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randi.lee
05-23-2013, 06:03 PM
I’m horrid at giving critiques and I know it. I’m so focused on positive energy and keeping the writer driven and motivated that I often fail to give 100% honest feedback. If there are portions of the writing that are (in my opinion) weak, I do not comment on them. Instead, I focus on the strong parts of the writing. I feel like I am doing an injustice to the person I am critiquing because I am not giving them tips on how to improve/strengthen their writing. I feel that I am keeping the writer in place vs. propelling him or her forward.

In short, I’m asking this: Any insight on how I can give feedback without being “purely positive?” I’m not sure how I should change my behavior or how I should deliver constructive crit. Honest and straight-forward? Subtle hints? Should I stop being afraid of hurting feelings and just go for it? I’d love to hear how you critique. I’d also love any tips you could give me on how to be more helpful vs. simply being a cheerleader.

Thanks for any advice you can give!

asroc
05-23-2013, 06:16 PM
IMO as long as you offer reasons for what you don't like, give suggestions for improvement and don't attack the writer, your critique shouldn't be hurtful. You can be honest and straightforward.

Not helpful: "Your story sucks. Never write again; you're horrible at it."

Helpful: "I found [sentence] confusing because of [problem]. How about [alternative suggestion]?"

randi.lee
05-23-2013, 06:19 PM
That's excellent feedback, Asroc. Thank you :)

Maryn
05-23-2013, 06:22 PM
Everyone needs positive reinforcement. In fact, I consider it a weakness of the critic if s/he only notes mistakes and flaws.

But handing over a critique made entirely of rainbows and unicorns does a disservice to the person seeking feedback. Surely the person knows the ms. isn't perfect. They want to know how.

So tell them. Be specific and nonjudgmental. Say what you say with kindness and good humor.

Examples:
When noting a repeated error in spelling or punctuation: Again, you need to separate direct address with a comma. I'm going to stop marking these now, but as you write and edit, be aware they're lurking, hoping to escape without commas. You've got to be on the lookout.
When something isn't clear: Am I having a 'duh' moment? I don't understand why Claire isn't hitting him with a shovel instead of kissing him. You might consider getting us more deeply into her thoughts so we know why she isn't angry.
When wordiness is a problem: I'm seeing a tendency toward wordiness. For instance, 'Claire went to Safeway for onions, white flour, shampoo, milk, Cheerios, rye bread, and fresh fish' could just as easily be 'Claire bought groceries'--unless her specific purchases figure into the plot or illuminate aspects of her character, like buying only the cheapest stuff or only organic.
When redundancy arises: Since two paragraphs back you told us Claire drives a yellow Corvette, telling us she drives her canary Stingray is repeating that information. Once will create the vivid mental image of her at the wheel. (I bet her long hair's a mess when she gets there.)
When word choice is poor: I'm not sure you mean the character name Lester Miserable to be a pun on Les Miserables, but it made me laugh--not what you want in a scene of such high tension, which you did very well other than the name.
See, not cruel or discouraging, more "just the facts, ma'am." It's not difficult to note what's wrong without being harsh or hurtful. Just be aware that you want to use tact, be gentle, not judge, yet be honest.

Maryn, who'd like to see that in every human interaction

randi.lee
05-23-2013, 06:28 PM
Maryn, thank you so much for such a detailed response! Your feedback is great. I'll definitely bookmark this post :)

kkbe
05-23-2013, 06:39 PM
In short, I’m asking this: Any insight on how I can give feedback without being “purely positive?” I’m not sure how I should change my behavior or how I should deliver constructive crit. Honest and straight-forward? Subtle hints? Should I stop being afraid of hurting feelings and just go for it? I’d love to hear how you critique. I’d also love any tips you could give me on how to be more helpful vs. simply being a cheerleader.

Thanks for any advice you can give!

