22 Quick and Dirty Tips for Writing Critiques
If writers don’t know what’s broken, how can they possibly fix it?
Critiques are essential during a writer’s early development. A good critique will give a writer suggestions for how to build on strengths and minimize weaknesses.
And a good critic will relay this information in a tactful manner.
In essence, a critic’s job is to deliver a judgment, but don’t bring the gavel down too hard! We writers are sensitive creatures, with our self-esteem wrapped up in delicate sentences and fragile paragraphs. Best not to break a writer’s spirit by delivering the death sentence along with the verdict.
Today’s writing tips will help you become a better critic. You’ll learn how to deliver thoughtful critiques that will truly help your writer friends grow into better writers. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it.
Tips for Providing Critiques
- Read the piece in its entirety before making any comments or taking any notes. Once you’ve gotten the initial reading out of your system, you’ll be prepared to revisit it with a critical eye.
- Work your way through the piece carefully, taking notes about what’s good and what’s not so good.
- Never work through a critique on the spot. You should be nowhere near your writer friend when you’re reading or evaluating a piece.
- Mark up the copy with underlines and highlighting. Don’t forget to highlight the strong sections – appealing images, effective dialogue, and descriptive scenes. And don’t forget to pay attention to grammar.
- Look for areas where the writing is consistently successful. Are all the characters realistic? Is the grammar tight? These are the writer’s overall strengths.
- Also look for spots where the writer seems to have gotten lucky. Maybe most of the images are clichés, but there’s one really strong, original piece of imagery. Call this out, so the writer can build on it.
- You have to look for weak spots too. Are there lots of great descriptions with just one scene that doesn’t quite make sense? Point it out so it can be fixed.
- Likewise, look for consistencies in weaknesses. This is most essential since consistent problems indicate an area where a writer needs the most improvement. Is the punctuation all wrong? Does the plot go nowhere? Take note!
- Once you’ve established the good, the bad, and the ugly, it’s time to prepare your critique. Organize your thoughts and your notes.
- If you are going to give a live critique (in person), make sure you’ve listed all the points you want to make so you don’t forget anything. Go the extra mile, and give the writer a copy of your notes.
- If you’re providing written critiques, make sure your feedback is clear and consistent. Provide a copy of the writer’s original material with your comments and markup, and also provide a separate document containing detailed feedback.
- Always start with what’s good. First tell the writer what works, where the strengths are. Kick off the session on a positive note.
- Ease gently into the negative feedback. It’s necessary, but you don’t have to slap a writer across the face with it.
- Use positive (rather than negative) language to express areas that need work. Try phrases like the following: this would be even more interesting if… that character would be more realistic if… I like the image you’ve created, but it would be even stronger if…
- Avoid using negative words like: don’t, never, terrible, weak, boring, doesn’t, etc. Instead use positive, action-oriented words.
- In other words, instead of telling the writer what’s wrong with the piece, tell the writer what actions they can take to make it better.
- If you’re working with a new writer, hold yourself back. Focus on problems that are consistent throughout the piece and only call out a few issues. You don’t have to address every single detail – the idea is to show a writer how to improve bit by bit. Never hand back a manuscript so marked up that it’s solid red.
- As you deliver your feedback, pay attention to the writer’s reaction. Grateful? Annoyed? Shocked? Angry? Upset? Heartbroken? You may not be able to do anything about it, but you can always ask if there was anything offensive about your delivery.
- Know that some writers want nothing more than praise. Some people mistake a critique for a personal insult. Others simply can’t handle that their work is imperfect. If you’re looking for someone to build a partnership with, avoid writers who go on the defensive when you make an objective, thoughtful, and honest observations.
- After you’ve provided your critique, check back with your writer friend to see if your feedback was helpful. Find out which, if any, suggestions were used. Offer to take a look at the revision.
- Stick to your guns. Some writers will try to argue points that you’ve made. Maybe they just wanted praise or maybe they’re emotionally attached to a particular passage. The writer should not defend his or her work or attempt to convince the critic of its merit.
- Even though you’re not budging, let the writer know that your critique is not law. Some feedback is, indeed, subjective. Each writer is free to apply or discard suggestions within a critique.
Have you had any luck with critiques? Any bad luck? Do you have any writing tips or insights on giving critiques to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.