Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Offer a Beneficial Critique

As writers, critique is part of what we will face on a continual basis - both the giving and the receiving of critiques. Obviously getting critiqued is not the happiest experience in the world, but it is a necessary pain that brings out the true nuggets of genius in our writing.

I've belonged to a critique group for over two years now. Not only have I made fast friends with the group, but today I can honestly say they've all helped me become a much better writer than I was when I first joined. I hope in two more years, looking back at this time, I will be able to say the same.

I've said it before on this blog and I'm sure I'll say it again... If you are a writer and you don't have people who regularly critique your work, you are missing out on the opportunity to grow into a better word-smith.

When you do join a group it will be your job to honestly assess the writing of other members of your group and help them grow, just as they will be doing for you.

So here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

1. Always remember to accentuate the positive in the piece. I don't care who the writer is, there will be something you can say that will be encouraging. You might have to look harder for some than for others, but it will be there.

2. The first major area I look at is the overall sentence and paragraph structure. Does the piece make sense? If there are any areas that are a little unclear point those out and state the reason why the section is unclear to you.

3. Look at grammar, punctuation, tense, and other syntax and make sure all is cohesive and flows smoothly.

4. Look for repetitive phrases or words. Every author has a few words that are their "pets." Point these out gently. Also, sometimes when writing along quickly, one word gets used several times within a few paragraphs, so look for those and suggest alternatives.

5. Especially if it is a fiction piece, look at the dialog tags. Is it clear who is speaking without being repetitive with the tags? Make sure they didn't overuse "he said" & "she said." If so, suggest the use of action beats to show who is talking.

6. Look at the metaphors and similes. Do they add to the piece? Or detract? If they jump out at you and make you stop to figure out exactly what the author is trying to show, then they probably need to go.

7. Finally, end with another positive comment. And when you've critiqued for someone for quite some time and you begin to see improvements, don't be afraid to point those out.

Click Image for an Article on How to Start a Critique Group
Additional things to remember:

1. Not all members of your group may write in a genre you enjoy reading. In that case, try to look at the piece objectively. If you enjoyed this style of writing would you enjoy this piece? Sometimes this is hard to do, but with a little forethought and planning it is possible.

2. Each author has their own distinct voice. So unless the sentences are not making sense or the emphasis would be more clear with a little rearranging, try not to insert your own voice (read: reword every sentence the author has written) and make it sound like it would if you had written it.

Are you in a critique group? What are some beneficial practices you've developed?
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  1. I don't know what I'd do without my critique partner in cyberspace, but I miss the little group that met at my house. Real life gets in the way sometimes.

    Great point about finding positive things to say. A little encouragement salves the wounds when the critique is rough.

  2. I agree about the importance of objectivity in genre. It's easy to consciously or unconsciously attempt to force someone else's story to fit our own ideals. We need to try recognize what they are going for and help them achieve it.

  3. Some excellent tips. It is always a challenge to point out the flaws in a way that doesn't bring offense.

  4. Great tips! I'm looking into getting together my own writing group, so this is good stuff to keep in mind.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  5. I appreciate you posting this Lynnette!

    Great advice too...

  6. Katie, exactly.

    Tracy, so true, but as writers we all need to develop tough enough skin to take a critique. If we work with people who we know only want the best for us, then that helps us realize they aren't trying to put us down, but help us grow, and makes the crit easier to take.

    Sarah, very cool. I think you will be blessed if you do take the time to get one together.

    Chef E, Glad to do it. :)

  7. What? A pen with BLUE ink for critique! What's this world coming to? Otherwise, it's a great post, honey, with one exception --under point #2 at the end you should have written, "Each author has his/her own voice." Since "each" is singular it must have a singular antecedent. (I'm her Mama, folks, so I've earned the right to say this. LOLOL) Hugs honey. You make your Mama proud!

  8. Excellent points, Lynnette! Thanks!

  9. Re: Sylvia. LOL! And THAT, folks, is where I learned to take the best (worst?) critique my partners can give with a smile on my face. Mom is an English teacher with a penchant for RED pens. I've teased her before that I'll have to buy stock in the red pen market if I keep having her crit my books! :D

    Lynn, you're welcome. :)

  10. Great Advice, Lynnette. I've been in 5 groups over the years - in person and online. The online group has been together almost 10 years. The main point is to be helpful and encouraging. Thanks so much for this post!

  11. So true, Carol. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  12. Great points. I'd love to find a critique group, someday, but I DO have CW! And your tips will be great help when I go into the workshop. Thanks!

  13. You're welcome, CC. You'll do just fine.