Critiques: Some Questions

Oct92012

I’m doing a Writewell Lecture on critiques right now, and I need to know more about how writers use them, what they need from them, all that kind of stuff. So . . .

What are your biggest, fears, worries, whatever about having your stories critiqued?

What do you most want from a critique? What’s a helpful critique for you?

Filed in Writing

53 Comments to 'Critiques: Some Questions'

On October 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm Gina Black said...

Downside: someone doesn’t get me and they’ve gone through my work and line edited my voice out.

Upside: they’ve shown me the parts that work well and helped me see where I’m not getting enough bang out of my writing.

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On October 10, 2012 at 11:15 am Terri Osburn said...

Gina saved me the trouble. This exactly.

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On October 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm PA Wilson said...

Downside, someone tries to do a line edit rather than a critique. I get a critique for story problems not grammar.

Upside. someone finds something I was totally blind to. Even if they can’t articulate why it doesn’t work, I can usually find it.

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On October 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm Chris J. said...

If you know how to fix the grammar, then do that before sending your work for critique. Less distraction for your critiquer.

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On October 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm Eileen said...

Biggest fear: That it will be unearthed that I am a talentless hack. My insecurity is always that I’m not any good and it’s just a matter of time until everyone else figures it out.

Upside: I love people who can pinpoint areas that are weak, but don’t feel the need to rush in and tell me how to fix them. I’d much rather come up with my own solutions. So I prefer things like: this scene feels flabby, like there’s not enough conflict versus there’s not enough conflict try doing A, B, C. Once I hear their idea my brain has a harder time thinking outside that box.

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On October 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm Kate George said...

Well crap. The internet ate my comment. Humph.

What I don’t like: When people re-write my work. But especially when they re-write by removing my voice and inserting theirs.

What I’m looking for: Does my story work? Can you feel my character? is there enough emotion, Does it move fast enough etc. If I use my ex-boy friend’s way of talking as a pattern do you understand what he’s saying?

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm Sarah Wynde said...

Fun question! I had my first experience with critiques about a year ago via an online site. I’d never done any sort of writer’s group or anything like that before so it was new to me. Going in — well, I think I was looking for serious editing, the kind of thing that I (former editor) would do and have done on other people’s work. Coming out, I decided that all I really wanted was the answer to the question, “Would you keep reading?”

Apart from minor wording and style suggestions (and commas, I’m very bad at commas), the most common issue that came up was that people wanted the answers to their questions right away. I got lots of comments like, “I want to know more about this” and “explain this” and “does this mean x?” I mostly ignored those, so I’d say they were the least helpful. I’m sure that’s a style thing, though — I like the kind of uncertainty that creates curiosity and I like stories that unfold, so that’s what I was writing. The best comments in terms of being most useful have been either really concrete and fact-based (ie, DC natives wouldn’t call that area downtown) or reactions to character behavior.

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm Vanessa said...

I don’t like: when people only crit and not add what they like along the way (it REALLY makes a difference). You don’t have to put a smiley face after each line, but if you like something then make a note. When you read someone’s work, it puts the writer in a vulnerable position. The more you can encourage along with critque, the more open they’ll be to your ideas and ready to listen.

What I like: Learning what’s not working by somone who seems to want to really help (not just criticize). Also, when do you fall out of the story? When do you roll your eyes or wish you had more detail.

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On October 9, 2012 at 6:49 pm Max Xavier said...

Thank you for this, Vanessa. My bestie is an amazing writer and will often send me his stories for a quick critique. I love pretty much everything he’s written, so I tend to just tell him what doesn’t work. I will try to remember to add what I like, as well.

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm Olga Godim said...

I agree with Kate. I always want to know: does my story work? Structure, characters, dialog. Some people I encountered critic with one word: “It’s too flowery” or “It’s overwritten.” I might be stupid but I’m not sure what it means. Flowery for some might be expressive for others. And what is “overwritten” precisely? Too many adjectives? Too little action? I don’t know, and they never provide examples or explanations, which are needed.

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm Terrie said...

