1. Zombocalypse

    Zombocalypse Member

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    Guidelines for critiquing?

    Discussion in 'Editing' started by Zombocalypse, Oct 21, 2016.

    I am terrible at giving critiques. I used to be a part of a critique website that required me to have at least 150 words to give to have points to use for my own work to be critiqued. It was such a drag. Every single word would be a struggle. So...

    How exactly should I critique??
     
  2. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    The same way you'd want to be critiqued, my friend: honestly, but with compassion, based on evidence.
     
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  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First, don't worry about all the jargon you see people using if you don't know it. It doesn't matter. It's just stuff you learn as you go. You can say the same things with regular language that any person can understand.

    Second, as stated above, think about the kind of help you want to get with your own work. Think about how involved you want your critics to be with your work. Blowing pink smoke up someone's butt does them no good, just as it will do you no good to have it done to you. Tell the writer what you liked. Tell the writer what you didn't like. It's not your job to rewrite it. If one part drags, just say so. If the dialogue felt stiff, just say so. If you really enjoyed one part, say so.

    Giving critique is practice for your own editing process. You can't always rely on others to tell you what to work on. You have to be able to write a chapter, give it a couple of days to "rest", and come back to it and review it, revise it, lengthen it, shorten it, etc. It's the exact same process, but when you do it on someone else's work, it's not your baby, not your words that you felt were perfect the first time through. You're able to be more objective when it's someone else's. You have to learn to bring that objectivity to your own work and giving crit is a great way to do that. Just think of it that way and you'll do just fine.

    ETA: Also, I have to be honest, 150 words is nothing. My above post is 266 words. I don't think I've ever given a crit as short as this post.
     
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  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    It sounds like you aren't really into critiquing. Do you not like to discuss the works you read? Critiquing is sort of a form of that. But if you are complaining about 150 words, maybe it just isn't your thing.
     
  5. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    OK, @Zombocalypse , I'll take your post and give it a really MEAN crit; all of it is just for the purpose of showing you how I might critique a story, so PLEASE don't take offence at how harsh it is.

    Let's start by pretending this is the opening of your 80k spy thriller...

    Usually, I'd give a general impression of the flow of the story-telling, but this excerpt is just too short to tell much in the way of story.

    I'm using the code of:

    dark blue = correction
    pale blue, in brackets = suggestions, comments
    italicised = suggested alternatives/additions.

    I've done 55 words of critique on your original 57 word post; 150 words on a 1,500 word short story should be a breeze...! Especially as there would be more character development to comment upon, more action to look at (or lack of action to bemoan); probably some dialogue to criticise for how unrealistic/realistic it was, etc.

    Overall, you didn't give me much to work with; your SPaG has no problems (my comma comment in the last sentence is optional, rather than obligatory, and merely for the purposes of illustration) and I've been really harsh on the wording in that long, convoluted sentence; although it's not the best wording, I appreciate that it's a forum post, not a Booker prize candidate.

    Hope this helps!
     
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  6. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    ^ That's one way to do a critique.

    Many people don't feel confident enough in their own writing/SPAG ability to do it like that. Another option is to give a 'reader' critique instead of a writer one, along the lines @Wreybies suggested: tell the author what you liked and what you didn't, without feeling that you have to justify it OR offer a solution. For example, the same criticism given in different styles:

    1. "I didn't like the main character. I couldn't connect to him and I don't care about what happens to him next."
    2. "The point of view is distant, so even though this was an emotional scene I'm left feeling apathetic and unsympathetic to the character's plight. Have you considered using a closer point of view for this scene?"
    3. "[Quotes part of the scene.] I suggest you get inside the character's head. [Rewrites the quote in a closer POV.]"

    All three are equally valid. Some authors will find 1 more useful, some will find 2 more useful, and some 3. But it's the author's job to filter critiques; it's not the critiquer's job to filter their own.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    One quick note - unsolicited critiques are generally (always?) considered to be in bad taste.

