How to Give Critique
There are many situations that you might end up in when another writer asks you to critique their work. There are certain ways to give good feedback to a writer that can offer the opportunity for them to greatly improve their writing. The more feedback you give, the better writer you can become as well. Your mind starts to see the same mistakes that you’re seeing in other’s work in your own.
Keep bias out of it
We all have our likes and dislikes on top of our own styles that we prefer writing in or reading. Keep this out of your critique because, largely, it isn’t relevant. Writers can never please everybody and there will be some people who just don’t like your style or your writing. Because of this, you need to keep your own bias out of your critique as much as possible. You don’t have to like it. You need to be focusing objectively on the parts that don’t work—character issues or plot holes—instead of subjective elements like style.
Stick to the point
There is no need for a grand, flowery explanation. Be concise: This didn’t work because of that. That’s it. Here is an example:
As a first chapter it didn’t work because you introduced too many characters straight away in a short space of time and I forgot who they were.
Once you’ve made each point you can expand on it if needed, but ideally just move on to the next one.
As the person giving the feedback, it isn’t your job to make the corrections. You are there to point out wrongs, not make rights. As an example of what not to do:
That section doesn’t work because it doesn’t make much sense. You should make your character laugh instead of cry, then the dog will get excited instead of running away. Stop being dramatic and write it as a comedy.
Don’t do that.
This is, genuinely, one of the hardest parts of critiquing. More often than not when I ask for critique I want suggestions to try and fix something that I know is broken. If I knew how to fix it I wouldn’t need help, after all. Suggesting ideas is fine, but you need to balance giving suggestions subtly to ensure you spark ideas in the writer, instead of telling them what to do and arguing with the way they wrote the piece. This can be hard, but practice makes perfect. The more feedback that you give, the better you get at it and you’ll figure out how to help without trying to write the thing yourself.
Sometimes a writer will want a specific piece of critique. I know that I’ve taken writing to a group and don’t care about character development, pacing, plot holes or any of that stuff. I’m just interested in whether or not the three lines of a fight scene work. I’ll be up front and say that that’s what I’m looking for. Good critiquers listens to what the writer is looking for, no matter what other mistakes you notice.
I have been sitting in a group, reading a piece of work that I cannot find fault with. Everyone else comes up with something profound and insightful and I’m sitting there thinking, “I have no idea what is being talked about.” Because of this I have made up something arbitrary that sounds mildly good and then we move on. This is bad. If you don’t have anything to say, say that. I’ve met a lot of writers and all of them would prefer if you said that you had nothing rather than make up something.
Giving good critique is an invaluable tool for you as a writer as well as the person that you are giving feedback to. It’s an important part of the writing process that is also quite enjoyable.
Next: Receiving Critique
© 2017 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.