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View Full Version : How Much Is Too Much When It Comes to Critiquing?



Alpha Echo
09-28-2011, 09:08 PM
I've just joined a writer's group! I real, live writer's group! I'm so excited! I go to my first meeting next Tuesday, October 4.

Here's my dilemma.

I was asked to merely critique at my first meeting rather than post work to be critiqued. That makes sense, and I'm fine with that.

I've printed, so far, two pieces to critique for the meeting.

I'm having trouble with one of them.

The guy paints a great picture. Seriously, I'm so there in the scene.

But...he tells when he could show. He uses a lot of passive voice. And there are quite a few places he could tighten up his sentences.

I am not published. I am no expert. But I think I am a pretty decent writer. I find it, partially at least, my duty to help others if I can.

But...how much is too much?

I've never met these guys. Not yet. I can't walk in there with his chapter completely marked up, can I?

Don't worry - I'm giving him praise when he deserves it. I list the good along with the bad, and there's quite a bit of good.

But I'm nervous to walk in there and hand him this paper with quite a bit of critique as well. I can see him looking at me thinking, "Who do you think you are? You're new, and you think you know it all?"

*sigh*

Help!

ETA: An example of one his sentences (well, two):

The ceiling had a huge crack in it that leaked when it rained, and the one bed it had was old and moldy. Its gray mattress had its springs popping out in all directions and when he slept on it the springs would creaked with every movement.

Here's how I'd change it:

When it rained, the water leaked through a huge crack in the ceiling. His bed was a single gray mattress with springs that poked him in his back when he slept and creaked with every movement.

Or something like that. That's just me making something up quickly.

But this is only one example. The guy's good with his imagery, but it needs to be desperately reworded.

Help!

JSDR
09-28-2011, 09:31 PM
But...how much is too much?This is a good question, and I'm glad that at the SYW forum, people can ask for the level of critique they're comfortable with.

Personally, I would tailor the critique to what level of writing the piece is at. ie, if there are a lot of basics that can be improved, then comment on those, like spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

if that's ok, then I look at syntax, sentence structure, imagery - are they clearly trying to say something but the word is not quite right? - suggest the word I think they were trying to think of. - are they using the same "Bill did this, then he did that" sentence structure? - suggest changes. - are they using canned imagery like "her eyes were the color of melted chocolate"? - suggest they reference the character's background in the imagery more.

third, if those two steps aren't needed, I listen to how the sentences sound - are the words flowing to put the right emphasis on tension-building images, etc. I check their chronological logic = did the dude see the thing that happened behind him, or did he see it before he turned around, etc. Are they telling when they should be showing, and, just as important, are they showing when they should be telling?

For me, too much would be to do all three things at once to one piece. I try to focus on one or two aspects of the writing so that both I and the writer, don't feet overwhelmed by information.

So, in your example, you mention two things - I would run with that.
Focus on how he can show the the things that need to be shown.
Mark up where he can change his voice from passive to active.

Personally, I would stop there because that's already a lot to change. I would, however, let him know that there are other things to tighten, but those two were the areas that needed the most work to improve the already good piece.
Another example of "too much" is when you find yourself trying to change someone else's piece to something that sounds like *you* wrote it.

My two coppers,
J

Polenth
09-28-2011, 09:39 PM
I think it's best to explain the basic issue you had, then show one example if needed. Rewriting the entire thing or pointing out every example is too much, in my opinion. He has to change it in a way that sounds like him, not like you (which is a risk when someone is given a line edited piece... they don't learn how to find the problems and make the changes in their own voice).

Alpha Echo
09-28-2011, 09:42 PM
That's actually really great advice! It's hard for me to not correct grammar along the way though...can I do that too? You know...slash commas or add them, etc? Or, is that still too much?

You're also right about the not making it sound like I'm the one writing it thing. LOL. I tend to say, "Why don't you say..." But of course, whatever I use to fill in the blank is something I'd say and written how I'd say it...

So I'll nix that.

Alpha Echo
09-28-2011, 09:43 PM
I think it's best to explain the basic issue you had, then show one example if needed. Rewriting the entire thing or pointing out every example is too much, in my opinion. He has to change it in a way that sounds like him, not like you (which is a risk when someone is given a line edited piece... they don't learn how to find the problems and make the changes in their own voice).