    Along the same lines - often when people request a critique, they include some guidelines for what they're looking for. Some request that critiquers be gentle, others encourage "brutal honesty." Some say please ignore SPAG and give general impressions, others seem to think the SPAG stuff is most important. If the writer has given these sorts of guidelines, respect them (or don't critique - I don't critique stuff that's all about SPAG).

    In general? I think a too in-depth critique can end up with critters trying to rewrite the passage in their own style, and I don't think that's at all valuable for the original author. Not sure it's valuable for the critter, either. I think it's best to try to figure out what the author was trying for (not always easy to determine) and then offer suggestions that you think will bring the piece closer to that goal. If Nabokov offered critique to Hemingway, he hopefully would have acknowledged that their styles are totally different, rather than going through and inserting a lot of extra language.

    Really, though -- I haven't submitted much for critique because I don't personally find it very useful, but when I have submitted the responses that I've found most useful have been from those responding as readers. "I wasn't sure why character X did this," "I think I'm supposed to like character Y, but after she did Z I hated her and I always will," "Sometimes the imagery was really nice but I got kind of bogged down on page 14," etc. (like @Tenderiser's version 1. @Tenderiser's version 2 would only be useful for me if I really respected the writer offering the crit, and version 3 would generally just annoy me. Too much like Nabokov adding words to Hemingway. Not that I'm Hemingway, but I sincerely doubt my critter is Nabokov).
     
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  8. DrtraumaTy

    DrtraumaTy New Member

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    • Don't sugarcoat; essentially saying "oh the work isn't that horrible" when your take on the work is that its quality is that of dirt. Speak from your truth and your truth alone; do not allow the author's companionship and background sway your critique.
    • Cite. Citing where the problem area is allows the author to go directly to the area and make changes, making broad critiques may make you seem lesser of a critic and more of a internet troll.
    • Acknowledge the author if he/she addresses your critique respectfully; this is to avoid any "hard feelings" coming from the authors whose works you gave a negative critique on.
    • Move on. If the author attempts to bring a flame war to your table because of your take on the work, he/she isn't worth your time.
     
  9. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    While it's important to let the author know what worked for you and what didn't, it's more helpful to say why something did or didn't work for you. It's as much self-examination as examination, because the work may have had some sort of squick factor for you that it wouldn't for others.

    Other critics have written insightful stuff on the art of criticism ... Kenneth Turan and Roger Ebert spring to mind. Ebert wrote that whether he liked the movie or not, he wouldn't try to second-guess the writer or director's intent; instead, he would confine his criticism to how he himself reacted to the movie, and what it made him think about, or what stayed with him as he left the theater. He considered that the most honest and honorable approach.
     
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  10. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    To my mind there's a difference between critique and criticism - am I the only one making that distinction? Like, a critique is of a work-in-progress, aimed at the author, but literary (or other) criticism is of a finished work, aimed at other prospective readers/audience members.
     
  11. VynniL

    VynniL Contributor Contributor

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    There's no difference to me. I see it as critique to a body of work at a moment in time, where I am providing feedback on my reaction. It may contain criticism on how it could be improved to make it a better experience for me. In a movie or finished novel, not fixable. In someone's draft, it's up for consideration.

    What I got from JLT's post is what I wish for in critiques given to me. I want know the reaction to my words, what worked, what didn't. WHY? I often just get people telling me they liked or enjoyed my style of writing or pieces. I'd like to know why as far as a particular story. It still surprises me when I can sense people trying to grapple to find me something to fix, thinking that's what I want. I'm not asking for criticism, I'm asking for honest reactions which might only be criticisms.
     
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  12. Skye Walker

    Skye Walker Banned

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    @Zombocalypse, out of curiosity, which site were you previously on? I know one like that, and was wondering if I knew you from there
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
  13. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    The way I've always done critiques is simply to go through the piece and highlight anything I thought was noteworthy, whether good or bad, and explain why I judged it as such. If I see a lot of issues of broken POV, I'll call it out and explain why it could be a problem. If I see a passage that has vivid imagery done effectively I'll call it out and explain why and how I thought it was done well. In all cases, the key for me is explaining why, for multiple reasons--one, so that the author can understand why I had a positive or negative reaction; and two, so that I can confirm to myself that I know why these things are done well or done poorly. That helps me avoid those mistakes or do those things well in the future, whether it's in my own editing or in my writing.

