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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

How to give good crit

If you're writing, and you know other writers, there's a good chance that sooner or later you'll have to or be asked to critique someone else's work. It's good to know how to properly critique a piece, because it's more than correcting spelling and saying whether you like it or not, and it seems like a lot of schools don't teach how to crit constructively.

So I'm going to teach you! Because what else is this expensive writing degree for if I don't share what I've learned?

But first: "Critique" is not at all the same things as "criticize". Criticizing is tearing something apart, usually for no real reason. Critiquing is looking at all the parts to find and fix problems. Frame it up in that context before you do anything.


Read the piece. It's best if you read through once just to read it, to see how it reads. If something huge comes up, note that in the margins, but mostly, just read it.

Then, if you're doing copyediting stuff--spelling, grammar, etc, which aren't actually part of critiquing but sometimes wind up getting done anyway--do that.

Then, the marginalia. Be polite, be clear, and err on the side of the benefit of the doubt, but point out the problem firmly and offer suggestions for fixing it. There's no point in just going "this doesn't work" or "I hate this" without a reason why and a suggestion on a way to make it less problematic.

Look at plot--does it flow? Does it make sense? Does it seem real, regardless of the vagaries of the world? Does it seem like it's moving toward something?

Look at world building and moving around in that world-- Does the world make sense? Do the things people do there and the way they move through those spaces make sense? (Especially in fight scenes, you've gotta be clear.) 

Look at dialog -- Are people doing things while they talk, so that they aren't just talking heads? Do they sound like different people who have their own individual thoughts, opinions, and motives? Are there enough tags to tell who is talking and when? Do they talk like real people from their sort of world might talk?

Look at construction -- Do the sentences and paragraphs work and flow? Does the story seem like it's trying to do something else than just tell a story, and how successfully is it doing that? Is it drawing on other references, and are they reworked enough to not be plagiarism?

Mark all this stuff in the margins, and offer ways to fix or change or remove them to make the story tighter and cleaner.

Then do an overview statement, so you can talk with more space about the things that you think most need talking about. Start with the good--don't just jump into hatefulness and sharp criticism, because that puts people on the defensive and ruins the whole point of the exercise. Say what the strengths are, what's really working, what you felt were the best ideas in the story.

Then sum up the bad--but keep it to the strongest maybe three offenders; the rest is already in the margins.

Then comment on any issues of genre, purpose, overall quality.

Then end on something encouraging. Remember, this is meant to make the story better, not to attack. That's hard to remember if something is wildly insulting, or if it's really poorly executed, or if it's just too muddled or uninformed, but everyone starts somewhere and sometimes that start is kind of a mess. Mine sure was!

All of this seems like a lot of work. And it sort of is--but at the same time, once you get used to strong and useful critiquing, you'll be thinking about all of this anyway as you go. It'll be second nature. And it'll get faster.

And I promise you, all of it will be useful to the person who asked you for help--so long as you're respectful and helpful and not jerky about it.

Make it better. Be encouraging. Help people grow. Don't be a dick.


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