I find hearing what creates the pulse of interest in the reader is most useful. So much criticism goes after what is not working and while I get how that can be useful, I wonder if a lot of what isn’t working will naturally peel off in the revision process if the writer focuses on the good stuff that needs expansion. At it’s best, I believe focusing on the positive leads a writer to be braver and pursue her own vision. Not just comments that praise what is there but comments that ask for more, as in “I’m really intrigued by X line that says something about the heroine’s relationship to her mother. I’m curious about whether that is relevant to her distrust of the hero.” Something like that. I like questions that lead me further into the maze.

Useful feedback also depends on where someone is in the writing process and their basic knowledge of craft. Basic craft critique is useful if the writer isn’t clear on the technique (as in, “you’re pov is head hopping”) but if the writer knows the craft of pov, then I think questions that lead to further examination are more useful (as in, “it’s character B that seems to have the stake in this scene — I’m curious what would happen if the scene was in her pov instead” or “Character A’s goal for this scene is unclear to me. What do you think she is trying to accomplish here?”).

In short, I think feedback that takes the writer deeper into her own process of the story is the most useful. I wonder if craft issues aren’t best critiqued in exercises, at least to begin. Like the exercise you noted last time.

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm Rechelle said...

I see that this is a common fear but it is the first one that occurred to me also- losing my voice- I have a certain way of writing, expressing things – everyone does- and I hate when people try to smooth that out and make it bland, common, generic-

The best critique I have received so far has been this- a very wise teacher of mine in college who was also very encouraging told me once he didn’t understand what I was writing, what I was trying to say in this short story- I was really enjoying writing the story and then rereading as I went because it was a reminisce of my sisters and I growing up but he couldn’t seem to get the main part that was so important to me –
I remember trying impatiently to explain it to him when he said- “I don’t have your backstory so I don’t make the same connections in life or in stories that you do- I don’t know your inside jokes or your feelings about things or how you were raised- you will have to make sure at all times that your audience understands you and never ever assume they just get what’s in your head or what makes connections for you”-
I’m probably stating this badly but seriously – for me – best advice ever- I did quit taking for granted that people would “just get” what I was saying-

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm Sarah Wynde said...

I went off to pick up my kid from school and on the way I thought, oh, I should say one more thing. Biggest fear — proved correct — is that getting a critique while I’m still writing will kill the story for me. Once I start editing and revising, that’s all I do, over and over again. I’ve spent the past four months writing the first chapter of my third book. I’ve made it as far as 11,000 words or so, but I’ve spent enormously more time editing myself than I have actually writing. I’ve learned that critiquing for me should only come after the full story is actually on paper. (Or pixels. Whatever. Out of my head and into its own existence, anyway!)

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm robena grant said...

I like honesty. Even brutal honesty. Seriously, I do appreciate it even if I slink away initially and pull the covers over my head.
You critiqued something for me several years ago and did tracking changes. You pointed out the paragraphs or sentences where I’d slipped into telling or backstory, and explained that the reader doesn’t care because she hasn’t yet connected to the character. That was a major eye opener. You also explained that I got too caught up in getting information to the reader instead of telling her a story. You advised that I look at scenes as scenes instead of vehicles to carry information, and that way I’d see my infodumps more clearly. And with you showing me where I’d messed up, and explaining why it didn’t work, or why it was passive, or why it slowed the story down I could see and understand. As I said before, excellent advice. And I thank you again. : )

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm Skye said...

Biggest fear from a critique is that the reader(s) just don’t get it: the humor, the plot, the relationships, etc. As if I failed completely in the writing of the story.

What I want most from a critique is a combination of being told what works (especially the humor) and what doesn’t and why it does or doesn’t work for the reader. But not a rewrite by the reader: I hate when they try to “fix” my story themselves.

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On October 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm Sure Thing said...

Question – don’t most issues with any sort of critique – writing or other – boil down to fear of rejection?

I’m not playing devil’s advocate. I mean it. Isn’t part of the problem that we are worried about our “baby” or “precious” and by extension, critique of it becomes something we take personally?

Truly asking for clarification and edification.

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On October 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm Cindy said...

