1. bluebell80

    bluebell80 Contributing Member

    May 20, 2009
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    Constructive critiquing habits...

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by bluebell80, Jul 12, 2009.

    I thought this was a good question brought up in a different thread and merits it's own thread.

    I think message forums full of new writers isn't always the best place to find constructive criticism.

    Often, neophyte writer's don't have the tools, vocabulary/experience, to offer constructive criticism. While they are often seeking it, and in places like this, are forced to give critiques before posting, when they really don't know how. That's when we get "You story sucks." and stuff like that. Though I have caught myself thinking this phrase above when reading through some stuff found on the internet, I would never say it like that.

    As a more experienced writer, I know that everyone has the ability to push deeper and make things better. So, even if the first draft of an awful short story sucks, it isn't a full example of what the writer will be capable of after some practice.

    I try to stay away from general terms of, the story line just wasn't interesting, because most stories can be made to be interesting, it just takes some re-working.

    Even if they say they know spelling and grammar might not be perfect (usually as a way of avoiding having too much red ink on their page) I will always point out what I find, because otherwise how will they learn?

    If someone is posting something up, without having gone through it a couple of times to check for grammatical and spelling mistakes, then they shouldn't be posting it.

    If I see something that starts out grammatical wrong, and continues throughout the whole piece, I won't critique it. It shows me that the author couldn't be considerate enough to even try for proper grammar. I don't read inconsiderate people's work.

    Those types of pieces are also telling about the writer and their potential to be a serious writer.

    Grammar, spelling, word choices, and stylistic design are all major parts of the craft of telling stories. While not everyone can spin an interesting story, what makes it interesting is the words used to describe it. The flow and the rhythm of the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters is very important.

    I think we can find some good critiquers on boards like this, though, who are either published, or almost publishable writers. Usually, they will give more line by line fixes, and try to help the writer understand what went wrong.

    Now I am not saying all new writers can't critque, because that would just be silly. Of course new writers can critique, and many probably do it well. But, they are good readers. They read a lot. They know what they like, or don't like, and are able to spot problems in other's work, even if they can't always help themselves. I think these types of people on message boards also give pretty good critiques.

    As was said in the other thread, writers just have to "pull on their big girl panties" and deal with criticism as it comes, constructive or not. Constructive criticism will always help the writer, whether he is open to it or not...it will seep in under the resentment and change will occur no matter how resistant they are at first.
  2. Watts N. Aname

    Watts N. Aname Member

    Jun 10, 2009
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    Midwest America
    This question really makes me think. And I think bluebell got pretty close at the end. The best reviewers read a lot. And not just one genre, but all types: newspapers, fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, science fiction, blogs, poetry. And they probably write also. By writing you get a better feel for the construction of a story.

    Here's what I think: My thoughts aren't like my speech. I can abbreviate ideas and thoughts into a block of logic like a symbol and plunk it next to another block to form more complex thoughts like an if/then statement or a yes/but statement. I don't think every individual word out. My mind bounds.

    Unfortunately my musings on telepathy have been fruitless so far, so I cannot communicate like this with anyone but myself.

    But when I read or write, I force my mind to use language to its fullest. I spend time choosing my words and structuring my sentences. I have to if I want to accurately communicate my idea. This may not seem that profound, but the more time we spend reading and writing the better we are at them.

    So it follows naturally that those who spend more time reading and writing are better at analyzing other writing. The thing that I think trips a lot of us neophytes up, is that we're stuck in the infancy of it which is spelling and grammar, or SPaG. Nobody likes SPaG cause it's just a bunch of rules you've got to memorize. And when I'm in 'blocks of thought' mode, my grammar is horrible. I've got 50 extra commas and and changed my verb tense 5 times in one paragraph. Some ideas don't hold water like I thought, and sometimes I forget that I'm not the smartest person ever. Horrible writing.

    But if I take my time and think out what I'm trying to say, probably deleting more words than I end up using, I come away with something that clearly communicates my ideas.

    As a neophyte, I spend most my time reviewing someone's SPaG. It can be tedious, but it helps immensely. The author and myself.

    The next step, I think, is stuff like plot construction, characterizations, developing a hook to keep your reader's interest, etc. This is the stuff where my knowledge is shaky, and maybe someone with more experience could comment on what it takes to understand them.
  3. RomanticRose

    RomanticRose Active Member

    Aug 20, 2007
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    New Mexico
    Strangely enough, when I set out to learn the craft of the category romance, of course I read tons of them. Then I did research and made lists of who was consistently in the top ten sellers every month and got all of their work and read them -- more accurately studied them.

    When I sat down and first tried my hand at writing one, I didn't give the manuscript to a writer. I gave it to a reader of romance novels -- my target audience. I still have a core of beta readers -- not a writer amongst them. Their feedback may not be as detailed or use all the words we writers love, but it tells me what I need to know.

    For my general fiction novel, I do workshop that through two writing/crit groups. I value the input of other writers. But, the GF novel also goes to non-writers -- readers, voracious and one-book-a-year types.

    I guess for me the question of who is able to give a constructive critique is gong to vary on what the writing is. Writing a YA novel and getting feedback from the gang down at the senior citizen's center probably won't be very constructive. If a person tells me they hate books with a female MC, they probably won't be very helpful with a masterpiece of chiclit.

    It is so easy to get hung up on "my art" and forget that writing is a form of communication. Communication requires both a sender and receiver. What seems perfectly clear to me and to other writers, might be complete befuddlement to a reader -- the very person I want to capture.

    Rambling again. Sorry.
  4. daturaonfire

    daturaonfire Senior Member

    May 18, 2009
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    The first thing I do when critiquing a story is to ask myself: Can I contribute something? If it's way outside my realm, I usually preface the crit explaining my limitations. I'm the opposite of Watts--SPAG is definitely not my speciality. I'm glad there are folks here who are good at it. :-D

    My method is to focus on the structure. I look for scenes that don't quite fit, point out where description interrupts the narrative, that type of thing. That way I can contribute something helpful to the writer, even if it's outside my usual reading experience.

    I think even new writers can give constructive crits by finding a niche, something that we're consistently good at.
  5. Etan Isar

    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

    Nov 4, 2007
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    I think that almost anyone can give some form of constructive criticism. Whether or not that actually do is another matter.

    I think that one point the OP misses (not that I am saying they don't get it, only that it is not mentioned) is that most people in public writing forums are not polishing up their latest submission. Whether they realize it or not, the are engaging in a long-term process of learning (and "growth", but I put that in parenthases because outside of them it--"learning and growth"--just sounds lame).

    Many of you know what I mean, and some of you don't. The kind of stuff put up here and in other places like it is generally not the stuff that will be sent off to publishers or agents. It's the kind of writing that you do and then trunk. Practice material, as it were. Polishing it up to a brilliant gleam is really not the point, nor is it necessarily useful, because the writer is still growing quickly, and their polished work now will look like crap to them in a few months.

    So whether or not Newbie Author #8762 writes a brilliant critique or a messy mass of half-decent commentary is really not the issue. First of all, just getting something to the point where critique is possible is a great accomplishment in and of itself. Second, you can learn something both from an "i liekd ti" or an incredibly detailed line-by-line critique from a senior member. Finally, most of the stuff from critiques that will really make a difference in a persons writing is too late to patch the holes in the piece that was critiqued, but can be useful when the author begins work on their next project.

    So, much though you have probably heard this repeated on various forums and in various articles, it's not so much what a critiquer leaves in their comments, but rather it is what you as the writer take from them.

    P.S. Tomorrow, I will come back and edit this so that you can actually get something useful out of it.

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