View Full Version : What constitutes a good critique?

Keyboard Hound
08-13-2008, 09:04 PM
When someone critiques your work, what do you find most helpful? What makes up a good critique? What would you tell others to help them to be able to do good critiques?

I find suggestions for deepening my story meaning and for improving my story line extremely helpful. I'm also thankful for comments that help me to think further on my own. Heck, I'm thankful for anything another writer takes the time to tell me.

08-13-2008, 09:30 PM
Specifics are what help me the most. This goes for both what's WRONG with the story and what's RIGHT with the story. As can be expected, I really hate the good comments like "Wow, I love it! Great work!"

I just want to scream, "WHAT did you love? What was so GREAT about it? Tell me!!" Because when someone is specific about something I did RIGHT, it really inspires me and helps me to write better the next time!

Unfortunately, many readers, when asked this, seem to have little to say but "Well, I can't think of anything in specific, I just liked it a lot. And I don't want to bore you with a whole bunch of gushing about how I liked your story!"


*cough* Anyway, specifics. Too many people give reviews/"critiques" along the lines of "I love it!" or "It could use some improvement," without letting the writer know HOW. That's very frustrating.

I'd urge anybody doing a critique to just be specific, if possible.

I'm not seeking all-out critiques since I'm not trying to get published, but I do plead with readers to just give me feedback on things like characterization, plot, symbolism, theme, you know, the bigger issues; I'm not really interested in critique on my style or word choice. Critiques/reviews that "read between the lines" and let me know the reader was REALLY reading the story--pointing out things I didn't directly say in the writing--are just wonderful to me. It's great when a reader understands something I didn't come straight out and say in the story. They're paying attention.

Unfortunately, such readers who actually speak up are very rare.

08-13-2008, 09:47 PM
When someone critiques my work, the most helpful thing anyone can do for me is to comment on my plot and characterization. These two things have always been my weak point. Of course, I'll take anything anyone deigns to give me!

Now, a good critique. That varies from person to person. I've found the best critiques to be in line-by-lines, because when you do a line-by-line, you're more likely to catch problems (unless you skim). Many people balk from these, however, because for one, line-by-lines are time-consuming. And two, they're often punished, not rewarded. I'm sure many of us here have gotten bitten in the ass for taking time to critique someone's work.

Overall, the best critiques will come from those who read a work carefully--not so easy on the computer screen, I know--and are willing to respond to any and all problems they see.

When I'm giving people advice on how to write good critiques, I always tell them approach the piece like an acquisitions editor first, a writer second, a reader third, and, if applicable, as a friend fourth. Look for plot holes, awkward phrasing, annoying or unbelievable characters, etc. Look for repetition, echoes. See if the story pulls you in as a reader, if it appeals. See if the writing is technically correct.

I also tell people to remember that when they critique someone's work, their critique is tinged with their own personal style, so they should check to see if that thing they're commenting on is really not good for the piece or if it's just a harmless stylistic tic. (Stylistic tics that are any good are pretty rare, though.)

Tehuti, I agree with you. Specifics are really helpful in a critique. Even if they're relatively vague specifics. For example: "Something about your writing just grates on my nerves. I think it's because your character's an annoying little git."

08-13-2008, 09:56 PM
Tell me what I am doing wrong and tell me what I did right. As mentioned above, be specific. When I first started posting my work for reviews, I was very green and made a lot of mistakes that green writers make. I knew I needed help, so I never had an "ouch" moment with honest or even brutal reviews. I think I learned something of value from almost every review I have been given. Some people are blunt, some coat their comments in honey- to me it doesn't matter. Someone who knows more than me is helping me make my writing stronger and more likely to be published.

But if I might turn your question around a little- be absolutely certain you are prepared for comments- good, bad and ugly, when you put your work out there and don't slam the reviewer because the comments are not what you expected. They took the time to read and review and most reviewers really do try to help you improve your writing.

Can you tell I got slammed by a writer posting for a review lately :) (No one here)

08-14-2008, 01:21 AM
One of the most valuable critiques I got on SYW was from Bufty who had the nerve to ask me why the reader needed the information I'd packed in the selection or whether instead I needed it for myself. It took me quite a while to come to grips with that question, but that's been one of my most valuable lessons learned - when you're writing sci-fi or historical or anything based on somewhat detailed fact, the reader doesn't have to know it all (and probably doesn't care about it), but the writer has to know all the little details to make what is presented understandable and interesting. Puma

08-14-2008, 01:59 AM
Puma, Bufty does fine critique, in the opinions of many.

