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Erin Latimer
05-09-2014, 11:19 PM
Hi everyone,

Hoping this hasn't come up before. I searched through and couldn't find a thread about it.

So the other day I get an email from a relative (who will remain unnamed of course) who wanted me to look at a story that his son had written. I sent him back an email explaining how busy I was, and that sadly, I couldn't give a critique at the moment. He said he was just looking for an opinion of the style.

Well, there was no style. It was just bad writing. To be honest, I don't know what to say. What do you do in this situation? How do you reply?

Have you had to turn down relatives who asked you to read their stuff? I don't know how to do this in a way that won't make my family hate me. Suggestions?

Maryn
05-09-2014, 11:30 PM
"I'm not comfortable offering feedback to relatives and other people I know. I simply can't be objective, and that's vital for a good critique. Does he know about Absolute Write?"

All done.

Maryn, been there

Jorshington
05-09-2014, 11:35 PM
"I'm not comfortable offering feedback to relatives and other people I know. I simply can't be objective, and that's vital for a good critique. Does he know about Absolute Write?"

All done.

Maryn, been there
Maryn, you're so perfect.

I'd recommend this.

Hapax Legomenon
05-09-2014, 11:38 PM
That's a good one.

A few months ago my dad was texting me and being really secretive about a great idea he had and it turned out he wanted me to write a novel based off of a concept he had. I just... I was extremely upset, but just told it wasn't the sort of thing I wrote and if he wanted to he could write it himself.

mrsmig
05-09-2014, 11:41 PM
I've read stuff for family members and they're all still speaking to me. :D

I try to mingle encouragement (and compliments when something works) with constructive criticism and honesty. I do NOT snark and I do NOT make light of anything they've written.

In your situation, I'd do two things:

1) Determine if it's Dad or Son who wants the critique. If it's Dad, bear in mind that he may be equal parts curious about his progeny's talent and potentially protective of said progeny. If Son has asked for the critique, get Dad out of the mix and respond to Son personally, taking into consideration the age/maturity level of Son.

2) Whoever asked for the critique, find out what kind of feedback they want before you respond. Do they want a line-by-line? A general overview? Or a pat on the head? Determine if the person requesting the critique is ready for and really, truly wants an honest opinion. They may claim they want brutal honesty, but err on the side of caution and temper criticism with compliments when you can. If it's bad writing but a good story, point out the great plot points while gently suggesting areas needing improvement.

If they know you've read the story, not responding may actually hurt more feelings than a carefully-considered crit. Good luck.

Hanson
05-09-2014, 11:47 PM
Where there's a will....

Roxxsmom
05-10-2014, 12:09 AM
Hi everyone,

Hoping this hasn't come up before. I searched through and couldn't find a thread about it.

So the other day I get an email from a relative (who will remain unnamed of course) who wanted me to look at a story that his son had written. I sent him back an email explaining how busy I was, and that sadly, I couldn't give a critique at the moment. He said he was just looking for an opinion of the style.

Well, there was no style. It was just bad writing. To be honest, I don't know what to say. What do you do in this situation? How do you reply?

Have you had to turn down relatives who asked you to read their stuff? I don't know how to do this in a way that won't make my family hate me. Suggestions?

It's a bit odd that the parent would be asking for feedback on his son's story. If the son's old enough to be writing a story where he's considering publication (I'm assuming he is if he's soliciting feedback about literary style), surely the son should be asking himself. Does the son even know his dad/mom is doing this on his behalf? I'd have been furious as a teen or young adult if my mom or dad took something I'd shared with them and passed it on to a friend or relative with literary chops.

In your situation, I'd probably kindly and gently explain that it's generally not a good idea to crit work when you're too close to the writer and that you couldn't possibly separate your feelings for your relative and your knowledge of his life/situation from his work in order to offer honest and helpful feedback. Suggest that he seek the help of a local writer's group or an online writer's community.

I'd put it in terms of what's best for him, rather than what's best for you.

First drafts of first novels are usually rife with problems, of course, but it's much easier to get feedback on how to improve from friendly strangers rather than close friends of family members.