The biggest fears in a critique are twofold. One, I worry that the critique will be more an attempt to rewrite my work in the other person’s style. It has happened on numerous occasions, and when I was younger, I altered huge portions of a novel before I realized the person was nearly line-editing rather than providing a thoughtful critique. Two, I worry that it will be a rejection of my work. I know, I know, it’s not my baby, but the fear still exists even if it’s not based on logic. It’s hard not to take it personally.

As for what I want in a critique… Point out inconsistencies, leaps in logic, unclear thoughts and actions, and questions or confusions that arise when you read. As a writer, we know what we are trying to say, and when it doesn’t come through, it’s helpful when someone points it out. For instance, “I don’t believe your heroine would act that way,” or “why does the hero do such-and-such.” Pointing these things out with questions allows me to resolve the issue in my own voice and style while still addressing the underlying issue.

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On October 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm Leigh said...

The worst critiques are given by :
–people who view workshop environments as one sided events. Though they loved your critique (which took 45 minutes and gave you a migraine), they don’t feel compelled to return the effort. They skimmed your piece on the way into class, or glanced at it during a coffee break. Consequently their comments are vague, and their criticisms shallow and often misleading.

Best Critiques:
–people who read with a pencil in their hand, or the equivalent. If they have a comment, they use an example found within your text to back it up. While they were reading your piece, they were making notes about the stuff you did well, and thinking carefully about things that jarred them. They’re looking out for you. They want your story to kick ass. So they read, asking themselves, are the stakes there? Have they set the story threads? Is there a sense of urgency and momentum? Do the motivations read believably? Helpful comments? Well, I’ve appreciated receiving these:
“I enjoyed this story.”
“Though I found myself skimming this bit”.
“I really wanted to linger in this scene, it was so beautifully written.”
“The momentum slowed for me here.”
“This section of dialogue was great! I laughed/wept/smiled.”
“Nothing I’ve read up to this point prepared me for the fact that she had a ray-gun in her Prada purse that would blast a hole through the prison wall.”
“I really like this character. He/She is immediately engaging.”
“I’m a little cloudy on the geography. How’s she’d get over here when she was over there?”
“You write action/sex/arguments/descriptive passages really, really well. I so enjoy reading them because they are [fill in blank]”
“I got confused here. I thought she was afraid of heights/dogs/men with mustaches and now she’s climbing K2/sleeping with a doberman/braiding his beard.”
“I love your turn of phrase here.”
“I hope you continue writing. I can’t wait to see where this story will go.”

Always, try to look for the good, and be fair with the bad, using examples to underline your comment. Never embarass. Never dismiss. Always value someone’s work as if it was your own.

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On October 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm Leigh said...

Good heavens. Call me Tolstoy.

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On October 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm JC said...

Tolstoy.

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On October 9, 2012 at 4:59 pm Jen said...

My biggest fear of being critiqued is that the ideas behind my story will not come through to the person critiquing and they will think I’m a poor excuse for a writer– I have a fear I’m not very good although I live to write.
The best critique I’ve been given in any type of writing is when someone reads and requests clarification or offers suggestions after reading on how to make the piece more clear and consistent for the audience. It’s easy for me to know who the characters re and where the plot is going, it’s in MY head after all! It’s super helpful when aonej e else can offer constructive criticism verses tearing my writing apart

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On October 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm Louise said...

Being told they didn’t like the cussing. Certain words used because they found them inappropriate. Wanting to rewrite my work. As other Argh members have said, constructive criticism, showing me where they thought I needed more detail or sign posting, or the character put them off, or they were pulled out of the story. Sandwiched between positive crits to soften the blow :-) We all like to hear what works.

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On October 9, 2012 at 6:13 pm Jeanne said...

Biggest fear: That I’ll hear something that sounds reasonable on the surface and 10,000 words later I’ll realize it doesn’t work. Or that I’ll let someone influence me too much.

Most Helpful: This probably sounds stupid, but it’s useful to learn what I’ve actually put on the page. Because when I read what I’ve written, I always add in a bunch of stuff that’s not on the page.

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On October 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm Deborah Blake said...

