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  1. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "I'm Not Very Good at Critiquing..."

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Cogito, Sep 8, 2007.

    "I'm not very good at critiquing," is something I hear a lot, especially when members first realize they need to post reviews before they can submit their own work for review.

    That's a lot like the frequently heard introductory remark, "I'm not very good at writing xxxx, but I want to get better at it." The solution, of course, is practice and getting feedback.

    But where do you start?

    Most beginning reviewers start with "I really like this," or "I just couldn't get into this." That isn't really a critique, but it is a great starting point for you to analyze from.

    What specifically did youi like (or not) about it? The more specific you can be, the better. As you comment on more pieces, you'll start to see the same things over and over, and learn to look for them. Fore some people, it's the dialog, or the absence of dialog. For others it's how much description the author lays down.

    There is no right or wrong answer. What one person likes, another may completely hate. But give an opinion, and never forget that it is just that.

    Ok. There are elements that CAN be right or wrong. Mostly those are SPAG issues, Spelling, Punctuation, And Grammar. Even SPAG has some grey areas, particularly in internationalization and some uses of commas.

    I mentioned feedback earlier. Obviously, these critiques are the feedback that helps the writer. But what feedback do you get on reviewing?

    You will get plenty of feedback. The author may say, "I don't agree on this point, because...", or he or she may say. "Ah, yes! That's what was bothering me but I couldn't quite put my finger on it." And you'll also see comments from other reviewers, agreeing or disagreeing with some of your points.

    My suggestion? Read all of these responses, without bias. Some of the differences of opinion, you may come to see a different and useful point of view. Some you may still disagree with after you have given them a fair listen. But don't just accept them out of hand, and don't just rehject them either. Some of them, you may not have articulated what you meant as clearly as you should - critiquing is writing too, and you can miscommunicate just as readily as any author.

    But take the step. Take on the challenge! If you review, and continue to practice, you will get better at it, regardless of what level of confidence you started at. And it will make you a better writer as well.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you need a place to start, why not look at something that has been told to you in a review of your work? If someone has pointed out a recurring item to improve upon in your work, hone your ability to recognize it in every writing you encounter.

    I can think of no better way to purge a poor writing habit than to become in expert in it.
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here is an avenue to consider if one feels not very good at critting: Just about every writer is a reader. As a reader, one knows what they like and what they don't like. And if the reader thinks about it, they usually can figure out why.

    Not every critter is good at punctuation and grammer issues, which is fine, since every critter comes at a piece from a different angle or prespective. Some readers/critters are better at picking up on pacing issues, characterization, plot holes, dialogue and dialect, flow of words/sentences/scenes, tense, POV concerns--the list is pretty long. Sometimes it is just a gut feeling.

    What the writer wants (or should be looking for) is an honest evaluation. If possible, the critter should point out what works for them and why, and what is troubling to them and why. The 'why' is helpful, but not always easy to state. Sometimes it is that gut feeling that one can't put their finger on. Who knows, it may be something that has been nagging the writer, and is looking for verification that there is an issue.

    In the end, the writer gets to decide which opinion(s) of the critters to consider valid for their view of their submitted piece of writing. As a critter, especially one struggling to find their goove in critting, don't be put off that your observations are not taken to heart. Just as a writer shouldn't take the criticism wrong--or let the positive comments go to his head.

    If you're a reader, you're a potential critter. The advantage of being a reader/critter who is also a writer, is that often you may not only be able to identify an issue or problem, but may, through your experience, be able to offer a possible solution.

    Terry
     
  4. newguy
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    newguy Contributing Member

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    Wow guys
    you've got one helluvuh good topic goin' here....
    Gotta ask,
    if the critic just end complimenting and never giving any real feed back...
    Thats not right to do yes?
    I've been stuck in that spiral very long now...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Praise is fine. We all need some encouragement along with being told what we could have done better. But most praise doesn't help the writer write better. Mostly it serves to prevent him or her from just walking away saying, "Eff it all, I'm going to take up fingerpainting instead."

    There is an exception, though. If you tell the writer specifically what you liked about the piece, what worked for you in a powerful way, the writer then knows what not to try to fix. Thius is especially true if ut's an area the writer has struggled with before and is trying a new approach to try to address it.

    But the bottom line, at least to me, is that if you are putting your work up for review, you are asking the question, "How can I make this better?" That may be prefaced in the writer's mind with, "I think this is ok, but,,," However, every writer is or should be thinking of continually improving. If a writer puts a story on a review board expecting nothing but accolade, he or she is putting the writing in the wrong place. The right place is on the refrigerator or on their MySpace page. And he or she will still have to be prepared to place fingers in ears and sing "Lalalalala!"
     
  6. newguy
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    newguy Contributing Member

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    so praise is good
    so long as you offer your own viewpoint on the piece
    what you liked and trying to offer up advice from there...

    As long as you don't baby them
    or become a dominatrix about the matter
    it's okay to just say "good work. When you likened Hailstone to Icecubes in my coffee it absolutely riveted me..."
    so have I gotten that straight out?
     
  7. dushechka
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    dushechka Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure why, but I really loved the way you said that.

