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Starlightmntn
03-24-2006, 06:59 AM
Giving critiques is hard, and receiving them is harder. Part of the problem is that there is no standard format. Trying to line up five different critiques can be exasperating. Do they agree or disagree? Sometimes hard to tell.

Here is my suggestion: a standard critique format in 2 stages. First, a piece of writing has to be entertaining, engaging, and skillful enough to hold you. So stage 1, and the most important is, did you want to stop reading, and if so, was it because of technical delivery (e.g., over description, bad grammar, etc.) or story telling (e.g., not believable, bad pacing).

Stage 1 is simply "stop" or "go" and why.

Stage 2 is polishing and strengthening suggestions. You would answer specific questions for Stage 2, then have an opportunity for general comments.

Here it is laid out:

The Jason Evans Critique System

1. Stage 1--Did you want to stop reading? Stop/go. If "stop", break down why as follows.

1.1. Technical delivery (e.g., use of language, amount of description, spelling, grammar)

1.2. Story telling (e.g., characters, believable events, pacing)

2. Stage 2--Opportunities for polishing/strengthening.

2.1. Technical delivery

2.1.1. Narrative--strengths and opportunities for improvement (e.g., sense of setting, handling of exposition).

2.1.2. Dialog--strengths and opportunities for improvement (e.g., appropriate to the age and background of the characters? Does each character have a recognisable voice?).

2.2. Storytelling

2.2.1. Believable/compelling characters--strengths and opportunities for improvement (e.g., are characters vibrant, different from each other, three dimensional?)

2.2.2. Plot--is it engaging? Any holes? (e.g., does the plot hook you? When? If you couldn't put it down, when did that feeling begin?)

2.2.3. Pacing (e.g., does the story unfold at a natural pace? Where parts rushed or too slow?)

3. Any other comments.

Each question should be answered, whether positive or negative, so that the writer can focus on improving what needs work while preserving what's good.


Here's an example critique:

1. Stage 1: Go. (Skip 1.1 & 1.2)
2. Stage 2.
2.1. Technical
2.1.1. Narrative: very vivid with a strong sense of mood. Some passages, however, go too long and break the flow of the story. Watch for over-description.
2.1.2. Dialog: strong. Each character has a distinct voice. Some of the regional flavor comes out. You could use more attributions (he said/she said), however, to avoid confusion in longer dialog runs, especially with more than two speakers.
2.2. Storytelling
2.2.1. Characters: protagonist is great. Love the conflicts and unexpected foul actions. Gives him depth. Many of the secondary characters are too superficial, however. Try to give them more substance/complexity.
2.2.2. Plot: Hooked from the first page! The suspense is wonderfully maintained. You've planned a great main plot. Secondary plots need some help though. Probably suffers the same fate as the secondary characters.
2.2.3. Pacing: just watch those long descriptions. They can break the flow. Also, you have a few flashbacks which go too long. Trim them to short paragraph length.


If you think this would be useful, feel free to copy and share it!

--Jason Evans

Bufty
03-24-2006, 05:43 PM
Jason, if you've four or five separate critiques and can't tell if they agree or disagree it doesn't say much for the communicative skills of whoever wrote the crits and I doubt a format such as you outline would be of any help in these cases.

There are many crit 'formats' out there. Personally, I prefer to give my own reactions expressed in my own way - principally because I'm just giving my reactions to what I read as I read. If the recipient finds it helpful - fine - if not - they are free to hit the delete button or ask me what I meant. I leave it to the professionals to attempt to cover all aspects.

rich
03-24-2006, 06:03 PM
That's my take too. I'm currently commenting on a sci-fi book written by the editor-in-chief (A relataive) of a well known hi-tech magazine. He's a good writer and has written for Scientific American and others, but has some difficulty with the transition from non-fiction to fiction. I have no idea about how I'll go about commenting until I'm actually commenting. I sent him my take on the first chapter, and I'm waiting to see if he found it useful.

Starlightmntn
03-24-2006, 06:17 PM
I know I'm not saying anything immensely unique here, and I also know this format isn't good for advanced critiques on expert writers, but here are the two things I think my format does:

(1) Right up front, you tell the person whether you'd "buy" their writing. I think we need to be blunt here. If someone isn't publishable, that's an important fact. When it's only polishing, great, but when it's more, then we should say so.

