The Give and Take of Critiques
Before you share that chapter with a critique partner or group, give it a last look over. Make sure to
add a little note at the start about things you need help with or things you want them to make sure to
watch for. Like if you don't think your hero is fleshed out enough, or if you feel your heroine over
reacts to something, or if you think your dialogue doesn't fit the time setting or location, if spelling or
point of view is a weakness, ect..
Don't give others a chapter that is half ready, a rough first draft, hoping someone else will catch all of
your grammar mistakes and plotting short falls. You don't want it to look like you put little effort into
your writing. The work you share "should be your best" not a hurried rough draft. You do the best you
can, then when a critiquer finds problems, it should be the stuff you really needed someone else to
catch or to work with you on. A critique partner or group isn't there to write your chapter for you, or do
your work for you.
When someone points out problems, don't keep repeating the same mistakes in the other chapters
you turn in. Go through and fix those problems in the next chapter before you share it. That way your
critiquer doesn't get tired of telling you the same thing each time, and can instead put her effort into
moving on to other points.
**Receive Criticism Gracefully
Before you read over any critique someone has given you, take out your tough skin suit and slip it on.
Now brace yourself. I know our work is our baby, but you've asked for the opinions of others, so
you're getting them, good and bad. It's not going to be any easier when it's from a contest judge, an
editor or agent, or a reader or reviewer, so you might as well learn to shrug off what you don't like or
agree with now. It'll save you some time later and you'll be much happier in the long run. If you think
another writer can be harsh, wait to you see what agents, editors and reviewers -- and later even
readers -- can do. (Smile) Writing is not a career choice for the faint at heart of those who can't take
some hard blows and move on. If you just want someone to stork your ego and tell you what a great
writer you are, stick to sharing your work with friends and family.
Do remember that we all have different likes and dislikes, and since a critique is only an opinion, you
don't have to agree with it. Look through the whole critique and take what you find helpful and don't
worry over the rest. Sometimes you can pick out something useful even from the worst critique. If you
don't agree with something, before you just toss it, put it aside for a few days and then look at it again
after you have time to get over the sting. You might find that the critique was at least a little right. Also,
if more than one person points out the same thing, even if you don't agree, you might owe it to
yourself, and your work, to take another look at it.
Don't argue over a critique. A sure sign of a green writer is to watch her reaction to a critique. For
each thing the person who did the critique finds wrong, the writer will offer an argument, explaining
why she is right, or make up an excuse as to how it was a mistake. Often the writer will come across
as hurt or even angry. It's hard to remember when someone doesn't find your baby as beautiful and
perfect as you do, that a critique is meant to be helpful, not hurtful. It does get easier with time though.
In the end, the wonderful thing is, it's your work, your call, so you get to change what you want and
toss what you don't agree with. Never let someone write your story for you. But never write thinking
your words are gold and you're the only one right. If so, then you don't need any critiques.
**A Couple of Hints on Doing a Good Critique
Don't even start a critique if you are ticked off about something, or in a big hurry and know you won't
be giving the writer the best critique you can. You should put as much effort into a critique as you
hope others will use when your chapter is the one being critiqued. That means you should always
give detailed critiques, pointing out everything that works for you and everything that doesn't, give
examples. It helps to explain why something that doesn't work, doesn't. Sometimes it helps to explain
why something that does work, does. It's also a good idea to expand on some things. Like if you point
out that you don't buy it that she couldn't get a loan to pay off that debt, then explain why you aren't
buying it. Also, if you have expert knowledge, say you are a nurse and you know a medical test
wouldn't be given a certain way, then point out that you are a nurse, that the test wouldn't be given
that way, and then explain how it should be done.
Don't be afraid to critique a chapter from a type of story you don't normally read. Give it a try. Maybe
you've never tried a romantic suspense or a paranormal romance before, but that doesn't mean you
can't read one and know what works, what is good writing, and what isn't. You also might find you like
it and have a whole new kind of story to look for next time you go out buying books. Do warn the
author that you don't normally read that kind of story. Of course if you have a bias against any kind of
writing, then it's best you not critique that type of story.
When giving a detailed critique, along with placing comments within the chapter and pointing out
problems there. Take the time to write a detailed overview of your reaction and thoughts on the
chapter. Give the author your impressions of the chapter as a reader as well as a writer. Did you
enjoy reading the chapter, did it flow well, did it hold your attention, did you like the characters, did
you see the setting, did the plot seem real, did you want to read more, ect...
As you are doing that detailed critique, trying your best to be helpful, remember that any critique is
really just one person's opinion, but that opinion can be a powerful thing, so think before you make
your word choices and add comments. Also remember that with the written word, others can't hear
your teasing tone or see your smile, so watch the way you put things. A critique should encourage the
writer to do better, not encourage her to give up. You can tell someone that a scene didn't work for
you, explain why, explain how you think it would have worked for you, and do it all without being rude
or using words that belittle or hurt. As a writer, you should know what it feels like to have your work
laid open to someone else, and you should be skilled enough with word choices to get your point
across without being a -- insert bad word here that sounds like witch but starts with a letter b. (Smile)
**Getting Started On That Critique
First, if the writer has mentioned anything that she or he really needs help with or feedback on, make
sure you comment on those areas plenty.