I have a fabulous critique partner, and have been lucky enough to get lots of good critiques when I was doing the contest circuit and honing my craft. (Also got a few real stinkers.) But the best critique I ever got was from author Mindy Klasky, who also does some editing work on the side.

She started out by telling me everything that worked. The characters she liked and why, the best plot points, etc. Then she went on to tell me what didn’t work for her (and she was always clear that just because it didn’t work for her didn’t necessarily mean that it wouldn’t work for someone else). And she gave specific examples, almost always with suggestions on how to fix the problem.

I didn’t always agree with her (just as I don’t always agree with my CP’s edit notes or those from my agent–although I’d say they’re both right about 90% of the time), but the way she spelled things out not only improved the book I was working on then, but also all the ones I went on to write in the future. Now THAT’S a good critique.

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On October 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm carol said...

Upside it works, they see the scenes and want more.

Downside: “I don’t know what to do with this piece” Well, my response was critique it, too short, too long, too dull, too something, could you see the motivation behind it… I think that was the worst critique I’ve ever had.

I always start with positive points before stating something is not working. Find something to encourage the writer.

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On October 9, 2012 at 8:26 pm Andrea said...

I write literary fiction, the kind where a lot of stuff is implied rather than stated explicitly, so one very simple thing I need is to hear back what people think they found in there. In other words, if they aren’t picking up an important part of the factual or emotional background (that Adrian is Pen’s father-in-law, say, or that Barry still resents his dad for having moved the family to Appalachia when he was ten), then I need to fix something. So it’s helpful for me to get the quick summary of the narrative and intent: what happens in the story, and what do you think the story is fundamentally about?

Other than that, the kind of feedback I need depends on what stage I’m at. The later the draft, the more specific the questions. I’d like to know where you got confused, where you found yourself glazing over, whether anything seemed implausible (anachronistic? out of character?), whether anything felt like a sidetrack or a false trail, and whether the ending “felt like an ending”.

I don’t need solutions to any of those problems, but if you have a suggestion, I’ll listen.

If you’re one of my most trusted readers, I’ll ask: is this situation and are these people interesting enough to be worth your reading time? If you picked this up randomly, would you finish it?

I don’t really dread critiques. If people’s suggestions aren’t actually helpful, I’ll just ignore them. And from the other side of the table, if someone doesn’t take my advice, that doesn’t bother me one iota.

Oh, and about line edits: it’s fine to point out typos, but digging into the copy should be “request only”, as the bus stops say.

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On October 9, 2012 at 8:48 pm lily malone said...

I just found my first critique partner last weekend, as a trial, through the critique partner program with RWA (Australia). I had been very reluctant to let anyone read my work, probably to echo other comments about being a ‘talentless hack’.
I’ve yet to see my partner’s comments though this morning she sent a note in a quick email that she was 2 chapters in and said: “clever writing, really strong concrete description and fun innovative situations. I am finding it hard to follow the character’s motivations but I will explain that in my notes. This looks like it’s going to be a fun, emotional read.”
I’ve never critiqued anything before, though as an editor, I’ve done a heck of a lot of cutting/dumping & ‘filing appropriately’.
The hardest thing for me reading my partner’s story was not to want to ‘get out the ‘red pen’ or the Track Changes equivalent.’ When I found I was doing this, I made myself vow to read the entire story first to get a sense of it and now intend to go back and highlight the stumbling blocks for me.
I recall a post on here earlier this year about someone ‘rewriting’ the start of Lavender Blue… and your comments at that time resonate with me. They’ll be what I shall try to channel in my critiquing efforts!
My biggest fear would be my partner doesn’t ‘get’ the story… or that the story bores her silly and just critiquing it becomes a chore.
What I hope to get out of the critique process is probably some reassurance (that the story has merit and I haven’t completely wasted 18 months). And I agree with another comment above, anything factually incorrect, like that Lake Eyre in Australia didn’t flood in 2010 :)

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On October 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm Mary Stella said...

What doesn’t work for me in a critique is a simple statement of, “I didn’t like this character/plot twist/set up/whatever.” That doesn’t help me as an author. What didn’t you like about them/it/whatever? Why didn’t you like them? If you didn’t like the character because she reminds you of your 4th grade teacher who gave you a bad grade, that’s not going to help either.