"I'm not comfortable offering feedback to relatives and other people I know. I simply can't be objective, and that's vital for a good critique. Does he know about Absolute Write?"

All done.

Maryn, been there

Said it so much more succinctly :)

bearilou
05-10-2014, 04:26 PM
"I'm not comfortable offering feedback to relatives and other people I know. I simply can't be objective, and that's vital for a good critique. Does he know about Absolute Write?"

All done.

Maryn, been there

You need your own column. Dear Aunt Maryn. I'd send questions regularly.

signed, an interested member

frimble3
05-10-2014, 04:58 PM
Also suspicious of the parent asking for feedback on the son's story. How old is the kid? Does he know his dad is waving his work around? What if the father isn't looking for praise for the son's work, but is wanting a chance to slam the kid?
"I asked a real writer for her opinion, and she said your writing was crap, just like I told you."
Somehow, 'just looking for an opinion of the style' sounds ... odd.

shakeysix
05-10-2014, 05:28 PM
Relatives? Mine are illiterate, nuts and boltsy rural folks; self absorbed blowhards who see me as an over educated liberal arts loser. They would never do me the favor of acknowledging my intellectual existence. Thank God--s6

Jamesaritchie
05-10-2014, 09:37 PM
Relatives and close friends get pretty much all the favors they ask. Even when I'm unbelievably busy, I can find time. What the heck, it makes me feel good, and I may need a favor myself one of these days.

ishtar'sgate
05-10-2014, 09:57 PM
I've only been asked a half a dozen times but if the person who wrote the material asks me to read it I'll read it. I won't read an entire manuscript but I'll read up to 50 pages.

I've been in their shoes and I remember what it was like not knowing - do I totally suck, or what?

Erin Latimer
05-12-2014, 09:21 AM
Thanks you guys! I honestly don't know if the son knows his dad is asking. I doubt it, somehow (and he's in his twenties) Anyways, I just said he should check out absolute write. I got no answer back.

*sigh*

Once!
05-12-2014, 10:42 AM
Hmm. Call me Mr Cynical, but ...

When someone asks you to take a look at their son's/ daughter's/ friend's writing it could mean one of three things:

1. They don't know if it's any good or not and genuinely want your opinion.
2. They think it's great and want you to say that too.
3. They think it's bad and don't know how to break it to their child. They were rather hoping that the bad news would sound better coming from you.

The sad fact of life is that writing is a hell of a lot harder than it looks. The world is full of people who think their first draft is wonderful while those around them are trying to find the words to say that ... um, ah, er ...

So we find ourselves saying stuff like: "That's a great first draft. It's got lots of promising ideas. Now you need to edit, polish, edit, polish and keep on learning the craft."

And, if we are being honest, hearing other people saying the same things to us.

Or as Maryn succinctly put it: "Absolute Write"

jaksen
05-12-2014, 07:02 PM
I've read stuff for family members and they're all still speaking to me. :D

I try to mingle encouragement (and compliments when something works) with constructive criticism and honesty. I do NOT snark and I do NOT make light of anything they've written.

In your situation, I'd do two things:

1) Determine if it's Dad or Son who wants the critique. If it's Dad, bear in mind that he may be equal parts curious about his progeny's talent and potentially protective of said progeny. If Son has asked for the critique, get Dad out of the mix and respond to Son personally, taking into consideration the age/maturity level of Son.

2) Whoever asked for the critique, find out what kind of feedback they want before you respond. Do they want a line-by-line? A general overview? Or a pat on the head? Determine if the person requesting the critique is ready for and really, truly wants an honest opinion. They may claim they want brutal honesty, but err on the side of caution and temper criticism with compliments when you can. If it's bad writing but a good story, point out the great plot points while gently suggesting areas needing improvement.

If they know you've read the story, not responding may actually hurt more feelings than a carefully-considered crit. Good luck.

You are a lot nicer than me.

I just say no.

LOTLOF
05-29-2014, 08:04 PM
Hi everyone,

Hoping this hasn't come up before. I searched through and couldn't find a thread about it.

So the other day I get an email from a relative (who will remain unnamed of course) who wanted me to look at a story that his son had written. I sent him back an email explaining how busy I was, and that sadly, I couldn't give a critique at the moment. He said he was just looking for an opinion of the style.

