1. Arannir
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    Arannir Active Member

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    I'm a rubbish critic- Any advice?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Arannir, Sep 16, 2013.

    As the title says, I'm a very poor critic. I always fall into the trap of writing a few sentences, which don't give any help to the author. I believe if I can't criticise well people won't help me. Any tips or advice would be really helpful, from anyone. See I can't write more than a few sentences here. I'm a man of few words.
    Arannir.
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah! Someone actually used this sub-forum for its intended purpose! :cool:

    Once having read a piece, it's not about taking it apart and pointing out the rough edges and bits of SPaG that need work. You can talk about how certain parts made you visualize what was going on (this speaks to the in/famous show), you can talk about parts that fell flat, you can talk about parts that confused you. You can talk about everything you felt when you read the piece or story. There are plenty of people who will shred an item for all the little nuts and bolts. We don't lack for that, so don't worry. Talk about feeling, tone, color, expression, consistency, voice, pace, etc.
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Try what I call the "selfish" approach. Don't think of it as helping the writer, but take it as helping yourself improve your writing. If you know what are your weak points as a writer then you can concentrate more on those areas while reviewing. If you think your dialogue writing needs improvement then go deeper and prepare a detail analysis of the dialogues in your critics.

    Another way is the challenge yourself approach. Don't always go for the ones with obvious mistakes. Take a perfectly good writing and try to find a way to improve it even more. The challenge will help you write better reviews/critics and also help improve your own writing.
     
  4. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    I think the same advices apply as to any other writing - read and practice. Read other critiques and note where they seemed to be most helpful. Try and write your own ones, think about them, reread them and try to find ways to improve them. You already know that you tend to rewrite too much, that's great, now that you know it you can avoid it. Try and write a critique with no rewrites and see how it works.

    Even a few sentences can be enough, if they are meaningful.
     
  5. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    Well, you can start off by just focusing on grammar and spelling if you want. I find that tends to help a lot of people. Also, just read to make sure things make sense. Conversations and plot twists... sometimes what an author is writing doesn't make sense to someone who doesn't know all of the facts. I find this a lot when reading other people's drafts. And then just give your honest opinion. That's all the author really wants. Is it good? Does it suck? Why? Too much, not enough?
    Just answer honestly, and that'll be helping them. :)
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't be so sure that your few sentences were of no help to the author. First, when people post something, many of them just want to know that someone did actually read it and want to know anything about what they thought. Think about how you reacted to the piece -- did you find it really compelling? Do you really want to read more to find out what happens next? Was the beginning a real drag, and you almost stopped at one point? If so, was there a point where it picked up for you? (It's possible that's the point where the story should start.)

    Remember, as Wrey pointed out, it's not about picking apart a piece of writing. It's not about describing how *you* would have written it. It's about how you experienced it -- did you get confused at any point? Did you find yourself, at any point saying, "Now that would just never happen!" Did you find yourself identifying with the MC? Did you feel like you got a good sense of him or her? Did you have a good sense of where and when the story was taking place? Or did you feel lost and unable to get your bearings?
     
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  7. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've only written a few reviews but they seem to have been well received. I'd say that the basic question to answer is: How can I make this better?
    If you read the first paragraph and feel disinclined to read the second, then there is something wrong with the first paragraph. If you can identity this, tell the author.
    Things that author would like to know may include; if you became confused at any point, expected particular details (like a characters feelings), felt more detailed descriptions would help you imagine the events, or less detail would prevent the account being tedious, anything that seemed to stick out as being out of place.
    When I write a piece, I review it myself many times but I end up being so engrossed in it that I 'can't see the wood for the trees' so sometimes, stating the blatantly obvious can be tremendously helpful.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I know there are people on this forum who won't agree with me, but I say, first of all, only critique writing that interests you.

    If you absolutely hate crime fiction, or Romance, or whatever, don't try to critique it. Let people who love that kind of fiction attempt to make it into something they would enjoy reading. You are not this writer's target audience, and even if they were published and a bestseller you probably wouldn't read them. So do them the favour of backing off.

    Once you find a piece that grabs your interest in some way, settle down to it. Read it through ...all the WAY through ...several times before starting to critique. It will give you a better picture of what the author was attempting to do with the piece.

    People who insist that the goal of critiquing is to make you, the critique-giver, into a better writer are missing half of the point. If you send a writer away feeling horrible because you hijacked their piece of writing to suit yourself, that's not very helpful, is it? Part of giving a good critique is making a piece of writing project the WRITER'S goals—not yours. Of course you will learn during the critiquing process, IF YOU DO IT WELL, but don't treat every workshop post on this forum as a chance to re-write to suit yourself.

    Think about more than just word choice. Think about story flow. Does it start abruptly then lose steam? Or the other way around ...a slow start that picks up later on? Are there 'missing pieces' that you need to complete the picture in your head? Does the dialogue work? Have you got a good idea of what the characters are like, what their problems are, what they want? Is the scenario believable? Enter into a conversation with the author, if you have questions. The more they tell you about what they're trying to do, the more you can help.

