All right! So we are prepared to commit some energy, focus and time to critique Mary’s latest piece of writing. To do a good critique takes all three. Skill levels in critiquing, like writing, will vary. All a person can expect of you is that you will examine their work to the best of your ability, but you must bring your best game to the table.
Whether Mary’s piece is complete, such as a short story, or a selection from her novel, will affect how and what you can critique. Reading a submission, in its entirety, allows you to view it in a different light, as opposed to only reading a sampling from a novel.
Is it a first draft or a fifth draft? Chances are they will want you to focus on story and characters if it is a first draft, and not do a line by line unless it is a draft or two later.
On a first reading I believe we should be reading it like one of our future readers: for pleasure. If we read it this way, and if we enjoyed the piece, it’s because, on a basic level, they were successful. The story made sense. We liked the story, characters and style of writing. We actually got drawn into the story and forgot we were critiquing. Don’t underestimate the importance of this visceral reaction to their work. It’s hard to argue with liking something, and a wonderful compliment for them. Let them know that.
On a second read, now we can become more detached. Let’s do our job with the red pen (ok use a green one to avoid the stigma – but colour does really show up better whether you are doing it on the computer or by hand).
Were there any places where you were confused?
Is the confusion perhaps explained later, but it’s really a little late?
Are some sections – descriptions – actions too drawn out? Are some too short and not fulfilling their purpose?
Is the point of view consistent? Are changes in POV effective?
Are you losing concentration? Bored? Is there perhaps a lack of conflict to hold your interest?
How is the pacing? Does it keep you reading? Give you a chance to catch your breath?
Do we care about the characters? Are they interesting? Likeable? Unique? Are they consistent in their actions and speech based on their personalities?
Is the dialogue interesting? Varied for characters? Sound real? Necessary?
The list can go on, but we know it would be impossible to comment on everything. If they haven’t indicated the kinds of things that they would like you to focus on, then try to judge the stage they are at in their writing and focus on one of two areas where perhaps the weakness is repeated.
In the end we must remember that writing is very personal, very subjective. It is important that we respect their writing style and the stage of development of their writing. The point of the whole exercise should be educational. Our insights into their work will hopefully shed some light on some issues and give them food for thought.
Remember, our opinions, even though asked for, are only opinions – even if we know we are right.
Now, to go to our meeting and get some feedback! Yikes!