Well, there was no style. It was just bad writing. To be honest, I don't know what to say. What do you do in this situation? How do you reply?

Have you had to turn down relatives who asked you to read their stuff? I don't know how to do this in a way that won't make my family hate me. Suggestions?

If the writer is in his 20's I would reply directly to him, he can decide for himself what to share with dad. I would then give him a very honest critique. Not be mean or mocking, but also not sugar coating anything. Tell him he has no style and that it was bad. Then tell him what was wrong and what needs improving.

The fact is he is either serious about writing or not. If he is serious he is going to have to get used to criticism, that just comes with the territory for writers. If he can't deal with it from a relative who cares, how is he going to deal with editors and rejection letters? If he is not serious and doesn't want to put forth the necessary effort it's best he know the truth now.

Wilde_at_heart
05-29-2014, 11:59 PM
What LOTLOF said. At first, I was picturing a kid, as in 10-12, maybe high school at the oldest.

First, make sure the son actually wanted to the critique to begin with. If it was the dad, maybe test the waters and ask why he was asking...

aus10phile
05-30-2014, 12:08 AM
Never critiqued fiction for a family members, but have critiqued/edited resumes, essays, papers, and other things. I don't have a problem with it. I just try to be honest but kind in my feedback.

If the writing is really that bad, maybe just make some overall suggestions and point out an example of each, rather than making the pages bleed.

Medievalist
05-30-2014, 12:31 AM
So the other day I get an email from a relative (who will remain unnamed of course) who wanted me to look at a story that his son had written. I sent him back an email explaining how busy I was, and that sadly, I couldn't give a critique at the moment. He said he was just looking for an opinion of the style.


Never, ever crit anything for a third party. It's the son's writer, not the father's

Chase
05-30-2014, 02:52 AM
Never, ever crit anything for a third party.

I'll see "never, ever" and raise her two more evers.

However, as James said, I will comment if asked by a friend or family member to read his or her writing. I owe many favors and feel good about repaying and paying forward.

Nymtoc
06-22-2014, 03:01 AM
Asking for a critique is one thing, but a relative of mine asked for more. She had written a factual article based on her research and told me that she knew her writing skills were not up to par. Would I rewrite it for her (for free, of course)? As it happened, she was not a close relative. We hadn't seen each other for years. But she knew I had experience in publishing and therefore--she must have thought--I could toss off a rewrite between cocktail parties. :ROFL:.

I replied that I was over my head in work and regretted that I didn't have time to do the job, but wished her well.

It is remarkable how often people will use relatedness or friendship as a hook to get you to do things. In general--apart from the imposition such people put on you--I think they would get better feedback from strangers. A qualified stranger can approach someone's writing without emotional bias or personal subcurrents.

Fictional Cowboy
06-23-2014, 09:20 AM
Why not?

Talk to the son and ask him directly if he wants feedback. If so, depending on his age, give it to him.

If he's a kid, be encouraging and give some tips and examples.
If he's older, be encouraging and give constructive advice on the main problems.

"Try plotting out the story to make it cohesive."
"I think you have a good idea. I'd suggest doing more reading in this genre to understand it better."
"You have a good idea but you need a better understanding of grammar/structure/character development, etc.,"

Recommend websites, writing exercises, books, classes, joining a writer's group, etc.,

Even if the writing is really bad, you don't want to crush their spirit. Be as honest as you can while being empathetic and supportive. If this person is old enough to handle the truth, let them know that you support them but that you want to be honest with them because that's how we grow and become better writers. If nothing else, encourage them to keep their ideas written down but to spend their time learning more about writing until they have a better grasp of how to do it.

If they get upset about the advice/critique, explain that your intention isn't to hurt their feelings; that lying to them wouldn't be helping them be a better writer. Tell him a story about how you started out and the advice you received. Nobody writes a publishable novel the first time around. Explain how it requires a thick skin to take honest critiques and rejection.

I'm not an expert so I don't claim to have the best advice to give the son. This is just the approach I would take. I think that by doing this, it also helps us to grow, too. Not just as writers but as a person.