    There is nothing wrong with asking yourself how you would tell this story, but make sure it's THEIR story you're trying to tell, not your own. Try to be openminded about style. There are many ways to tell a story.

    And of course, always be encouraging. There must have been something that drew your attention to the piece in the first place, even if it's just the title. Figure out what that 'something' is, point it out, and do what you can to help the author develop it.
     
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  9. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    I'm gonna swim against the tide here when I say, if you review any kind of prose, deconstruct the bloody innards out of it. Be nitpicky, be pedantic - any sort of advice you can give to the writer is crucial, as it develops them into a better one. Of course, that doesn't mean you should watch out for every comma or every spelling mistake, but proper grammar and general writing capabilities are key to a well received story, along with an enticing plot and a coherent narrative.

    Also rather controversially, give the writer an example on a few occasions where you want to construe a better way of structuring a given part of the story. Perhaps there's a scene that's out of place, or a set of words should switch places. Show the writer how you would fix it, rather than just tell them what confused you. Examples sink deeper than theory.
     
  10. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need to write a book here about how to critique. To be economic with words to me is a good thing as long as every word counts.
    I have learned so much from critiquing and hopefully the author I've critiqued has gleaned 'something' from my effort so I wouldn't call it selfish.
    I don't believe we're here to spell check. In fact if the author can't be bothered spell checking I am loathe to look at his/her stuff but if it helps your own SP&G by nit-picking others then that's a different story.
    I would agree with jan 2 outta 3 - points 1 & 3:)
    I would read somebody's work as a book and If I don't get it the first time then I'll tell them - buyers in a book store will not afford the writer that luxury so you, the author won't get a second chance to make a first impression. If you can't get through the first 500 of 2000 words it's your duty tell the author.
    If I put up a piece and see that 50 people have read it but only 4 left replies, it leads me to think 46 people either clicked on it by mistake or, 46 people were too nice (or not honest enough) to tell me how bad it was. I would rather people said it was crap - I would learn a lot more for it.

    I had a habit of doing this but someone said it was rude so I pulled back a little. I would appreciate if people said - "Erebh, I like that but I think if you put it this way..." Sometimes when they say do it this way without giving an example it goes over my head so I would agree with Dean on this.

    I would also agree with Liz, Wrey and Tessa.
    Whatever you tell the author, just be honest - no smoke-blowing :)
     
  11. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Or they just didn't care to post a reply; didn't want to bother, which in itself doesn't mean the story was crap or that it didn't leave an impression, it just means that for some reason they didn't find it in them to leave a comment. Could be laziness, could be anything.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    To add to what the others have said, also look at word choice, word order, and phrasing. A good writer should be well aware of each of those three things because, among other reasons, the writer can emphasize a particular word or phrase, which may help strengthen the piece. This is especially true for poetry, but it's important for stories/novels as well.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I never said not to tell the author that the first 500 words are hard to get through. In fact you SHOULD tell them this. But until you've read the full 2000, you don't know what it is they're trying to do.

    We're not buying the book in a shop when giving a critique. We need to think more like teachers than book-buying customers!

    Maybe what the author needs to do is totally ditch the first 500 words. Maybe after that their story really starts. Their first 500 words are just 'throat clearing' and need to go. However, you won't be equipped to tell them this unless you read through all the way.

    By abandoning the piece as soon as you feel bored with it, you'll send the author off to tinker with wording. This can be the totally wrong thing to do.
     
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  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is assuming that there are problems with the story and that you, the reader/critiquer know how to fix those problems. Often, I see people go in with the attitude that the writing is bad and they must fix it. But sometimes, they don't really know any more than the author of the story, and end up giving marginal, sometimes downright bad, advice.

    I fear that indulging in "nitpickiness" will lead to criticisms that really have to do more with style, and may or may not resonate with the author or comport with what he or she is trying to convey.

    I do agree that an example is an excellent mechanism for pointing out a particular problem and a suggested fix, though.

    Above all, everyone has to keep in mind that no one is the ultimate critiquer. There will always be people who hate a piece, regardless of how much acclaim it may earn. What an author has to pay most attention to are the critiques that come up frequently, and most importantly, the ones that resonate with him or her.
     
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  15. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    I couldn't agree more.
     
  16. Mr.upperhill
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    Mr.upperhill New Member

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    Requoting one person above. Constructive advice, means you most likely read a lot of stories, practiced a lot, and applied some technique.

    Most of the best writers borrowed. Shakespeare borrowed from an author during his lifespan, a name that now escapes my thinking and he was known. However, if you are constructive you are diplomatic. Technique means you've probably seen how people used the mundane, and prosaic things in writing people can pick up. I hope this sounds truthful.
     

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