole may be grammatically flawless, polished to perfection, flowing as smoothly as silken water through the author’s mind – and yet neglect the key data that readers will need to make sense of the whole.

A private critique group can help to prevent this by giving direct, accurate feedback on whether the finished piece makes sense. Ask those who are critiquing your work not only to look out for grammatical gaffes and syntactic slip-ups, but for parts of the text that do not make sense or which seem to be disjointed. Revealing whether your overall message successfully conveys the information it is intended to, is a function of critiquing that is more essential than any mere review of grammar.