The Critique Part Two:
So Last week I discussed how one should go about getting a critique and using it the best way so that you get the most out of said critique. Today I am going to discuss how I like to give critiques.
First and foremost giving someone a critique is not about you trying to “fix” a person’s story. In fact it is just as much a learning experience for the critique-er as it is the critique-ee (are those even words? I guess they are now!) That brings us to #1.
1) Teaching is the greatest form of learning. When you give someone a critique, it is in a sense a teaching moment. You read through someone’s manuscript, try to understand what the writer is portraying, then formulate a response that describes the best way you feel they should go about portraying it. This is a perfect learning opportunity for you as a writer. Ask yourself how you can use certain techniques that you like in someone else’s writing. Or you may want to avoid something you don’t like. When you give a critique, it also forces you to look at your own writing style, because you have to explain to someone what you think works and what doesn’t work. This introspection reveals things about your own style of writing that you may never have noticed.
2) The Oreo technique. I am sure most people who have given critiques have heard of this before. It’s when you start with something you like about the story you are critiquing, and then comment on something that needs work, then end with another positive comment. The theory behind this is that when you start with a positive, people become more open to what you have to say. This is true, though critique-ies have a tendency to only focus on the positives at the beginning and the end and ignore the middle—but you as a critique-er can’t help that.
3) Be nice. Even if you sandwich your negative comments with positive ones, if that negative comment is, “your plot is crap” it’s probably not going to be received very well. Have a little common courtesy. Don’t say “your plot is crap;” say “your plot needs work” or “it could be stronger.”
4) Your job is not to rewrite a person’s story. I’ve seen this happen a few times. You get your manuscript back and someone rewrites it in a completely different direction. This doesn’t help anyone. Your job as a critique-er is to give your opinion on what works and what doesn’t work and why. For example, if you are critiquing a picture book and the entire story is in first person and you feel it should be in third person, don’t rewrite it in third person. Tell the author that you think it should be in third person and why. Tell them what you feel changing it will do for the character, the plot, and the pacing of the story. Your explanation then becomes a learning experience for both you and the person whose work you are critiquing.
5) Try not to get bogged down with the details. As a critique-er if you focus on, let’s say, what color the sky should be at dusk, or whether Caribbean Sea is more of a turquoise then blue, then you’re missing the heart of the story—which is what really needs to be looked at.
I hope these posts help. Remember, this is just my opinion. It’s what I find works for me. Everyone is different, so go with what works for you and your critique partners and forget the rest!