1. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Critiquing Style

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by BrianIff, Dec 21, 2015.

    Often when I read entries here or elsewhere, my attention is drawn to things that could be improved for the poster's style. It could be development of voice, or making a slew of linear sentences more punchy by taking the relevant details of them all into something more concise, among other aspects of style.

    I end up wanting to rewrite large portions to illustrate the point, rather than going through things point by point, which I wouldn't have the patience for. I don't really want to do that though, because it doesn't give the poster the discovery process that comes from abstract goals.

    What are people's thoughts, though? Am I right about not re-writing things for illustrative purposes? Do we just preface our critique with, 'I don't know what your style aims are, but this is what I'd do."? What's the best way to talk when you experience this in critique?
     
  2. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is definitely an issue that comes up frequently. There was a thread about a year ago that had a very similar vibe to it here. Might be worth a read...I remember having a few soapboxy posts in it!

    But ultimately, my view has always been that rewriting sections the way you would is counterproductive. I maintain, like a number of others, that critiquing predominantly benefits the one doing the critiquing, because it teaches her/him how to edit--to have an eye for things that work and don't work, and to explain why they work or don't work. That is then transferable to one's own writing.

    That means, if your critique is just rewriting someone's words the way you would, you can't help yourself edit. Because when you get to your own work, it's already written the way you would write it. You're much better off trying to find core "problems" in the writing and pointing them out, possibly explaining what you might do to fix it or preferably why it's a problem in the first place. I'd argue the same is valuable for particularly good passages.

    You also risk losing the original author's voice. And that's a completely different yet just as important issue.

    As a result, I only rewrite to showcase examples, and I typically will say that I'm writing it in my style for that purpose. I never claim that the words I write are better, just that what I'm writing is showing the point I'm making.

    I think there is an innate understanding among more experienced writers that it's all opinion, but for newer writers, it could overwhelm them and confuse them if they try to take everything everyone says as gospel. Rewriting their words might only exacerbate that problem.
     
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  3. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Cool, @xanadu that didn't come up in the search. And I agree that too many diverging examples of "what I'd do" is distressing. I meant to say that I'd state the major principles along with it.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The best way to use sentence examples is when they won't screw up the author. That's what I'm finding out anyway. If you use them for big portions or big problems - i.e. trying to solve sentence variety - then the writer will try to mimic you rather than looking at the passage and figuring out how they can - with their style - solve the sentence variety problem.

    It's good though for minor stuff or grammar problems. Or when you're not sure if the author will understand you if you use certain terms.
    But for the most part the idea is to approach the critique as a reader not a writer. As a reader you're more likely to point out what's not working rather than how exactly to fix it. Cause the exactly is more in the author's ballcourt.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2015
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    xanadu already linked to the thread I started on this issue a while back. My opinion is that you absolutely shouldn't be writing major chunks of the original work unless you can preserve the style. In fact, it can even be very hard to make small edits without changing the writer's style. When you're critiquing, think about the writer's voice and what you can do to help him/her bring out that voice even more. For me, that's the main point of a critique. So you're doing the right thing by not rewriting the original piece.
     
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  6. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I like to think I'm pretty good at suggesting rewrites in the same voice the author uses. In many cases, all I have to do is change one or two words, and a confusing or poorly worded sentence becomes perfectly serviceable. When I have to suggest a bigger change, I like to give two different versions and ask the author which they like better. When I'm really unsure, I just explain the problem and leave it for the author to solve, but I often have to come back and suggest a second change afterwards (especially when the author isn't a native English speaker.)
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the point of critique, for both parties, is to learn to write better, rather than to improve the given passage being discussed.

    So, sometimes an example will be a good way to illustrate your point, and will therefore help everyone to learn. But if the goal of the rewrite is to "fix" the passage in question, I think it's pointless, unless the critter is willing to rewrite the entire book!
     
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  8. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    Personally if I ever put stuff up for review, I would prefer reviewers NOT rewrite whole passages for demonstrative purposes especially in open forums such as this. I think it adds more noise and really, the reviewer should be able to express their views with maybe really short sentence edits at most and then just allow the writer to take on board the changes or not. And as a reviewer, I am not interested in the re-writes of other reviewers, I really just want to read the passages of the writer and how they tried to improved based on feed back.
     
