1. 8Bit Bob

    8Bit Bob Member

    Sep 27, 2017
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    A few questions on critiquing

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by 8Bit Bob, Oct 12, 2017 at 10:15 PM.

    Hello, as all of you know I'm quite new to these forums, and I am most certainly new to the art of critique. Because of this I have a few questions about critiquing someone's work. I came to this website mainly to seek critique on my own work and have discussions with other writers, but seeing as I have to critique two stories for every one I post, I guess I'll have to learn to critique :p

    1. What if someone else has already critiqued a story? There have been a couple stories I would've liked to critique, but many other people had already critiqued it, so I wasn't sure if I should.

    2. How should I critique a story? I've seen a couple of people copy/paste the entire story, and then add their comments to it in another color. I've also seen people just give general comments on certain aspects of the story, is there a "right" way to do this?

    3. Many of the stories I've read on here I really liked, and honestly couldn't think of any suggestions for, what do I do? Is there always something to be critiqued, or should I just leave stories like this alone?

    4. Is there anything else I should know about critique? As I said I'm new to it, so any advice would be appreciated :)
  2. Lemie

    Lemie Active Member

    Nov 5, 2015
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    1. Do you have anything new to say about it? Then there might be a reason to critique it yourself. Saying the same thing that ten others just did is a waste of time.
    2. That is totally up to you. Both can work and be valid critiques. You will have to go further than "that's great"/"that's shit", but from what I can gather there isn't a specific form you have to follow.
    3. Going back to #1, do you have anything to say about it? Yes, there is always something to improve the story, but you might not be the one to notice it. If you can't come up with something, don't force it. And going against #2, you could tell someone you love their story, but only saying that won't count as a critique. It might be nice to hear, but not really what most people are after when they post their works for critique. We're here to improve (or so I've heard)
    4. To be honest, I don't really do critique. Mostly because English is my second language and I can't really do SPAG very well, so I'm not an expert on the matter. I'd say, be respectful and most people will be happy that you took your time.
  3. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist

    Feb 10, 2017
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    1. The critiques I've given have largely been judgement calls. Do you want to genuinely critique, or just get your required number to post? To me it matters if the author is still around and still seeking feedback.

    2. The right way to critique is to offer something of use to the author, even if they disregard it. There is a wrong way I should note though. Don't directly edit the author's piece if they didn't give the OK to do so. It changes their voice and, frankly, is pretty disrespectful.

    3. I'm actually wondering the same. Given my above definition of "right critique," probably just skip it. Or drop a compliment. I guess you could count it, but I personally wouldn't.

    4. How concerned are you with leaving a good impression? Some people like the sandwich method (putting critiques in between two compliments), some people are blunt AF, which may be interpreted as rude (though you can't and shouldn't be responsible for how others perceive something). Though I'd say the most important part about critique is also the most important part about writing -- practice. It's a skill, so you need to jump in and try a lot to get better.
  4. GB reader

    GB reader Active Member

    Apr 18, 2017
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    Uppsala, Sweden
    Jump into the water. It's not dangerous. You can say you liked someting, but if you also say why you liked it, you actually give the author something of value.

    Even if you just say that you had to read that paragraph 3 times to understand it. That will give the author something of value. You need not have a way of saying it better.

    You can always be just a reader.
    To me it's more important what readers think than what fellow writers think (but of course some of the writers here are also extreamly skilled readers) .

    And be polite!
    jannert and 8Bit Bob like this.
  5. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

    Jun 3, 2015
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    SC, USA
    Absolutely. I usually look over the existing crits - after I read the piece, mind you, because I don't want them to color my perspective of it - so that I'm not just saying the same thing other people've said, but honestly, I think there's value in that, too. The more people bring something up, the more likely it needs to be addressed. That's the way I look at it, anyway.

    One time I posted a flash piece and almost everyone who read it was confused by this turn of phrase that made complete sense to me. If only one or two folks had commented on it, I might be more inclined to go eh, it's just a couple people - but it was pretty well everyone, so that told me I needed to come up with something different.

    Sometimes it's helpful to just elaborate one points other people've brought up, too, if you think you have a slightly different perspective on it or can just flesh out the idea a bit more.

    However you want. My preferred method is to pick out and quote specific snippets to comment on - the forum software makes that super easy since you just have to highlight it and hit + Quote. I also generally try to big picture it and lay out a few overall positives and negatives. As long as you're not being nasty or throwing around subjective opinions as objective facts, you're good. And it's certainly not that there's no place for opinions, either.

    Sometimes if I read something and I have nothing to say about it, that tells me that I'm just not in a particularly critical state of mind. There's almost always something. But if you can't come up with anything to improve, you can always leave a comment about what you liked! The workshop isn't there for ego-stroking, so obviously don't take it too far (I don't think these kinds of comments would really count as 'constructive criticism', either), but I do think it can be helpful to be told what you've done well in addition to what needs improving. That said, just commenting "it was great, I loved it" isn't really worth doing. A positive crit should, I think, still demonstrate a critical read.

    A lot of people subscribe to the sandwich method, where you alternate between positives and negatives in a critique so that the writer doesn't feel attacked or disheartened. This isn't something I actively do, but I do keep it in mind. I tend to be a pretty critical person - I hold everything to my own standards and they can be harsh - so it's definitely worth it to take a step back before you hit 'post' and make sure you're not coming off like an asshole.