It is more constructive and helpful if I hear things like, “I’m having some difficulty with this character because I don’t understand why she’s acting this way.” or “I think she has a distinctive voice and I get why she reacts the way that she does, but she’s coming across a little extreme.” Oh, it always helps a lot, particularly when I write male characters, to know if the guys sound like guys with their word choices, reactions, thoughts, etc. I like it when my critique partners spot a lapse and tell me, “Mar, I don’t think a guy would say it quite that way.” (Or something along those lines.)

When I read the work of one of my c.p.’s, I usually ask, “What do you need at this point? What are you looking for?”

Sometimes they want to know if the pacing and story development are working. Sometimes they really do need a line edit.

I might send them a section and ask, “Is this hanging together for you okay? Am I on track?”

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On October 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm Beth Matthews said...

What are your biggest, fears, worries, whatever about having your stories critiqued?
Well, most of the time I don’t care what the opinion of the critiquer is. I like my stuff and if they don’t I usually tell myself it just wasn’t their cuppa. Where I do have a problem is if my sister doesn’t like it. She’s kind of my target audience in my head when I’m writing so if she doesn’t like something I know I’m screwed. I guess more generally I worry people won’t get the jokes. I worry my heroines won’t be likeable. That people will think all my characters are assholes. I guess what it boils down to is my biggest worry is that people won’t understand what I was trying to do with the work.

What do you most want from a critique? What’s a helpful critique for you?
It’s really helpful when people understand and enjoy what you’re trying to do. Because then the notes they give me are stuff I can pretty much always use. It’s also good to have different perspectives because that person will notice things that would never occur to you.

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On October 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm Kieran said...

I want to know if they’re emotionally involved and want to keep reading.

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On October 9, 2012 at 11:13 pm Susan J Berger said...

What I or any writer dreads: Being told I don’t have a story. I agree with Vanessa that a good critique begins with all the things you like about the work. Say what works for you. When I critique another person’s work, I am very conscious that I am talking about their beloved child.

Then tell me where I lose you. (All grammar and punctuation corrections much appreciated. I don’t mean correct dialogue to good grammar, but when I slip from past to present tense, I appreciate being corrected.) If I unwittingly change POV, I want to know.
If I have talking heads, I want to know.

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On October 10, 2012 at 12:09 am Micki said...

I’m very new to critiquing and being critiqued — did a little for two classes in college, but I remember very little about the experience — except I savaged some poor guy for creating female characters that were basically big-boobied robots. I ripped up his grammar and spelling and everything else while I was at it. I learned a lot from that little temper tantrum . . . not the way to do a critique. I hope he became a great writer anyway.

So, I guess I’m my own nightmare: someone takes a dislike to part of my worldview, and savages everything else because of it. Although, the resounding sound of crickets is also a big fear — I almost would rather know that I made an impact on someone.

I’m a little bit worried about getting paired with someone who doesn’t “get” paranormal, but loves writing teary, emotional “women’s fiction”. Because I don’t always “get” that.

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On October 10, 2012 at 2:18 am Diana Staresinic-Deane said...

My writing is generally pretty solid, so when I’m ready for someone to critique it, what I’m really looking for is for my reader to point out where they story is going wrong. Writer Mary Doria Russell calls it “going out into the weeds.” When I read thoughtful critiques, I usually stomp around the house muttering, “What? WHAT? Yeah, okay, maybe, good point.” And then my writing improves.

What I hate is when I get someone who wants the story to evolve into a totally different genre (I’ve had a published and respected writer once look at my romance and tell me that it would be a good book if only it wasn’t so focused on the love story). Worse, though, is when I get someone who thinks I need positive reinforcement and isn’t comfortable telling me when a chunk of my manuscript has gone off the deep end or a character is acting out of character or what have you.

After being in a writing group that encompasses writers of all genres and skill levels these past few months, I’ve really come to realize how much I need to have a critique partner who also endeavors to be published in commercial fiction and also at least reads if not writes the same genre.

