Thursday, March 20, 2014


At some stage in the writing process, most writers want feedback on their work. Here are some tips on how to organize and receive helpful critiques.

The Critiquer:

As a critiquer, your job is to understand the writer's goals and help the writer achieve them.Every writer has a different voice and approach. It is sometimes tempting to change someone else's piece to make it more like something you would write. Instead, help the writer produce the best possible version of what that writer is trying to write. Consider the piece on its own terms and help it fulfill its potential.

It’s suggested to read the piece through from beginning to end to get the experience as a reader. Don’t get right into the critiquing part until your 2nd time reading. Take notes of your first impressions.

Suggested Critique Format: 

      1.      First, summarize and interpret. At this first stage, you are not judging the piece or offering suggestions. You are just telling the author what you think it is about, and what you think it is trying to do. This is important because it tells the author how well he or she has succeeded in communicating.

2.      Second, say what you think is working well. Positive feedback can be as useful as criticism. Point out the best parts of the piece and the strengths of the author's writing. This can help the author write more "best parts" in the future and develop his or her individual talent. Starting with positive feedback also makes it easier for the author to listen to criticism later without becoming defensive or discouraged.

3.      Third, give constructive criticism. Make sure that criticism is respectful and delivered in a form that allows the author to make specific improvements. Authors tend to have high emotional stakes in their work, and may at some level confuse criticism of a story or a poem for criticism of their talent or vision. It is therefore especially important to make your comments as specific as possible and keep them clearly focused on the piece, rather than the author. Give examples from the piece whenever possible to show your points.

Do's and Don'ts:


·         Read the piece several times
·         Try to experience the piece as an "ordinary reader" before you consider it as an author or editor
·         Try to understand the author's goals
·         Be specific in your feedback and provide relevant examples


·         Impose your own tastes or world view
·         Rewrite the story the way YOU would have written it
·         Discourage the author
·         Offer criticisms that are too general to help the author make specific improvements

(critiques aka "bleeding all over" the manuscript.)

The Author's Role: 

We suggest that the author try not to talk at all during an oral critique except to ask clarifying questions at the end. There is a natural tendency for authors to try to explain their work, particularly if they see that the critiquer has not understood it the way they intended. 

Advice on Receiving a Critique:

If you're on the receiving end of a critique, focus on listening and understanding the feedback you receive. You don't have to agree with it. You won't have to follow any of the suggestions you're given.

In fact, some of the suggestions you get are likely to be not-so-useful. You will have to sort them out from the useful ones and make your own decisions. But save this sorting-out for later. Otherwise, the sorting-out process will interfere with your ability to listen. And you'll probably do a better job of sorting out the good advice from the bad if you take some time first to digest everything.

Take careful notes on all the feedback and ask questions if there's something you don't understand. Don't argue with the critiquer or defend your piece. Don't even try to explain it.

After the critique, we suggest taking a break before you try to sort the feedback out. Getting a critique can be hard. Relax a little afterwards. This break might last twenty-four hours or a couple of weeks -- however long you need to get some emotional distance on the process. Then take a fresh look at what you've written. Reread your notes on the critique.

Which suggestions do you agree with? Which ones do you want to ignore? If you're not sure about a suggestion, do some experimental rewriting. Try it out. There's no risk. If you don't like the result of the revision, you can always trash it and go back to the original version.

Remember: you're the author. You're the one in charge here.

Traditional critique groups -  Pro's and Con's:


First and foremost, traditional critique groups can help clean up a new writer’s technique.

In a good traditional critique groups you will learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” You will learn to spot passive voice and will even learn why adverbs aren't always extra-nifty. You will hopefully learn self-discipline in that you need to attend regularly and contribute. You will forge friendships and a support network.


Traditional critique groups can lack perspective:

Reading ten pages every month may clean up sloppy writing but traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect writing style page to page and yet have faults. Traditional critique groups can tell you nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the background to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. In traditional critique groups, sitting around the table reading a few pages can’t give you the big picture. It's hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what's going on.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security:

You must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill-set to see our errors. Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea but make sure to reach beyond our group for additional critique. Make sure your work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems.

Critique groups are WONDERFUL. Every writer should be a part of a critique group. You just need to be aware of the trouble spots so that you can get the most out of this fantastic resource. 

Here’s a brilliant idea to get the most out of a critique group:

Introducing Concept Critique by Kristen Lamb - author of the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. 

Instead of bringing the first ten pages of your novel, write a 10 page synopsis based off what you did when you were plotting. Or, for those pantsers, go back and show the scenes of the WIP you've written. Every scene should have a one-sentence summary, so writing a synopsis now should be a piece of cake. A scene-by-scene critique is a far better use of time than taking a year to get line-edit on a potentially flawed WIP.

Let your brilliant writer friends chime in on what they think of your story as a whole. Does this synopsis sound like a book they are dying to read? Can they tell who the antagonist is? Is your antagonist a mustache-twirler or the stuff of greatness?

Once you have your novel as a whole critiqued, take it to the next step. The next time you meet take Act One and write a ten page synopsis of what happens in Act One. Get critiqued. Clean it up. Then, take Act Two and Act Three and do the same. Write ten page synopses about what happens in each act. Then take it to the next step. Break your act into scenes and write a summary of what happens in each scene.

This way you are cleaning up your concept. Your fellow writers now can help you by brainstorming better ways to build your mousetrap. And, since they have an idea of the BIG picture, their advice will be a lot better. They might even be able to offer insight into how to fix the idea before you invest the next year writing a book that is doomed from day one because the original idea needed to be fortified before it could support 60-100,000 words. Or, if you have already written the novel, you will have a better idea how to tackle revisions.

Once you have solid critique on all these summaries, take off and write/revise that novel. Now it will be way easier because you know where you are going. Also, because your writer friends helped in the planning phase, they will be better trained to see flaws once they critique your final product.

My personal suggestions on critiques: 

·         Critiques are better if you find someone who reads in your genre. 
·         Critique partners and/or beta readers are a must. has a spot for finding critique partners/beta readers. Personally I loved this experience. I found an author who wrote in the same genre and we exchanged stories. It was someone I didn't know so they could be honest and blunt and not hurt our friendship. 
·         Small critique groups with 3 - 4 people have been a wonderful experience for me - we meet together once a week. Send pages ahead so we can read it over. We give an oral critique and a written or e-critique to view later. 

     Critiques may be a necessary evil in the writing world but it doesn't have to be a bad experience. It's a tool to help get our very best work published. Find what works for you. 

Happy Writing! Happy Critiquing