The Dark Waters of Critiquing – Part 1

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

This image was taken from Stephen King’s On Writing

Critiquing:  Take Aim and Fire?

So your mom or dad, brother or sister loves your story or novel.  Right.  We all know where this is going.  No matter how hard they try to be subjective, they love you, they don’t want to hurt your feelings and they might just not know a well written story from a publisher’s nightmare.  Hence the need for someone a little more removed, and, hopefully, skilled in the art of critiquing.

Critiquing someone’s writing is a huge commitment.  It, like writing, must be learned.  It must be done honestly, skilfully and tactfully.    There is a sensitive human being at the end of the gun barrel, who may not as of yet developed the distance needed to accept criticism, even constructive criticism.

Make no mistake.  Unless you are an editor with years of experience in reading all kinds of material, critiquing can be challenging and hard work.  You don’t write or like science fiction but someone in your writing group needs their piece critiqued?  It takes away from your time to write your novel.  Are you still willing to commit the time to do a good job?

So what is a good critique?  First, some generalities. 

 I think we must keep in mind that it is their story that they are telling, and we must critique within that framework.  We are trying to make suggestions that improve this story.  Help make the story better, not different.

It is not enough to tell the author that something isn’t working.  Tell them why you think it isn’t working and if possible make a suggestion as an alternative.

The author needs to know what is working as much as he/she needs to know what is not working.  It will build their confidence and help them focus on examples that they can emulate.

At what stage of the writing process is the particular piece?  Is it a first draft and they are looking for feedback on story structure and character arc?  A final draft and you are doing a line by line edit?

Review your critique and be organized in your presentation of your thoughts and ideas.  Stumbling around will make your opinions seem unsure and less worthy of consideration.

Don’t let your personal feelings or views of Mary, or the subject of her writing, influence your objective critique.  It can happen easily without even being aware of it.

Sometimes the longer you work with someone, the better you get to know them, the more difficult it gets to remain objective.  Just like Mom and Dad, you don’t want to hurt their feelings.  You must be professional and keep the whole reason for critiquing in the forefront.

Those are some general thoughts about critiquing.  In part 2 I will offer a process to try using to critique a piece of writing.

Til then, keep writing.

Dan Side

  1. Excellent post on critiquing. I would add a additional thought. Sometimes it helps to tell the writer that he/she has succeeded in making you love or hate a character and how she/he managed to do it. It’s important that the writer evokes emotional responses on the part of readers regarding h/is characters. Sometimes this is difficult, so in my critique group, we try to emphasize this skill.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Nancy. Your suggestion about commenting on the successful development of the main characters was excellent and I will add it to my comments. If the reader doesn’t care about the character – well pretty much game over. Dan

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