Hey!! What's the story?
I read a short story on Writing.com recently that I had enjoyed, but thought had a few things that didn't make sense. The major one was this: a father poisons and buries his wife and plans to also poison his two children, so he poisons the older daughter that night at dinner. However, even though he plans to pack bags and catch a flight to elsewhere in the morning, he also waits to poison his son until then. I know the wait was relevant to following events in the story, but I didn't understand why the story had not been taken a different route. He could have easily poisoned both children at the same time, especially when killing the boy in the morning would have him straining for time. I couldn't understand why he'd plan all that out for months and deliberately choose to make things difficult. The story also seemed to jump forward in time abruptly a few times. I felt the transitions could have been a little smoother.
I planned to leave a critique in the comments. I sat and thought real hard about what I would say and how. I hate critiquing because I feel I'm far too critical, far too wordy and somehow far too offensive no matter how hard I may try not to be. But sometimes I get the gumption to try anyway. I planned what I would say, practiced it a few times, worded out how the story could be changed without losing its twist, etc.. I even worried because I don't tend to be cleared headed at hours past 2am, so I crossed my fingers for that. All seemed good.
I ended up not posting anything, though. Looking again, I notice the story had been rated already some 200 times and it had 4.5 stars or so. Who was I to be 'that guy'; to come along and squat on it when everyone else seemed to love it just as it was? Talk about awkward, I left the page and felt like I'd dodged a bullet. I have rules about critiquing in that kind of situation. I don't. That's just my way.
But that got me to thinking about critiquing, both when it comes to our work and others. I have certain rules I follow and I critique other's work under the philosophy of that I should only critique as I would like to be critiqued. I also use the sandwich technique, starting with good points, filling with bad points and ending with good points. It's how I want my work commented on so I set the example.
That said, what are you all's thoughts about critiquing? What sort of guidelines do you set for yourself when you critique others' work? Or do you at all? And what do you consider a good critique, anyway? Have any rules set for yourselves that you won't break? What do you expect or hope for in critiques given to you?
I've barely given much critique or feedback so far but when I do there are indeed some rules I follow when doing. I very much like the sandwich rule you use and I do that often. Starting with positive, add small critique and finish of with an over all summery that's positive.
In the middle I'm always careful at what I said and I use something that looks subjective. I use a lot of phrase like: I think that..., personally I find the..., I noticed....., that way (at least I hope so) I never try to actually blame the writer. (it's not you, it's probably me) That way if they don't agree they can always brush it to the side as something 'that guy' said because he 'didn't like it.'
I must note that this varies much on the writer, someone insecure needs a lot more reinforcement whereas some who's open to hard critique (some specifically ask for it) get more feedback, (but not to the point they would feel threatened)
I also then to give advise on how to improve. please note 'advise' I'm not going to tell them exactly how it's wrong and how they 'must' fix it. I go in the trend of: perhaps you can.....it would make that good thing even better, have you considered...., one of the things I like to do...... Once again I end by saying that that advise to make it better not to fix or cut is just my suggestions. Again I say it's just my personal opinion and things like: If you really love it, keep it, I'm probably just rattling or overreacting.
As for critique I like to receive. I always accept something that seems valid even if it's mostly negative and I always thank the one for the feedback. Sure, the positive feedback is nice but it's the negative that opens it up for improvement. I don't respond to Troll comments that say nothing like: It sucks, why are you even writing this? most of the time, when I see them, I'll just delete it if I can. They don't even deserve a witty reply if you'd ask me.
Sorry for all the rattling, I do that a lot
I feel like i've got nothing to add, since Pim covered all of the basic guidelines that I follow as well.
If I were to put it in summary form, it would be:
* Always be constructive -- make suggestions, not corrections.
* Cite examples/sections/quotes from source text to support your critique, and clarify your praise.
* If the feedback is genuinely mixed, start with the most significant strengths, then explain the development areas and offer recommendations. Close it with one or two secondary strengths, if you mean it. I've found this approach to be particularly useful when assessing flash fiction.
