1. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    On Critiquing

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by LordKyleOfEarth, Mar 4, 2009.

    Ok so here is my issue. In my writing group at school, we are work shopping each other's short stories. One story, written by a guy in the class, is terrible. It is so ridiculously bad, that I have enjoyed reading it, in much the same way I enjoy watching train wrecks on the TV.

    It feels like nothing has been done right. The tense is wrong, and shifts frequently (often in the same sentence). The wording feels awkward. The story, which is tragic (two children get assaulted while playing and then watch as their mom gets shoved off a bridge and dies), is told in a way that makes me say “HOLY ****!” when the events happen, but not out of sadness. It (the story) just feels wrong in so many ways.

    How do I begin to critique this? I want to say nice things, and seriously do not want to discourage the author, but it needs some major work. Any advice?
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    In a similar situation, I've found the best thing is to focus on the biggest problems- in this case I'd definitely recommend talking about tense- where he shifted tense, why it's a problem and how he can fix it. If you focus on that and another major difficulty- for example the wording- and offer suggestions, you can help him without lying about his work. In this case you'd probably do best to focus on the big picture instead of specific details- because it's best to fix the major problems without overwhelming the writer.
     
  3. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    Every writer starts somewhere, I suppose, right? :p

    I think if I was stuck in this type of situation, I'd make a list of the things that are wrong. Label the list from 1-20 if you have to, but try and get across all the things you can. I don't find it really "not nice" if you're telling them how to improve, you know? And if you can't tell them anything good, there's nothing you can do about it but help them. But as for the list, once you hit each topic, try to explain it to them. Once they understand one part, move on to the next problem.

    That's what I'd do at least. :)
     
  4. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only think I am afraid of is that, basicly, that list is his entire story. It really is that bad. Not much sugar with which to coat the pill.
     
  5. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    Then don't try to sugarcoat it. It's better to be honest then try to shirk away from even wanting to say anything. I'm pretty sure he's going to notice your hesitancy, since you seem so not sure on how to go about telling him of every problem--the whole story--and that's going to tell him something right there. (I'm not saying in a mean way, sorry if it might be coming across like that--I've not had much sleep.)
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I would just point out a few of the most serious issues and go from there. Others in your group will probably point out some other stuff. When he writes a revision you might point out a few more things. By the time you're done (10 revisions later?) he'll either hate you for murdering his child (haha, it will be unrecognisable) or love you for making such a difference. Either way he'll learn a lot, and hopefully stick with it to the end.

    Moderate doses are key, I think, but false compliments are poison. That's my biggest pet peeve.
     
  7. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Yeah, I'd shy away from piling on the criticism and focus on the two biggest problems, then including something about characterisation or story content to balance the tense or grammatical errors. As well as being constructive, I'd make sure to open with something positive (needle in a haystack) which you can return to as you critique, using this aspect as an example of how the work can be improved as the problems are rectified. I've found writing groups to be ego-sensitive organisms, prone to breaking off into groups of achievers and fuming begrudgers. Anyway, be constructive and change places if he doesn't like it.:)
     
  8. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I belong to a creative writer's group and a novel incubator. I'll admit that both are harsh; some people have declined to submit their work after attending one meeting. I can only speak for myself, but if I put crap in front of either one of the groups, I would be really pissed if they didn't call me on it. I don't go there to have people swaddle my feelings in bubble wrap. I go there to get an honest critique on my work.
     
  9. UnknownBearing
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    UnknownBearing Contributing Member

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    there's no point in trying to let him down easy. let him know exactly what's wrong with it. just be really down to earth and serious, dont laugh or anything. just take his paper and say "alright, these are some things you're going to want to change"

    if you cant find any redeeming qualities, ask him questions about his ideas, what he did, what he wanted to do. try to make him think of ways he could have done differently, and point out decent ideas, and help him put those on paper effectively.

    if it's really that bad, try to cluster some related errors together, and even if it takes a long time to get through it all, at least the revised version will be infinitely better than the first.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If there'' really nothing encouraging you can say about the stoiry, you could al=ways say that the story may have potential, but there are some issues that are curentlty too distracting for you to see the story in the best light.

    Then you can go ahead and point out the two or three most severe problems, as you see them.

    I must admit, I often go straightfor the issuesm with recommendations, and don't always point out the glimmer of sunshine. I kind of take it for granted that the wrioter will understand that I'm unlikelyto offer a critique in the first place if I feel the writing is a lost cause.
     
  11. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would normally agree and just be straigh forward with the guy, but I get the feeling he may not take it well. He is pretty shy and I fear will get discouraged easily. I'll just pick out the 3 biggest issues and go from there. Thanks guys/Gals.
     

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