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On October 10, 2012 at 6:13 am Jill said...

Loving what everyone said, but specifically what Diana said.
Specifically in my case, I belonged to a writing group that had somewhat of a romance focus, but no one read or wrote category romance (or hadn’t for 20 years at least.)

I got a lot of “I don’t think you can’t do that in a category romance” (never mind that I had just read plenty of categories with similar plot lines) or “this is what’s hot now.”
Some of them were also not very motivated to publish, which is fine for them, but can make a mismatch in critique meetings. You end up critiquing 50 first chapters rather than helping them work through a project, for example.
Lovely people, lovely writers. Just not helpful for what I was specifically writing.

I used to think I was a terrible plotter, but as I mature (ha!), I realize that one of my biggest flaws as a writer is falling n love with my clever ideas and trying to bend the characters to fit my neat little plan. If I can find the right characters for my idea, it works great, but sometimes I don’t and the writing stall or stinks on ice, frankly.
So what I want in a good critique is: are the characters’ motivations clear? Do they make sense with this plot?
I can take a pretty harsh critique too, although smiley faces never hurt.

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On October 10, 2012 at 6:38 pm Diana Staresinic-Deane said...

I realize that one of my biggest flaws as a writer is falling n love with my clever ideas and trying to bend the characters to fit my neat little plan.

Too true!

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On October 10, 2012 at 5:06 am colognegrrl said...

First, I learned to only hand out manuscripts to people when I was done with them. Of course, sometimes you need input concerning certain questions (“Is that too silly?” Does this make sense?” “Too much information or too little?”) but I have to be sure that this is what I wanted to achieve with the work. So I don’t need basic encouragement to go on, and a negative statement won’t leave me completely devastated.

Also, I’ve been asked to read other people’s manuscripts and I realized how hard it is to do this – being fair, criticising without hurting the writer, not just asking “how would I do this?” because it is not my style and taste but admitting that othe people have other fortes. Looking at Amazon reviews (which of course are sometimes written by people who don’t try to be fair at all), you can witness that what one person loves, another person can’t stand at all. So how do you choose critique partners? Just ask the ones who are completely on your side or dare to get someone whose comments might be truthful but shake your confidence in the roots?

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On October 10, 2012 at 5:07 am colognegrrl said...

Done with tha ms, that is. Not with the people ;o)

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On October 10, 2012 at 9:28 am Kimberly Hope said...

When I first started getting critiques, the biggest fear was trusting the person who was doing the critique. Did they really know what they were talking about? Was their writing experience about equal or slightly above mine, or was I going to receive a critique that listed a bunch of information that didn’t apply to my genre. And the worst, as already noted, were they going to kill my voice and try to insert theirs?

Once I got a critique group that I trusted (which you only get through trial and error), then the biggest fear became, what if my idea is crap and it can’t sustain the story, etc. But since I’m a plotter, this is also a group that will look at my Excel spreadsheet and a brief character description and tell me if I’m smoking dope before I start writing.

Best critiques provide a mix of “Oh, I love the way you wrote this,” and “Wait, I’m confused here. Are you setting X up, or do you mean Y?” and “Double-check you comma usage here, you comma whore!” They don’t mess with your voice, they provide positive and negative feedback, they remind you if you’ve dropped a subplot somewhere, and although they’re not spellcheck, they let you know if you’re using the wrong word, etc.

Someone else said they don’t like early critiques. We found overall, that we like to do them in quarters or thirds (usually at turning points) so if something isn’t quite working, we know early on and don’t lose a lot of time fixing it.

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On October 10, 2012 at 9:29 am Jinx said...

I took my first and only creative writing class as an adult, and found it overall quite unhelpful. It was hard both being critiqued and doing the critiquing.

I think as a writer the ideal critique partner would be someone who does the same general type of writing and who reads the same general type or types of writing.

When my stuff was being critiqued by someone who basically preferred a whole different style and genre, it all felt stifling. I had no interest in writing poetry, so to be told that the cadences (in my non-poetry stuff) just weren’t flowing was … meh. So what? I don’t care about that, and don’t really want to know. And I wasn’t going for dry travelogue, so to me it wasn’t a flaw that I had skipped an entire leg of a trip to describe the part that was critical to me. That was my goal.

