Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What Makes a Great Critique

. Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I wanted to take some time to talk about writers groups and the feedback writers give and receive. Since writing is such a solitary occupation, local and online groups can be invaluable. However, I’ve noticed that many writers don’t know how to give constructive feedback. All too often critiques are destructive instead of constructive.

I do not believe that these destructive critiques are given with malicious intent. However, the result is the same: harm to the writer and their work.

When giving a critique the overall feel of the feedback should be encouraging, while the meat of the critique should be instructive. If the mood of the critique is not hopeful/helpful than it falls into the destructive feedback category.

Types of Critique Partners:

  • The-glass-is-half-empty critique partner: This critter concentrates on the negative while throwing in a few off-hand positive non-instructive remarks from time to time. Overall the critique is not helpful because it is not instructive or constructive.

  • The-glass-is-broken critique partner: This critter only offers feedback on the negative. They have nothing good to say. Often this is because they believe that offering positive feedback is a waste of time. They would be wrong. Telling a writer what works and why it works is just as valuable as telling a writer what doesn’t work.

  • The-glass-is-overflowing critique partner: This critter only comments on the positive. They use lots of smilies, boost the writer’s ego…and offer nothing constructive. Saying, “This is great! I loved!” without telling the writer why it’s great and why they loved it is not instructive and can be destructive because the writer might take your word for it and sub a piece that needs some TLC.

  • The-glass-is-half-full critique partner: This critter knows how to give constructive feedback. They construct a critique like a painting, framing their instruction with positive feedback to draw in the recipient, allowing them to receive the instruction provided.

How do you become a “glass-is-half-full” critique partner?

Easy. Start and end with positive feedback. Frame the negative using the two-for-one method: offer two positives for every one negative. This method works because when you find and explain the positive, your critique will be instructive. Remember, knowing what works is just as important as knowing what doesn’t work.

A constructive critique should look like this:
  1. positive
  2. positive
  3. negative
  4. positive
  5. positive
  6. repeat

  • offer your personal likes and dislikes (subjective)
  • rewrite the author’s work for them (changing style/author’s voice)
  • say you like/dislike something without explaining why

  • motivate the writer by balancing your positive and negative feedback
  • critique work outside your genre
  • give examples and use lessons learned when giving feedback

Taking the time to give constructive feedback not only helps the recipient but helps the critter. If you understand what does and does not work in someone else’s writing, you will learn what does and does not work in your own writing, and, more importantly, how to fix it.

Love, light, and laughter!
Jocelyn Modo


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