Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5 Tips for Better Critiques

We all receive critique, and often not particularly good critique, which can be frustrating. So I am writing a quick guide on what I find in good critiques. Obviously, this is not all inclusive, or an authoritative guide, but I hope it helps those who maybe want to help more and aren’t sure how.

Good critique should...

Identify the Problem

Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, I wish it were. A good critique focuses on specific problems, such as:

  • Grammar and Spelling
  • Pacing
  • Plot Consistency (or Lack Thereof)

… and many more, but you get the idea. If your critique is “this story sucks”, then you haven’t told the author anything. For all they know, it’s just a personal opinion they can’t do anything about - which brings me to my next point…

Be Actionable

If you give an author advice that they can’t do anything with, your critique is still unhelpful and uninformative. “Write better” is not actionable advice - “vary your sentence structures” is. While this can sometimes be difficult to do, like when you feel you don’t have the experience to identify the problem, it’s better to be honest about it. “I’m not sure why, but this sentence feels off to me” still focuses on a specific problem for the author to consider. Which once again segues into…

Offer a Solution

While not always possible, good critiques will often offer the author a specific course of action on how to fix a perceived problem. “Write better” is still not a viable choice - but suggesting a writing guide, or that an author look into the style of another author in their field or genre is. Other examples include showing how you might phrase a scene, or…

Explain Your Fix

Especially when it comes to grammar or formatting, a critique should explain why they feel something needs changing. “This is bad” doesn’t tell an author why it’s bad, so they’re likely to make the same mistake in the future. “It seems kind of weird that an eight year old street urchin knows the intricacies of international trade laws” - while unlikely to be sent in a real critique - addresses the problem and examines why it doesn’t make sense, so that next time a similar situation arises, the author knows why it shouldn’t happen.

And, lastly…

Compliment Strengths

Critiques aren’t a negative thing - even when what the critique is saying is negative, critiques are tools for helping an author improve. Just like a sports player might not be able to see that his form is off, a writer might not be able to see when their prose is janky. However, they may also be blind to what they do well - so it’s important to point out those things along with what’s done poorly. “The dialogue feels stilted and uncomfortable, but the way you wrote the cat in that scene was funny and engaging.” It lets an author know that there are things that went right, even if the scene overall went wrong.

Well, that’s it for me. I hope this has been informative and fun. Tell me what you find in good critiques below!

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