And you know...that's how I tend to do it. Not necessarily EVERY line, but, that's how I've been asked to do it in the past, and I tend to do that...just start slashing and marking it up as I go.

Eeek! What's wrong with me!

JSDR
09-28-2011, 09:56 PM
That's actually really great advice! It's hard for me to not correct grammar along the way though...can I do that too? You know...slash commas or add them, etc? Or, is that still too much?

You're also right about the not making it sound like I'm the one writing it thing. LOL. I tend to say, "Why don't you say..." But of course, whatever I use to fill in the blank is something I'd say and written how I'd say it...

So I'll nix that.

Eh, like Polenth suggests, pick a sentence and make an example of it in terms of grammar, comma placement, etc. That way, poor writer's not looking at a sea of corrections. Also, it forces the writer to find those problems on his own.

The more you critique the same people, the more you'll get a feel for what they need, and what they'll respond to. That's the beauty of joining a writing/critiquing group - you can watch each others writing grow and evolve.

A way to stop putting yourself in their work: Remember that the story is in *their* head. *You* are helping them communicate it to other readers. For almost every critique, the issue is clarity - is it clear what they are trying to say? If so, then leave it alone.

You may want to say: But it would sound so much better if they used another phrase, then you have to ask yourself - does it improve the message the writer is trying to convey, or is it a matter of me pleasing my own inner ear?

Phaeal
09-28-2011, 11:15 PM
If possible, ask a group member how they do their critiques. If you can't do this, don't do a line-by-line critique this time. Write a comment with your likes listed first, your suggestions second. At the meeting, pay careful attention to the other members' crits. There could be a lot of variety, there could be a standard method -- either way, you should be able to figure out the overall trend.

To overcrit at this point could make you look like you're showing off. Tread lightly until you know the landscape.

Puma
09-29-2011, 03:36 AM
I think Phael's suggestion to try to get a handle on how they do critiques is a good one. As a general rule, with newcomers here, I tend to do an overall, general critique as the first one so I can get a feel for how they handle comments and criticism.

But, going back to the sentences you quoted way up at the top (and I'm pasting them)

The ceiling had a huge crack in it that leaked when it rained, and the one bed it had was old and moldy. Its gray mattress had its springs popping out in all directions and when he slept on it the springs would creaked with every movement.

The way I read these two sentences is that the ceiling is the overall subject - and it had a bed and a mattress and how did he manage to sleep on the ceiling? Joking aside, pointing out things like this in a gentle way is helpful to newer writers (and I'd gauge this guy as a newer writer). Puma

AlishaS
09-29-2011, 03:40 AM
Id ask a group member what kind of critques they are looking for.

I, not that long ago read a chapter, I think it was about 11 pages, in word I used the comment bubbles (I love those) by the time I got to page 11 there were 87 comment bubbles, some good things, some bad and some... well needless to say that person never contacted me again, nor thanked me.
So you can take it too far, for sure, the best, stick to the most important things, the ones that turn you off as a reader, and always, always have examples or explanations. I never say I don't like something, or something needs to be changed without giving a reason why, or an example on how things could work if it's re-worked.

Since it's your first meeting just take it easy, see how other people go about critting and go from there.

And congrats, I wish there was a writing group where I lived!

Alpha Echo
09-29-2011, 03:25 PM
The way I read these two sentences is that the ceiling is the overall subject - and it had a bed and a mattress and how did he manage to sleep on the ceiling? Joking aside, pointing out things like this in a gentle way is helpful to newer writers (and I'd gauge this guy as a newer writer). Puma

That was my thought too on that sentence. I knew what he was trying to say...but he wasn't saying it. And on his profile, he claims to have been to writers workshops before!


Id ask a group member what kind of critques they are looking for.


Since it's your first meeting just take it easy, see how other people go about critting and go from there.

And congrats, I wish there was a writing group where I lived!

Good idea...to ask them what they look for in the critiques.

And I think I'm getting the general idea to go nice and easy, get to know the other members, and go from there.

And thanks - I'm so excited...and nervous!

JSDR
09-29-2011, 08:21 PM
And don't forget to have fun!

(When I get too excited and nervous, I word vomit and end up saying things I shouldn't lol!) So breathe, sit back, take it all in, and have fun!