In my experience, almost all forms of critique can serve the writer, some more than others. That's why it's helpful to get quite a few. The nitpicker spots entirely different problems than the big picture person. There are people who are great with plot, others with word choice, others with writing leaner, and so on, and the more input you get, the more you're able to see your work through the reader's eye instead of the author's.

I echo the need for specifics of exactly where I've gone wrong or right and in what way. Was my foreshadowing too obvious? Is my character flat? Does my dialogue seem robotic? Tell me not just that but where. Circle the phrases and write "Stresses the gun too much," "Doesn't Shelley have a job?" or "Nobody says 'It is I.'" (Edit: Except Jenifer!)

And yes, I need to know what's working well, so I can build on my strengths while shoring up my weaknesses. (Not to mention that it gives me what I need to tackle another rewrite.)

Maryn, who wrote pretty well today, she thinks

Mr Flibble
08-14-2008, 02:11 AM
Following on from what Maryn said - We all have our strengths and weakness. If you find a critter who has a strength that is your weakness - you're on a winner.

What you gain from multiple crits is multiple people all with their own strengths and weaknesses. And they'll probably comment on the things they are stong at. They may completely miss something they are weak at.

When I crit I try and be specific ( although I rarely do a line by line - I'm a big picture person) as to what did or didn't work for me. And every decent critter will say that it's only their opinion but...

Still, the best crits for me are the ones that make me slap my forehead and say 'doh! why didn't I see that!' or the ones that teach me something new. Even the harsh, brutal sarcastic ones are better in terms of helping me as a writer than 'I liked it' although of course those are always good for saving for those dark days when you feel like every word you type is utter drivel.

So they are (almost) all good in a way.

08-14-2008, 07:10 PM
What I want most in a critique is to know whether or not I'm telling a story that captures one's interest.
If the form of my writing distracts or is unclear, I'd like to know what's missing.
Usually, the only time I give critiques is when I can see there's the possibility of an interesting story and explain what made it hard for me to find. An example would be a huge, ten-line paragaph with extremely long, complicated sentences.
I'm not a famous, well-published author (although I will be sooner or later!) but I've been reading for 68+ years and know what I do and don't like.

08-14-2008, 07:30 PM
When someone critiques your work, what do you find most helpful? What makes up a good critique? What would you tell others to help them to be able to do good critiques?

IMHO, there's no such thing as "good critique". What I want is commentary and reactions from those who read my work. The very word "critique" puts people in the frame of mind to find fault with the work rather than just experiencing the work as a reader and that I've found commentary from such a mindset to be very detremental and unhelpful in assessing the success of the work.

Good commentary, OTOH, allows me to see whether or not I have succeeded in putting the story in my head onto the page or not. I like knowing when the reader cheered, boo'd, wallbanged, closed the book out of boredom or couldn't stop reading. If I want specifics about a reaction, I'll come back and ask them directly and have a conversation with them, but I don't expect them to know what details I want/need.

08-14-2008, 08:24 PM
I look for honesty, and a critic who isn't afraid to hurt my feelings. Please hurt my feelings now, before a publisher rejects me for weaknesses and errors not pointed out. Some comments might be favourable, others not. I want to know what works and what doesn't. I am not arrogant enough to believe my writing is perfect.

As a critic, I am VERY honest, be the comments good or bad. One or two writers hate me for this, but my comments weren't intended to hurt but to improve what looked wrong to me as I read.

08-15-2008, 09:04 AM
Ditto above, but I'd also like to add this;

While it is important to think about a critters comments, remember, it is their opinion (unless it's spelling or punctuation errors, obviously), and sometimes it may not feel right to you to make the change that they suggest.

For example, I read something by a great writer who lives here (okay, I'll drop her name, Dana-Lynn) and I thought that a particular sequence should be cut. She came back and said that it was her character's way of coming to terms with what had happened, and her way of moving on.

Now, when I had first read that passage, it was pretty late (I couldn't stop reading!). So, after she had said what she said, I went back and read it again. And of course, she was right. So sometimes it's wise to reject some things that critters suggest, for all sorts of reasons - not just this one.

08-15-2008, 09:06 AM
Now to answer the question: What do I find most helpful?

Where people slip in a LOL where they laughed, a :( where they cried, and even a simple "I like this sentence".

On a wider scale, I like comments on how I have developed the characters and the story, and of course spelling and punctuation (my weakness) errors.