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  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I try not to rewrite more than a few lines. Also try to avoid sounding like an asshole when giving constructive criticism of another persons work. I can take it, but it would not be polite to do it to someone else. Try to be fair and objective, and put my bias towards genre aside to give decent suggestion. Objectivity over subjectivity. :D ( I try not comment on things I find will make me come off as an asshole.) :p
     
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  10. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    By the same token, though, the critiqued have much to lose by taking offence to well-reasoned comments. I think a lot of people are less willing to critique work or at least be entirely honest in their appraisal if people are going to be easily offended. But I completely agree that it's better to not critique at all if it can easily be taken as a back-handed favour.
     
  11. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @BrianIff I completely agree. :)
     
  12. dedebird
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    dedebird Member

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    I personally have never critiqued someone myself (I don't think I'm qualified for that yet). But me personally if I was asking for a critique I would rather be given some points to work on and maybe some examples on what you think the core problems are. I don't think it is necessary to go and write someone else's story. It basically destroys out the original authors work. Plus you're doing all the hard work for them and undermining their chance to learn from their mistakes.
     
  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    @dedebird , if you're not qualified to critique, you're not qualified to write!

    What you do by critiquing is look in detail at a piece and say to yourself "why does this work?" or "what about this doesn't work?". Until you can do that to your own work, you won't be able to edit worth a damn, and you'll never improve above the first draft level.
     
  14. dedebird
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    dedebird Member

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    I understand where you are coming from, but I am rather new to writing I have dabbled here and there and have always loved it but I have never actually finished my novel. Of course I critique my own work trying to puzzle together if it's working or if it is not, but because I have never even finished a novel of my own and am still learning how to write I do not believe I have the experience to give others advice.
    That is the reason I browse through these forums to pick up knowledge and to learn. Everyone has to start somewhere and everyone has their own comfort zones.

    EDIT: and to get back to the real reason of this thread, the only reason I posted is I thought it might be helpful to see what a beginner writer would find most helpful in a critique. I would find it very overwhelming to have to try and put my voice back into my piece after someone has rewritten it for me.
     
  15. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    @dedebird, as far as I'm concerned, the only people not qualified to critique are people who don't read books!

    But I'm like you, I dabble here and there but have never stuck with a project long enough to create anything useful. Being on forums reading the critiques and more importantly participating in critiques makes me want to finish something.
     
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  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    People look for different things from critiques. Some want expert opinions, some want general reader reactions, etc.

    If I were looking for an expert opinion on my writing, I wouldn't be asking for it on an internet forum. I think this is a good place to get a general reader reaction. And that means pretty much anybody who reads can say something.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2016
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  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This. A thousand times this. A literary religion founded upon this.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    As somebody who learned A LOT from a critic who re-wrote passages of my early work to illustrate his point (about using passive voice when I shouldn't have done), I'm not going to disparage re-writing as a method of helping somebody to 'learn to write better.' Sometimes an illustration of what could happen if the writer changes approach can be worth pages of explanation. Seeing how my story 'read' with the passive voice changed to active was a true light-bulb moment for me. He re-wrote only a couple of my pages, changing only the voice, but it was probably the single most helpful bit of criticism I ever received.

    What does irritate the bejabers out of me are people who think a critique involves a line-by-line dissection of the work, changing every word, sentence, etc—simply because the critic doesn't like a particular style of writing. Changing somebody's style is different from correcting mistakes. And it's usually better to get the writer to catch his/her own mistakes, isn't it? A couple of re-written illustrations can do that—but no need to go overboard with a line by line edit.

    Often this approach seems to be done by folks who haven't read through the whole piece that's put up for discussion—or taken on board what the writer might have said about the passage before they posted it. For example, if the writer says in their introduction to the thread that this sample is from the middle of their third chapter, there isn't any point in critiquing it as if it was the start of the whole book, and complaining because we don't know who these characters are. If the critique-giver just takes the time to read what the author said...? It's that old forest/trees idea. A critique-giver can be so busy correcting every tree that they don't notice the forest at all.

    All that being said ...anybody who takes the hump about any honest, well-meant 'criticism' of their work really needs to re-think the purpose of asking for feedback. You might well not like the feedback you get, or you might decide it's not something you want to take on board. But taking offense and getting snappish with the critique-giver is really not helpful to anybody. (Unless, of course, the critique-giver has become nasty or has delivered a personal attack during their critique. Telling somebody what they've written is 'stupid,' or that they have no talent and will never be a writer comes into that category, in my opinion.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2016
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Does this mean to get one's knickers in a twist? :coffee:
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Not really. Getting knickers into a twist has the connotation of being overly worried by something that needs sorting out or something that's gone totally wrong. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/get-your-knickers-in-a-twist

    Taking the hump means getting offended.
     

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