As a result, I now think that someone who doesn’t find the overall work appealing should say so upfront, and move to a broader, more positive line of response. And someone who works in the same genre should offer specifics that relate to the writer’s need to know. Which it’s helpful to state at the get-go, before the critique is submitted.

I for one sometimes DID like to find out from another reader what information they needed to understand a passage, because I was writing in the middle of a story sequence and hadn’t written the setup yet. But later on, a litany of what they didn’t know was unhelpful, because they didn’t know it just exactly because what they had was a fragment.

And doing critiques, I always found myself starting with the things I liked, or loved, then going to the issues that felt like they were blocking my enjoyment, and trying to describe them pretty broadly. Only at the end of the critique, and only if it was a big stumbling block, would I object to a specific, like a word or phrase that I felt was not working.

And as for line edits of grammar or spelling or commas, I think that should be spelled out in the critiquing road rules. The critiquer should be specifically told that the writer either would or would NOT like to have small mistakes pointed out, so she knows what would either please and support the writer, or make her purple with irritation.

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On October 10, 2012 at 11:37 am Kate said...

My biggest fear is that they will try to rewrite it and then I lose my voice in the piece. I like it when they ask me questions where things are not clear… or point areas where they state what they are thinking so I know if I getting the point across. I am not a fan of grammar nazis because I feel that what I am looking for is a content critique not a line by line edit. At some point I know that it would be helpful but in the beginning I think it is more helpful to make sure that some of what I am trying to say is coming through.

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On October 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm Brussel Sprout said...

What I like – honesty. What I don’t like – nitpickiness.
What I need –
1) someone who says, what are you trying to say here, this doesn’t make sense to me when I read it.
2) someone who says, too much verbiage – you’re in love with your own writing here, kill your darlings.
3) positive comments when deserved.

Lani looked at the first 25,000 words of the WIP. She said things that were true, and really really helpful. I can feed in the backstory as I’m going, and I didn’t need those first 25,000 words, they were holding everything up. I restarted the book 80 pages in, I pitched it to an editor and she wants a full mss. So that was probably the best critique I could have got ever. She also identified good lines and the points where my voice was sounding good.

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On October 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm C. said...

I agree.

And CONGRATULATIONS Brussel Sprout!!!!! That’s amazing news!! :D

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On October 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm Jennifer said...

Worst fear: Being told that everything I wrote just sounds like me and my real life. Unfortunately, I gave up writing fiction because this is absolutely true.

What do I want from a critique? Just tell me HOW to fix it. Don’t just say, “I don’t know what it is I don’t like, but I just don’t like it and can’t tell you why.” This is not helpful.

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On October 10, 2012 at 10:26 pm Rachel said...

My fear is always that they will hate what I’ve written – which isn’t something I’m going to be able to help, so I try to ignore it.
What I want is for someone to point out that plot hole you could drive a harvester through, that motivation that doesn’t make sense, that phrase that someone absolutely adored, and that place where the main character suddenly needs a third hand to accomplish what they just did. POV problems and grammar corrections are also appreciated.

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On October 11, 2012 at 1:15 pm Emkem said...

I was in a critique group for a few years when I realized I had become the CP everyone hates: The Line Editor, The Voice Changer, and the dreaded Rewriter. I was doing my fellow CP’s a great disservice by telling them how they should write their own stories instead letting know what I liked or disliked, what worked for me and what didn’t.

I’m not sure any of them noticed, but I sure as heck did. Correcting they way I critiqued their work actually helped me improve my own writing.

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On October 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm Cindy said...

When it comes to critiques, I think you learn more from your detractors than those who give you a good thumbs up. Recently I specifically asked for critiques on a non-writing related topic. It was the person whose viewpoint I did not agree with that taught me the most on the subject, because her comments forced me to realize what it was I really believed.

The same is true of critiques. The comments I have a visceral reaction to are the ones I learn from because I rewrite to clarify what I was trying to say in a way even my detractor can understand. :)

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On October 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm riye said...

Dislike: Vague arty-farty comments like “This part seems unresolved.” People who turn what should be a discussion about your work into a monologue about why they are so good and you are so not.

Like: People who deliver critiques in a neutral tone so that their comments feel like honest opinions as opposed to personal attacks. Also like people who might hate what you have now but are so positive that you can fix it that you feel motivated to try.

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On October 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm Egads said...

Truly biggest fear? Writing is revealing, and I’m afraid of being revealed as boring and stupid, cementing my outsider status with people I admire.

Most helpful? Telling me what you liked and disliked about a character, where in the story you were confused, interested, bored, etc. I once had a critiquer point out they had little sense of setting in a scene, so the action and dialog seemed to be unanchored. That was helpful, and I saw immediately what they meant. I guess anything that’s constructive is fine, but comments like “this is terrible” are useless for fixing problems.

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On October 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm Hannah said...

Biggest fear: the reader will miss the point completely, and I’ll feel like I have to explain/justify my work.
Most helpful: telling me what works, what doesn’t, if anything was so jarring it pulled them out of the story. Bottom line, telling me how it works for them as a reader, not a critic.

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On October 16, 2012 at 1:09 am Arachne Jericho said...

I would echo a lot of what was said before about disliking vague critiques or crits that are only line-edits. I’ve also had a pretty awful experience wherein someone looked at the non-Western names I used and demanded I whitewash them lest I risk “losing my audience”. I don’t even know how to file crap like that, though I think there’s an important point in there that might otherwise get lost.

The best crits tell me what I’ve gotten right as well as what I’ve gotten wrong; and they focus on story/character issues rather than grammar (I’ve literally had utterly useless crits that were three words of “you forgot a ‘the’” and that was it, so grammar issues are not my problem. The worst part is having to return said crits with far more effort than they spent on yours).

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On October 17, 2012 at 4:20 am CrankyOtter said...

What I’ve learned is that I need to bookmark this because I’m the most horrible person ever for the way I critiqued a colleague’s nascent novel. Feel really really bad now, thought I was helping then. Turns out, I was helping like the cute kid in the garbage bag commercial, from a million years ago, who drags the nasty leaky bag through the whole house. I will reread here if anyone is ever fool enough to ask me to critique their work again.

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On October 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm lily malone said...

I commented earlier that I was in the process of my first critique with my first critique partner. We’ve now swapped critiques and I thought I’d add a little more.
I found the hardest part of the critique was actually hitting send on my comments. Who was I to say that I loved the heroine but not the hero; and that I wanted more backstory about a character’s father??? Who was I to say that I didn’t identify with the last third of the book, but loved the first two-thirds (ex the issues with the hero).
Anyhoo. I received a lovely note from my CP today thanking me for what I’d done and how it made her rethink and what she now had to consider. She doesn’t hate me! She’d even like to critique with me again.
As for what I received back? Two particular things resonated. First was a huge flaw in my writing in the first chapter that meant my CP read a scene completely different to what I wanted to get across. My character bluffs on a ‘Plan B’ that she’ll sleep with the hero to get what she wants, but the CP thought she was serious. Yowza. So straight away I knew this had to change.
Second was the words that “I like my characters too much to make them really confront difficult things…” More food for thought.
I’ve decided what I really want out of a critique is a sense that the reader ‘got’ my story. That it worked for them. They did or didn’t like characters and they did or didn’t get the motivation. And I should, or shouldn’t quit stuffing around with a keyboard and get a real job…
This is a brilliant post thank you Jenny, and as CrankyOtter above says, I’ll keep it so I can refer back.

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On October 19, 2012 at 7:23 am Wendy said...

It’s so valuable when people will tell you when something is working and when it isn’t. It’s pointless to have crit partners who won’t be honest with you because they are afraid to bruise your ego. Finding good crit partners is tricky!

I’d reiterate what the others said — line edits are not useful when we’re drafting. I like to hear about whether characters are likeable or not, if the pacing is good, if people understand motivations, if they laugh and are engaged in some way. You can always get a line edit later when you’re polishing. Half the time what we write gets changed, deleted or whatever anyway.

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