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Monday, November 20, 2006

Critiquing Tips

You spend a long time writing and crafting and your story, wrestling with it night and day, pouring your heart into it, until at last, you're finished. With nail-biting anxiety, you decide to take the next step – letting someone else read it and give their impressions on it. Will they like it, or will they think the writing is just plain awful?

If we want to be great storytellers, this is something all serious writers should put their writing through. The best way to get your story masterfully crafted is to endure a professional critique – a detailed, rip it up and tear it apart review, where the critiquer hits the story from all angles, exposing every possible weakness, leaving your tale dripping raw and bloody.

If you have never given a critique before or have never had one done for your writing, then here are some tips on how to critique or what to expect from a critique.

  • If this is not your favorite type of writing, let the author know right away.
  • Don't read other critiques yet. It might bias your review.
  • Write down your first impressions as a reader. Was the story captivating? Did you enjoy it? Do you think the story has sales potential?
  • Try to give feedback on what could be changed. Identify the weaknesses. Offer constructive advice that might lead to improvement in the story.
  • Give examples of improvements, wherever necessary.
  • Praise where praise is due. Always try to add some positive comments into your critique. Let the author know where the strengths in the story lie.
  • Never criticize the author personally. Focus your attention on the story itself.
  • Critique as you would want to be critiqued.
  • Be honest, but kind. Do not leave something out due to fear of hurting the author's feelings, but do try to give constructive criticism.
  • Try to word your comments diplomatically. "Comma's were misused throughout the story" is much better than saying, "The author does not know how to use comma's."


A good critique is done well that the author feels as if he or she has received some excellent helpful advice. A critiquer's job is not to be harsh and cruel or to give the author a thick skin. It is not to crush the fragile ego of a budding writer or to lord it over a writer in some form of power struggle. It is to help the writer improve his or her story.

Some phrases to consider when critiquing include, "In my opinion", "I'm not sure but", "Have you considered", "You might think about", "possibly", "another idea might be", "maybe". These are the hallmarks of a tactful, softer phrasing.

If the manuscript is horribly mutilated, beyond recognition, and you just would like to grab the author by the throat and strangle him for even submitting it for your critique, then the best advice would be to not read the manuscript. Pick another one to critique. If there aren't any more, then give the author a nice excuse on why you had to pass. However, if you feel that you must critique the story, offer up some suggestions, not demands. Who knows the author's circumstances? Perhaps the author is a twelve-year-old with a fanciful imagination who just hasn't grasped the English language yet.

So remember, a critique is not just what you say, it's about how you say it too. Be tactful and honest and you will help other writers improve on their writing.

3 comments:

Rick said...

Shelby:
This is a great overview on the benefits of having our work critiqued. It shows the act of being critiqued as something constructive, rather than destructive. Most of us, when being critiqued, have a hard time separating our egos from the work that we have created. One thing that I am now learning is that it is important to have more than one person critique a story since I can see if the same opinion is expressed more than once. If more than one reviewer does hammer home on the same point, I can more easily believe that the weaknesses or strengths pointed out are more an indication of objective analysis than subjective preference.

Great posting!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thank you for this posting, Shelby. It inspired me to write a posting of my own...how to receive a critique.

A must read for many of you out there in blogland...you know who you are.

SP said...

Ahhh, what's that saying? We can lead a horse to water but we can't make it drink? :-) At least the serious writer might be able to take some words to heart and open up their mind, but as for the rest...