    Every time I try and give constructive criticism, it seems I'm stuck on "Very good. I really enjoyed that." Instead of giving a really indepth thought- which is why I enjoy reading the reviews of other people. It gives me ideas on what I could say, should the time arise.

    I guess practice makes semi-perfection.
     
  8. Sandy
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    Sandy Member

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    I try never to read other reviews before posting my own, because I'd feel the others would influence my own. Once I've completed mine, I do read the others to see what I've missed and their opinions. It's a way to help myself improve both with my writing and reviewing others.

    Sandy
     
  9. dushechka
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    dushechka Contributing Member

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    True. I'd say it goes both ways. I guess I like to read other reviews first, just so I'm not echoing what's already been said. But I guess that's fairly rare to begin with.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    What I usually do is skim the piece for first impressions, taking a few notes if necessary. Then I'll go through any reviews to see if what I found was already covered by other responses.

    If I have something significant to add, I'll go back through the piece in more detail, and flesh out my response.

    That way, I'm not overly influenced by other reviewers, but I'm also not as likely to waste time saying the same things that someone else has adequately covered.
     
  11. newguy
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    newguy Contributing Member

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    I agree with dushechka, reading former crits prevent A repetitiveness in them.
    But so far as i've read, people go to a lengths to avoid that problem and thus ending up with what I first problem I posed...
    Praising too much
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would like to disagree somewhat with the notion that repeating what some other critter has said is not a good idea, not useful to the writer and/or not an efficient use of time.

    While it may not be necessary to go into great detail or depth in explaining the issue of concern, I feel it is important that if a critter sees a flaw or concern, that they point it out. If it is not done, then the writer may mistakenly come away with the view that there might be a problem, but only one reader felt it was an issue. Others who critted the piece didn't see it, so maybe it is not a problem. Note: The same can be said for pointing out what is working for a piece as well...tell the writer, even if someone else has pointed it out.

    I believe that reading a piece before reviewing any of the crits on a piece is important, at least to me. This way I know I am giving my opinion of the piece without being influenced by what others might have observed. It is less of a concern that I might be repetative in what others have said.

    Terry
     
  13. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would just like to say that it doesn't really matter how good or bad you are at critique. All you have to do if you are not good at it is say what you did like about a piece and what you din't like about a piece. Then explain why you did or didn't like it.

    You can also let the writer know if the title works for the piece or not. There are many things you can pick up so just give it a go.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, see the thread Goldilocks' Three Bears. If I can give a nod to what another reviewer has said, I can focus on a small number of additional points and not overwhelm the writer.
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cogito,
    I don't see how critting a piece before reading what other critters commented about a piece is relevant to the focusing on a certain number of points (The Gooldilocks example). It is simply critting independent of what other critters might have said.

    If the 3-5 rule were to be followed, then if the first critter came up with three concerns, and the second came up with two additional concerns, the 'reasonable limit' has been reached. No other critters needed?

    Sometimes it may take two or three critters to observe a concern with a piece, and only one of them may explain the issue and/or a potential solution that gets through to the writer or makes sense.

    Just because a critter observes something in a piece that is a concern, doesn't mean a hill of beans unless it connects/meshes with the writer's view in some way. The writer may take a look at what I suggested as possible issues to address and toss each of them out...the writer's perogative--it's my opinion and their writing. Writer's view trumps critters every time when there is a discrepancy. The same if I think something is working in a piece and comment on it--the writer may, upon rereading, decide that section of dialogue or action sequence needs some work or needs to go to the cutting room (recycle bin) floor.

    As a writer who receives crits, what I deem as valuable is if two or more readers independently identify a similar concern in a piece. While I, as a writer, may not change it, the multiple concerns sure motivate me to look a bit closer and give due consideration to what the critters had to say.

    Terry
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The 3-5 guideline applies to one review. There is no limit on the number of reviews, which presumably the writer would consider one at a time.

    I did say I would "give a nod" to what another reviewer has said if I feel the other reviewer has covered it. Yet recently I decided instead to go into more depth on what another reviewer pointed out, because to me it was that distracting an issue.

    But I looked over the piece, and formed my opinions of what were the key points to address before looking at the other critiques.

    In another case, I formed my opinions from an initial reading, then saw that my points had already been addressed far better than I would have by another reviewer. So I went ahead and put my effort into another piece instead.

    By the way, I cannot bring myself to call reviewers "critters." It makes me picture Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies with her collection of furry wild friends.
     
  17. chloe.spencer
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    chloe.spencer Member

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    May I ask what the 3-5 rule is?
     
  18. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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    It's helpful to me when several people say the same thing. I tend to give more weight to an issue that many readers have noted, compared to an issue that one reader noted. So I don't see repetition as bad.
     
  19. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was referring to the post contents of the post Cogito was referencing: Goldilocks' Three Bears-- respect to critting.


    Cogito: By the way, I cannot bring myself to call reviewers "critters." It makes me picture Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies with her collection of furry wild friends. :) Elly May Clampett, a show I watched more than a few times as a kid. At least she took good care of her critters.;)

    Terry
     
  20. chloe.spencer
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    chloe.spencer Member

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    Ah, I see. Thank you.

    I agree with you about the word critters. Gives me a laugh every time I see it, though.
     

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