(2) Make people comment on everything. Let's face it, if we, the readers, think something is fine, we may forget to point it out. By forcing a comment on all the basic points, you can compare critiques better. You can't compare one person's negative comment against someone else's silence.

Anyway, this is just something that I thought of one morning. I'm just putting it out there for anyone who might find it helpful.

Bufty
03-25-2006, 02:53 AM
I know well is meant, and I'm sure anyone who finds it helpful will use it and be grateful for the help.


I know I'm not saying anything immensely unique here, and I also know this format isn't good for advanced critiques on expert writers, but here are the two things I think my format does:

(1) Right up front, you tell the person whether you'd "buy" their writing. I think we need to be blunt here. If someone isn't publishable, that's an important fact. When it's only polishing, great, but when it's more, then we should say so.
TELLING SOMEONE WHETHER I'D BUY THEIR WORK OR NOT DOESN'T MEAN A HOOT. THEY DON'T KNOW ME OR MY STANDARDS. IF IT'S OF A STANDARD THAT I'D BUY I EXPECT MY CRIT WOULD BE FULL OF PRAISE.

(2) Make people comment on everything. Let's face it, if we, the readers, think something is fine, we may forget to point it out. By forcing a comment on all the basic points, you can compare critiques better. You can't compare one person's negative comment against someone else's silence.
FORCING A COMMENT ON EVERYTHING IS STILL TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE AND DOESNT, IN MY VIEW, GIVE THE RECIPIENT ANY REAL COMPARATIVE BASIS WHEN HE DOESN'T KNOW THE RELATIVE EXPERIENCE OF INDIVIDUAL CRITTERS.

Anyway, this is just something that I thought of one morning. I'm just putting it out there for anyone who might find it helpful.

Starlightmntn
03-25-2006, 07:13 AM
TELLING SOMEONE WHETHER I'D BUY THEIR WORK OR NOT DOESN'T MEAN A HOOT. THEY DON'T KNOW ME OR MY STANDARDS. IF IT'S OF A STANDARD THAT I'D BUY I EXPECT MY CRIT WOULD BE FULL OF PRAISE.

Isn't that why you've asked for a critique from that person in the first place? You trust their standards.

Therefore, I disagree. I give several hoots whether my reviewer would buy my work.

Fahim
03-25-2006, 10:35 AM
Isn't that why you've asked for a critique from that person in the first place? You trust their standards.

Therefore, I disagree. I give several hoots whether my reviewer would buy my work.

Each to their own, different methods work for different people, there is no one-size fits all :) For instance, you might say that in a way, you posted your guidelines here because you trust the opinions of the people on AW and some have said that they don't "buy" your guidelines. It's up to you how you proceed after that point :)

Starlightmntn
03-25-2006, 05:58 PM
A fair point, Fahim.

Bufty
03-25-2006, 07:36 PM
I didn't know you were referring to asking for a critique from a particular person. If that is so, tell them what you are looking for.
If it is crits from all and sundry that you are talking about - you have to accept that different folk crit in different ways and they are all subjective depending on the experience of the individual critter. And here, everyone and anyone is free to crit - it is in my view a very good learning exercise to try and crit other folk's work.
To be honest, in the SYW forum, I find that in most cases (not all) the novel submissions are from unpublished writers -including myself- and that flaws displayed in the first few paragraphs are invariably indicative of flaws throughout. To comment on everything is not practical and is prohibitively time consuming for some, and would serve little purpose as I see it. And to say that one would or would not buy such a work is pointless to my mind.

Starlightmntn
03-26-2006, 06:56 PM
Another fair point, Bufty.

I'm really not looking to argue. You've pointed out several universal problems with critiques. I find this sort of outline helpful. Others don't. That's okay. It's here for anyone who'd like use it or modify it.

Bufty
03-27-2006, 12:16 AM
It was a good idea, Starlightmntn and well worth putting forward if it benefits even one new critter. Cheers, friend.:e2bike2: