How to critique a story (and get some eyes on yours)

There comes a moment in the creative process when one set of eyes isn’t enough, and you need to find someone to critique your work. At the same time, you’ll probably need to do some critiquing of your own, either to reciprocate or just to improve your own skills. Here are some tips on how to give as good as you get. First of all, you’ll want to….

Build critiquing relationships

These relationships are critical for any author. They will be your support as well as the voices of reason when you do something truly stupid, and everything in between.

Sea anemone

Ideally, your critiquing relationships will be symbiotic.

If you’re writing a longer work, it’s important to have some people who read your book all the way through. Even if you’re writing a lot of short fiction, it can be incredibly helpful to get feedback from someone who’s gotten to know you and who is familiar with your style. To do this, you’ll need to reach out to other people, reciprocate critiques, and…

Be kind

Some people are thick skinned, and that must be very nice for them. Don’t assume you are working with one of them. Here are two good ways to give constructive, honest feedback without kicking someone in the shins.

  • You can point out flaws. In fact, you should point out flaws. That’s your job. But a little shift in how you talk about the flaws can make a world of difference. Instead of “this sucks,” consider saying, “this needs revision.”
  • Remember it’s not your work. Sprinkling things like “I think” and “maybe” and “what if?” in there rather than writing every comment as though it’s god’s honest truth can subtly communicate your respect for the work and your crit partner’s creative vision.

And as you make it clear all these brilliant suggestions are only your opinion, be sure to…

Keep your partner’s style in mind

Some people use incomplete sentences, or elaborate metaphors, or stick to direct, simple language. Their style might be the opposite of what you do, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Look for things that don’t work on a more fundamental level than “incomplete sentences are grammatically incorrect.” If, for example, a section feels too choppy or disconnected to keep up with because of the incomplete sentences, that’s very valuable feedback. Try to keep it in terms of what doesn’t work for you, not what you’ve been told is wrong.

Sunglasses and pen

When I put on my sunglasses and grab my red pen, that’s when I mean business.

Those are the techniques I’ve picked up as a critiquer, and they’ve worked well for me. If you’ve got some advice to add to this list, or want to share your experiences critiquing and receiving critiques, leave me a comment.

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