    Also, I honestly think critique should be fun. Reading is fun, and (at least for me) deconstructing why and how things work or don't work is fun. I don't think you should slog through crits, and if you're not feeling it, it's probably going to show in your ability to give the piece a fair shot and put together a good review. If it's not fun, don't do it. I know I get burnt out on critiquing.

    I know the whole process can be daunting. A lot of people seem to have the mindset that what they have to say won't really be that useful or important, but I can assure you that's not the case. Even the opinion of someone coming at it as solely a reader, not a writer, can be helpful. A simple "I'm not really sure why, but I don't think this worked" is more than I'd get from no comment at all :)
    jannert and Fernando.C like this.
  6. OJB

    OJB Senior Member

    Nov 19, 2016
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    Chicago, IL.
    Pay no attention to other people's critiques, only your own. Even if your opinion is 180 from other people, post it.

    Express what you like about the story. Some writers, like myself, aim to have a type of vibe or feel to our work. If you say 'This story was really dream-like' and that is what I am aiming for, then I know that I hit my mark.

  7. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Aug 12, 2015
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    London, UK
    Other people have answered your questions, but I'm still jumping in with my opinions. :D

    If you've been critiqued, you know that there is rarely a consensus about anything. One critiquer didn't understand x joke, two others said they laughed out loud at it. One critiquer thought the character came off as arrogant, another thought she came off naive. Sometimes one opinion will resonate more with you than another, so you'll take it on board and discard the conflicting opinions. But often, the only way you know if you're hitting the mark is by getting enough opinions. If nine people love your character and one hates him, your character is probably going to be a hit with most readers. Nobody has ever written a book that's universally liked, so with 9/10 you know you're on the right track.

    So yes, I would definitely critique a story that had already been critiqued.

    Nope. Both ways are valid, so do whichever appeals to you. When I was new and unsure of myself, I would usually do the former because I felt more comfortable correcting errors than giving a subjective opinion. These days I rarely bother with line-by-line, but give big picture feedback and maybe point out a couple of recurring SPAG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) issues. Other people aren't confident in their own SPAG so will only comment on the big picture stuff. It's all good.

    People who HAVE to find something to criticise are really irritating (as are people who give false praise to be 'nice'). If the piece worked for you, then tell the author - it's a lovely thing to hear! Critiquing doesn't automatically mean criticism, which is why I talk about critiquers and not critics. Wrong connotations.

    There are no rules and everybody has their own style. These are the guidelines I've decided on for myself
    • If the piece is riddled with problems, pick out the top three or four to focus on. I think it's too overwhelming to have every single aspect of one's writing ripped apart.
    • Point out what I liked as well as what I didn't. On the rare occasion that there was *nothing* I could praise, I don't make something up for the sake of it. In those cases I try to say something encouraging, like 'Keep writing.'
    • Focus on the writing, not the writer. Rather than "You make a lot of errors," I'll say, "This piece contains a lot of errors."
    • Give examples where appropriate. If you tell someone they need to work on their SPAG, copy and paste a few places they went wrong and explain how. If you didn't like the main character, give a few examples of where she came off unlikeable.
    • Point out my own biases and weaknesses. If I critique something in a genre I don't read, I'll tell the author that before my critique.
    jannert, Dracon and Fernando.C like this.
  8. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

    Aug 27, 2014
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    1/ Yes, your critique is as valid (not the same as valuable!) as anybody else's. We all have our own opinions and likes, it's useful to get the broadest possible range of feedback.
    2/ As has been said, however you like...I'm one of those who copy/pastes and then colour-codes my comments...but I also try to give overall feedback, such as you've introduced too many characters in the first page, or you've given all the characters the same initial, and that's confusing, or you're using too many adjectives, or...
    3/ If you really like it, why? If you can work out why, it will make it easier for you to emulate it.
    4/ Don't be mean and rude for the sake of being mean and rude. I know my critiques tend towards the blunt end of the scale (but if I ever say I like it, you'll feel BLOODY good!) but I never do it to be mean, only to tell you where you're going wrong, and how to correct it. And remember, an awful lot of critic is personal opinion.
  9. 8Bit Bob

    8Bit Bob Member

    Sep 27, 2017
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    Thank you all for the feedback! :D
  10. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Mar 17, 2013
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    The Unseen Village
    It seems your questions regarding the workshop etiquette have more or less been answered, but if you're interested in the subject, here's a short article by @Cogito on constructive critiques in general:
  11. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    Excellent response to a good question.

    I'd like to add what a couple of others hinted at. Getting the hang of doing a good critique will improve your own writing no end.

    If you actively dislike a piece, or it leaves you bored or unmoved, FIGURE OUT WHY. If you do like the piece, figure out exactly what makes you like it. This is where the learning comes in. Just saying you like or don't like a piece isn't really helping your own writing very much. You have to dig in and understand WHY you've had a reaction to somebody else's work, for the critique to be of any value to you, the critique-giver. If you can go one step further, and give the writer constructive advice on how to improve the piece, then you really are learning.

    Maybe other writers are making mistakes you are making yourself. You don't see the mistakes when you edit your own work, because you're too close to it. You know what you meant to portray, so you assume you've done a grand job of it. However, once you can figure out exactly where another writer has gone off track, you'll be more aware of pitfalls in your own writing.
    OJB and xanadu like this.

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