Sunday, April 22, 2012

The art of the critique

When people ask for comments on their writing, be polite and be honest. Some commenters favor a policy of “brutal honesty,” but polite honesty is always more effective. Try this:

1. Find the strengths in the work and mention them first. You may have to dig to find them, but they’ll be there. You may only be able to find one or two good things, and they may be as minor as a sentence, a metaphor, a piece of dialogue, a character’s name, or an observation of nature, but there will be something there that’s worth preserving or developing further.

2. Make your general observations next. Here’s a tentative check list:
  • Do the characters change over the course of the story? Or is the point of the story that they fail to change?
  • Does the setting come alive? Does it seem like the right setting for the story?
  • Is the style smooth? Does the story flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph?
  • Does the writer seem to be trying to tell too much or too little?
3. Make petty points last. Write minor suggestions on a copy of the story and give that to the writer rather than belabor small things like typos and suggested deletions.

4. If the writer seems to be having trouble with your suggestions, point out that you’re only doing the best you can, and you know that your suggestions may not be right. Criticism should never get in the way of friendship.