Be honest with your opinions and suggestions, whilst reminding the writer that ultimately, decisions are theirs to make. Honesty is everything.

quicklime
05-23-2013, 06:43 PM
Everyone needs positive reinforcement. In fact, I consider it a weakness of the critic if s/he only notes mistakes and flaws.

...


damn...I have a weakness :-(


randi,

Different people have differing skill sets. Be careful to be honest, and remember what this person most wants is probably to get better, not to be fluffed, but there is certainly a place for the positive as well as the negative. That said, if you can see things good and bad, can't you offer both to mitigate the bad with some of the things done well?

randi.lee
05-23-2013, 06:52 PM
Absolutely, Quicklime. Just based on the feedback I've recieved so far (thank you, all!) the gears are turning. I'm gaining a much better handle on how to balance, and how to be honest without being too harsh.

Namatu
05-23-2013, 06:55 PM
You've already gotten great advice - Maryn's examples are excellent! Also remember that pointing out weaknesses or areas of confusion doesn't have to be negative. For instance, if a main character has been making poor decisions, and that last one made you want to throw the book (it happens). You may not want to say that, but you can ask questions:
"Is this the best decision he can make, given the circumstances? I can see that the MC's not in the best frame of mind - having made a series of choices that continue to put him in perilous situations - but adding another one here makes me wonder if he has a death wish/wants to endanger his partner/insert peril of your choice. Is that what you intend?"

Questions like this allow me to share my impressions of a character or events in a novel, the reasons why I feel that way, and the confirming question at end invites the author to think about it and accept or discard, all without you saying anything "bad."

quicklime
05-23-2013, 06:55 PM
side note, not sure where you're critiquing, but have you visited SYW here to see how it goes?

Bufty
05-23-2013, 07:29 PM
I don't 'look' for anything - I simply read the words and sentences that are there and in the order they are written and if my eye wavers because something jars or I don't understand it - I say so.

It may not always be apparent or spill onto the page but the milk of human kindness (I think that's what it's called) flows like a torrent through my veins as I read. :snoopy:

dangerousbill
05-23-2013, 07:44 PM
Victoria Crayne's famous 'how-to' article:

http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html

Susan Littlefield
05-23-2013, 08:12 PM
Asroc is right on.

If someone only gives me good feedback, I wonder if they are reading the entire story. I think the weak parts of the story are more important than the good stuff, because they are the parts that can be strengthened to improve the story. :)

Little Ming
05-23-2013, 08:42 PM
Help! How Should I Critique?

With fire and brimstone.

:evil

Putputt
05-23-2013, 08:55 PM
Im horrid at giving critiques and I know it. Im so focused on positive energy and keeping the writer driven and motivated that I often fail to give 100% honest feedback. If there are portions of the writing that are (in my opinion) weak, I do not comment on them. Instead, I focus on the strong parts of the writing. I feel like I am doing an injustice to the person I am critiquing because I am not giving them tips on how to improve/strengthen their writing. I feel that I am keeping the writer in place vs. propelling him or her forward.

In short, Im asking this: Any insight on how I can give feedback without being purely positive? Im not sure how I should change my behavior or how I should deliver constructive crit. Honest and straight-forward? Subtle hints? Should I stop being afraid of hurting feelings and just go for it? Id love to hear how you critique. Id also love any tips you could give me on how to be more helpful vs. simply being a cheerleader.

Thanks for any advice you can give!

I'm way too impatient to do this, but you can phrase your feedback such that it comes off really positive. e.g. "This paragraph is great, but it can be even stronger if this sentence is cut."

Personally though, I prefer honest, to-the-point crit, or even mean crits if they make me laugh. One of my betas would write stuff like, "I swear, hippo, if you give me this phrase again..." and "Arrggh, *slaps hippo*" and I couldn't stop grinning while reading her crits. Another beta would go, "PUTPUTT, NO!" Those always make me chortle. It depends on the relationship you have with the person you're critting, but to me there's no reason why critting can't be fun. :D

Phaeal
05-23-2013, 09:24 PM
There's the good old sandwich model:

Open with what you found to be good.

Now for what wasn't so good.

Close with more good.

Vary how strong the sandwich filling is depending on the writer and what she wants from your critique. A terrified noob showing his stuff for the first time? Go easier and don't overwhelm him with details. Concentrate on one or two flaw areas per reading. A seasoned writer asking for a beta before marketing? Do her a favor and don't pull your punches. Agents and editors won't, especially that devastating form-reject uppercut.

I like to crit just a couple pages before jumping into any long critting process. This gives the writer a sample of what he can expect, and tells you whether it's worth your while to proceed. No use wasting your time on someone who isn't ready to listen and benefit from your effort.

Siri Kirpal
05-23-2013, 09:34 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

In addition to giving pats on the back for good work, I'll also say things like, "You might want to break this sentence in two. It's so long it gets confusing." Note the use of the word "might." Doesn't sound like an order or a bitching.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

JoBird
05-23-2013, 09:37 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

In addition to giving pats on the back for good work, I'll also say things like, "You might want to break this sentence in two. It's so long it gets confusing." Note the use of the word "might." Doesn't sound like an order or a bitching.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

I agree with this. I think it's important to phrase everything as your opinion.

In my opinion, To me, Maybe, Perhaps, Might, I think, etc...

cornflake
05-23-2013, 09:45 PM
Honestly, otherwise you're doing no one any favours, imo.

That said, how you present your honest opinion is entirely up to you and, I think, dependent on what type of critting you're doing and for whom.

If it's shorter, SYW-type things a lot of people are having a go at, I'd say just however you prefer to present your opinion, knowing there will be others presenting opinions in varying ways.

If it's a more one-on-one situation like a beta read, I'd say you should have some idea of what the person expects and the general personality of the person. I don't think that should change the honesty of the critique, but it may change how you choose to present it.

Where I might say (being overly positive is not one of my issues, heh) 'this makes as much sense as fridge poetry arranged by a bored, illiterate monkey,' to someone getting critiques from 15 other people, if talking to a person getting just mine, whom I knew to be somewhat sensitive, I might say 'this isn't making sense to me in a chronological/linear way because...' If I was talking to Putt, I'd say the thing about the monkey. Know your audience if you're the only one speaking to it; if the person is being addressed by a crowd, figure it all balances out, is my personal feeling about the matter.

NeuroFizz
05-23-2013, 10:39 PM
The solution is simple--if you can't give a useful, honest critique, you should refuse the request. If you can't find a way to point out issues with the person's writing/story, but rather just ego-pump, you are likely helping that person file his/her story in the slush pile. Is that what you consider a useful crit? Do you think you are doing anything to help that writer improve the story or improve as a writer? This should be the obligation of the critter--to help the writer improve the story and improve in the writing craft. Blowing cheer dust up his/her bung does not address this obligation, but rather works against it.

AgathaChristieFan
05-23-2013, 11:19 PM
Hey Randi.Lee,
When I critique, I like to say "consider doing this" or "maybe you could do this" or "it'd be a good opportunity to do this." That way the ball is in their court, and I come off giving suggestions instead of dictating what they have to do.

DancingMaenid
05-24-2013, 02:44 AM
I think it can help to look at critical comments as suggestions for what could make a work stronger, not complaints about what the writer has done wrong. We all have our weaknesses and varying skill levels, and no, some people aren't very good writers. But I think focusing on what we (or other people) are bad at is the glass-half-empty approach.

I don't think critical comments necessarily have to be negative in tone, even if they're pointing out things that don't work well. Some writers will find receiving criticism hurtful regardless. Okay, it's probably safe to say that most of feel a little stung by criticism sometimes. But I think as long as you focus on trying to give helpful input and suggestions, and focusing on what you think would make the story better, then that's a whole lot different than bombarding someone with negativity.

Mutive
05-24-2013, 03:46 AM
I generally start with something like, "I only critique stories I like. But everything has problems, and I want to make this story the best story it can be." Because it's true. I really don't critique stuff I think is stupid, awful, or a waste of time (since I have enough that I *do* like to critique as is), but everything can be made better.

Then I read, figure out where I'm not liking something/understanding it/am bored and try to explain *why*.

There's a huge gap between a critique where I say, "This part is boring! CUT IT!" and one where I say, "Nothing happens to advance the plot in this section as far as I can tell, so it feels like it's slowing down the overall drive of the novel. Would it make sense to cut it?"

MarkEsq
05-24-2013, 04:55 AM
Hey Randi.Lee,
When I critique, I like to say "consider doing this" or "maybe you could do this" or "it'd be a good opportunity to do this." That way the ball is in their court, and I come off giving suggestions instead of dictating what they have to do.

I guess I'd agree but this comment (if I may crit it?! :)) did make me want to say this: critique the author's work but don't try to replace it with your own. I've had betas (one, really) who suggested I change a scene to have a character do something else. It would have been fine for the character to do so, but it wasn't the story I was telling.

So, I guess I'm suggesting you crit from the standpoint of a reader more than a writer. You're there to help identify what's wrong with the story as is, not to suggest how else the story might be written.

SomethingOrOther
05-24-2013, 08:26 AM
Everyone needs positive reinforcement.

...

This.

Not just because it's motivating or reassuring, either. It's very helpful from a practical standpoint, too.

All stories use a set of many different strategies. Some of them succeed, and some of them fail.* Call 'em Sw and Sf, respectively, for convenience. Crits tend to focus on pointing out and dissecting Sf — and for many reasons, that focus is almost certainly correct.

But the problem with completely omitting any discussion of Sw is that, as my footnote suggests, all Sw isn't the same: there's stuff that really fucking rocks, stuff that's merely "good," and stuff that's borderline but not weak enough to warrant mention (and everything in between). People become better writers when they get a better understanding of all the Sw (really fucking rocks) they can do — or, hell, all the Sw (noticeably good) they can do. Knowing that helps them draw from their set of Sw (really fucking rocks) and Sw (noticeably good) (and variations of those) more consistently in future works. And it helps them suss out the difference between Sw (really fucking rocks) and Sw (what I think really fucking rocks but actually might be a rung or two worse than that wow I'm abusing this sub notation) a lot better, and maybe not use the latter as much.

And if subbers had to rely on "if it doesn't get commented on, it works"-type reasoning, they'd have to learn more about their Sw toolkit "on their own" — w/o the sort of feedback crits can offer. Which is sort of like having to figure out your weaknesses w/o that type of feedback. Doable, but a lot harder.

Per word, it is harder to praise-crit. It's a lot easier to write, say, ~250 words of traditional, "pointing out weaknesses" commentary than the same amount of positive reinforcement. But using a bit of crit-space to point out stuff that works can really help. Specific reasons and examples are important, too — not just "I liked the voice and the character was fun," for example, but "I liked the voice because of things like [phrasings or sentences that are awesome], and the character was fun, especially because of parts like this: [sentence], [paragraph], [sentence]."

Anyway, my last batch of crits didn't do any of that as much as it should have, even though they improved in other areas, so… :blush:


*Succeed and fail to varying degrees (and from the critter's perspective). It's a continuum, not a dichotomy.

randi.lee
05-24-2013, 04:18 PM
Hi all,

Thank you SO much for your feedback. This has been an extremely helpful thread (and very funny answer, Ming!) Again, I'm definitely bookmarking this one...and I'm going to head over to SYW and read some critiques people have given. Thanks for that tip. That should really help (just as this thread has.)

Thanks, all!

Dave.C.Robinson
05-24-2013, 08:20 PM
I look at stories as communication, and critiques as feedback on the effectiveness of that communication.

So if I find something I don't think works I might explain what I got from it and ask the author if that was their intent or did I miss something?