Second, what things did you like most about the chapter? Reading things someone didn't like is a little
easier if the person takes a moment first to point out at least one thing that she did like, or was done
really well. It doesn't hurt to remind them that your critique is only your opinion, to use what they want
and delete the rest, or something along those lines.
After you are done with your critique, go back to the start of the chapter and write an overview of it.
What worked well for you, what you found to be some of the problem areas, just a kind of wrap up of
what the author will find in even more detail in line edits throughout the text of the chapter.
Please put real effort into that critique you are going to do. Sure, you could skim it, tell the writer it was
a good chapter, maybe mark a few things you found easy to spot, but is that fair? Would you want that
kind of critique? A critique should cover a lot of bases, give details, point out problems with
suggestions to correct them, point out what works and why and how it works. In other words, when a
writer gets a critique from you, even done on a well-polished chapter, she should feel like you have
helped her, pointed things out to her, not just given her a good job pat on the head.
**Picking the Right Words is a Must
Words are power. They can do good or harm. When you do a critique, think of yourself as a doctor,
which means, first do no harm. Words like hate, stupid, childish, ridiculous, boring, and the like,
shouldn't be used in a critique to describe any of the writing--or the writer.
Don't Write ~ I hate your hero. I'd dump him in a heartbeat.
Do Write ~ I'm having trouble liking your hero because....
Don't Write ~ Her reaction is ridiculous.
Do Write ~ I don't think she should react that way, maybe she would...
Don't Write ~ I feel as much sexual tension between this couple as I would between two male grizzle
Do Write ~ I'm not really feeling much sexual tension between this couple. Maybe you could....
Don't Write ~ My second grader is better at grammar than you are. Take a class!
Do Write ~ I found a lot of grammar mistakes in this chapter. My corrections are in the text. Hope they
Don't Write ~ There was so much narrative and back story in this chapter that I couldn't even stay
awake to finish it.
Do Write ~ I felt the back story and long sections of narrative in this chapter slowed the pace down
too much to keep the story moving forward. If you were to break up....
If you were getting a critique from someone, which comments would you rather find in it? The
comments from the Don't Write section, or those from the Do Write section? They both really say the
same things. Just one is done with thought and the other is done by someone who didn't think, or
didn't care if another writer was crushed by the blow. Also, one offers help and suggestions, the other
offers nothing. After all, how many perfect chapters have you ever seen? I don't remember seeing very
many even in a published book.
**A Few Things to Watch for and Comment on When Doing a Critique
Here are just a few of the things you should be watching for and commenting on when you do a
critique for another writer. If these things aren't done well, point it out and maybe give hints on how to
improve it. If they are done well, then why not point that out too. (Smile)
Correct research & details
Are they three dimensional?
Are the hero and heroine likable, the kind of people we want to see get the best?
Are there other characters in the story? There should be unless the character is snowbound or some
Are other important characters well-drawn?
What about the bad guy, or girl?
Are the characters' motivations clear and strong?
Does each character have a distinct voice?
Do the characters act and react when and how they should?
What about eye color and hair color? Are his eyes blue near the start of the chapter, and then green
near the end of it?
If you've read a few chapters of the same story, did the characters grow in any way from the place
where they started?
Is there enough conflict?
Is that conflict believable or something a good long talk could fix?
Is the story premise contrived or been over used?
Is passive writing a problem?
Is there an opening hook if it's chapter one?
If it's later chapters, does the story make you want to keep reading? If not, where did it lose you?
If it's the last chapter, were all of the conflicts taken care of?
Are there problems with the setting? Does it seem real to you?
Is there enough information giving about the setting in the right places?
Is there too much information giving about the setting, the room, the clothes, the dog, the meal, or
Does the sexual tension between the hero and heroin simmer?
Is there a believable spark when they are on the page together?
Does that spark grow as the page count does?
Does the writer use all five senses?
Does each scene in the chapter seem needed and move the story forward?
Does part of any scene seem to be an info dump?
Does the writer have a good handle on point of view, or does he or she head hop and lose you? If
multiple points of view are used, are the switches handled skillfully?
If written in more than one point of view, is each scene written in the point of view that is the best for
Is there enough dialogue in the chapter?
Does the dialogue sound natural? Breaking when needed, allowing other characters to reply, adding
in action tags and such.
Does the dialogue move the story forward, or are the characters talking about the weather?
Dose the action in the story move it forward, or is it even real action? Taking a shower, sharing a
meal, going to bed, ect... If these scenes are there, are they there for a reason or just because.
Is the there too much narrative?
Does the writer have a habit of over using one, or even some, words?
Too much back story?
Too much of either dropped in one place?
Does the wording of some sentences confuse you, or could have been written better another way?
Charlotte Dillon *~~* www.charlottedillon.com
Copyrighted 2003 by Charlotte Dillon
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