The art of critiquing


I’m helping to put together a Critiquing month event over at Stringing Words for August 2010, and it’s got me thinking about the process of critiquing and giving feedback on another writer’s work. I’ve heard an awful lot lately about what makes for a good and useful critique, and like any situation where you have a lot of helpful advice from different people, it can be difficult to sort through it all, figure out what’s really most helpful or valuable, if there are any contradictions and if so, which way you want to lean.

Well, one way is to start with a source that you like and who’s saying stuff that just makes sense to you, and to build from there. Brian Henry raised some good points in a ‘revising and rewriting’ workshop that I attended a few weeks ago:

  • Start with a subjective response as you read through the piece: did you like it, where did you think that the writing was working, where did it ‘lose you.’ For instance, if you’re reading off a printed copy, you could put a little check mark or cross on each page, just as an ongoing progress report card.
  • Give a bit more detail on what you didn’t like and why – what did you want to read more about instead at certain points? What did you need more of?
  • Then, possibly, you can get into specific about what changes you’d make if you were the writer – including deleting what’s there entirely or adding new stuff in. This, of course, is the stuff that the author is most likely to disagree with you about, when you get into specifics, and that’s their perogative. As the critiquer, your job is to do your best to come up with stuff that they’ll find helpful and use.

And though this really isn’t the critiquer’s job, he also underscored the importance of getting different critters to read your stuff, so that hopefully you can compare their perspectives and not be too unduly influenced by a random opinion from one source of feedback that might not work that well with the story.

And a few more useful tips from Gale over at Stringing Words – primarily for critiquing smaller excerpts:

* Restate what you understand is happening in the passage.
* Point out ‘gems’ in the language and style, and the bits that you thought were working particularly well.

So, over to you guys. Have any interesting stories to tell about critiquing somebody else’s writing, or getting a critique yourself? What do you like to do if you’re working on a critique, or what do you want if it’s your stuff that’s being read??

One Response to The art of critiquing

  1. I love it when critters tell me what questions the piece is raising in their minds as they read. You want readers to have questions, right? Otherwise there’s no motivation for them to keep reading.

    I had one woman tell me that she felt cheated by a part of the story I skipped. She wanted to experience a scene rather than read the summary I’d included. That was interesting, since I hadn’t imagined anyone would want more than the summary.

    Ultimately, I think the subjective response is the most valuable thing a critter can offer. Since our whole point in writing fiction is to have some kind of impact on readers, it’s really helpful to know what people are thinking as they’re reading.

    Like

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