I do review other people's work quite frequently. If you want an idea about how I offer feedback, have a look at my comments in the Daily Story Review section on this site (the link is in the navigation menu above), or the various posts on Austin Briggs' monthly 55-word fiction contest. I'm fairly active in the comments section there.
I'm critique-shy, but the few times I've done it I tend to say something that hits a nerve - never in a good way. I think I was seen as trying to correct them, rather than give suggestions to help clarify things.
I would consider a good critique feedback that explains what you didn't understand about the piece. If I'm telling a story I need to be understood, so if that's not coming across, I'd like to know! I don't want folks trying to rewrite my story necessarily, but I'm open to suggestions. I'd like to hear their reasoning at least and see if it's going down the same path as my story (which would mean they understand where I'm headed or I'm totally off - either situation helps!). I also like the sandwich method.
I'm also verbose, so I tend to type/delete/rewrite a lot. :)
You, Pim & the others seem to have the 'rules' pretty well outlined. I think that there may be people like myself who want & crave constructive criticism - but also appreciate how much time & effort that takes. There are people who will charge for the priviledge - so I think Paolo's point about suggestions rather than 'corrections' is an important one.
I'm also over on 'writers & artists' and started a thread over there about 'shared work' as there are hardly ever any comments left and nothing is ever very analystical. Maybe some people are only in search of compliments and validation?
I am self-aware enough to know that my writing is far from 'honed' but there are some people who publish stuff and they are even further from 'honed' than me. In those situations I try to feedback sensitively - they've spent time and effort writing, possibly pouring their heart onto the page and then taken the brave step of sharing it with their peers. They deserve encouragement and pointers - I'd hope people would do the same for me (as some of you lovely people have right here on my page - thanks guys!)
In teaching with younger children we often use the '2 stars and a wish' method of feedback - two things that went well and an 'even better if'.
I may feel that are several pointers but only choose the one that might make the biggest improvement and then make that 'suggestion'.
Sometimes a piece really is just great - one you've been glad to read. If that's the case I'll just up and say it!
If it hasn't appealed to me, or if it so ridden with errors that I'd like to correct I leave it alone - as Angie points out - its not for me to ride roughshod all over someone else's work.
We are all on a continuum - but share a passion for the written word. For a community to work there has to be some effort made with each other and encouragement given.
I try to reciprocate - post one / comment one sort of thing and also repay the favour in kind - so if you've taken ages on my work the least I can do is come back and try to do the same for you.
For that to work properly we need to decide honestly where on the writers continuum we are - I am firmly at the 'enthusiastic novice' stage!
cheers - Shakes
I'm a great believer in the, it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it, school of thought. (Actually, I dunno if that is a school of thought, or just a bastadised version of a Bananarama lyric.)
What I mean is that I always critique, good or bad, with some kind words and a little humour. But I do comment on pieces that I don't like, because I think we all need to be told when something we have written is not working or we will never improve. Of course, I am no expert, so I never claim I know the "correct" way, but offer what little guidance that I can.
I am never cruel, but I'm always honest.
Well, nearly always.
I write critiques for aspiring, not published authors, and two things in particular strike/sadden me. Firstly the lack of grammatical knowledge, punctuation, misplaced commas, missing capitals, bad spelling, and a general ignorance of lay out, dialogue etc The second, which is connected, is that a lot of aspiring writers claim never to read. Which explains the first problem, because if they read published authors they would see how it is done, and how to achieve their own aim. So yes, I am a hard task master, but can ALWAYS find something positive to say, even if it's only that I'm impressed with the writer's commitment in finishing a piece, and bravery in submitting it to me! As for my work, woah, am terrified of reviews! Tend to tiptoe up to them, swerve away if I sense anything negative. Feel warm and gooey inside if good. But things have changed for me recently in that I'm with a major publisher, Avon Books, and feel their weight behind me.
I've never critiqued other people's work on a forum but I have done it many times in my writing group and with my writing buddy. I also run a budget priced critiquing service.
I try to use the 'sandwich' technique i.e. start off with a positive then constructively comment on any weaknesses (saying how I think they can be improved) and then end with another positive.
This way I hope to encourage the writer to keep writing and improve his work.