    Critique helps me edit my own work. I'd never be as good at editing my work as I am now without all the practice I've had with critiquing others, no matter how much I procrastinate doing it. I'm glad I've helped as many authors as I have, but in the end, there's no guarantee that what you say will help the author. There's no guarantee that they'll take any of your suggestions (whether they should or not). But it will definitely help you learn to critically analyze text, looking for places where there may be problems and places where something was done well and should be repeated. And that's something that can easily be applied to your own work.

    If it's a chore to critique other writers, try thinking of it selfishly--that you're honing your skills as an editor. Because, in reality, that's what you're doing.
     
  14. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

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    Anything beyond "yeah, I liked it" or "it was shit" is a great start. Specific likes and dislikes and reasons why are the most important things (although if you really don't think you can figure out why something's wrong/right, that's okay).

    You could make a checklist of things to look at? Plot, point of view, characters, setting, dialogue, spelling and grammar, pace, word choice... enjoyability and write down anything at all that you even think you might think about these.

    On this site at least, on my second read, I highlight and 'add to quotes' anything that for any reason makes me go 'hmm' - then I go back and try to work out what that 'hmm' was about. Equally, if anything makes me smile, I copy that to 'quotes' too. At the end of that, if I've got tons of dialogue that made me go 'hmm', I might just boil that down to, 'I think the dialogue could be stronger, for example...,' and if I've picked out lots of really nice details, 'the setting was beautifully described, for example...' and think pick up the other individual bits that caught my attention.

    I did struggle giving critiques when I first had to do it, as part of a course. I didn't feel qualified. Also, it didn't help that we did it by reading our stories out loud and people providing feedback verbally. What I struggled with (and I'm about to sound like an utter cow) was that a lot of my fellow students' stories didn't have settings, plots or characters that are typically my kind of thing, plus the writing style was kind of mediocre - no moments of brilliance or catastrophe - so I didn't know what to say: "I didn't like the character because I don't like characters like that. The writing was, y'know, 'fine,' I guess." Maybe you just aren't engaged enough with what you're reading? (I think) I've got better at it. If I read a piece closely, a few times over, I find plenty to talk about.
     
  15. TheeFreakShowee

    TheeFreakShowee New Member

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    Be honest and respond with how the work impacted you. Not with how it would hit the crowd, or your friend, or whoever. Your own opinion of it. And be sure to say that it's your own opinion! Point out what you feel could be improved, be it grammar, characters, plot, whatever. Then, always, (always!) tell them what they're doing right! You hardly ever see critics do that, but it's just as important, if not more so, than pointing out the things that need to be improved. How can you know what your strengths are, what people enjoy about your writing, if no one ever tells you? People need to know what their own flare is, what makes their work special. A good criticism needs balance. If you only focus on the negative, you're going to look like a holier-than-thou writer trying to make yourself feel better about your own writing insecurities instead of being an honest voice of reason, and the writer will probably disregard you. And, typically, try to end on a high note. So the writer knows there are things that could be better, but they don't feel bitter about it - and most importantly - they don't feel like they're worthless and should give up. Leave them excited and hopeful to get even better than they already are! Don't be aggressive or forceful and always leave the final decision up to them. You could really bruise someone by being that way, and that's no good. Leave the revenge writing to students of stubborn university professors, not to forum-goers. Be fair. And, of course, think about how you would like someone to treat your work. Writing is an ember to be nurtured, not stamped out. So give the proper fuel - and love - to encourage it to spring into a full flame. And, don't take their story personally. It doesn't rest on your shoulders to ensure they're perfect. That's up to them. You can only nudge them in the right direction. And whether they take it or leave it, that's entirely for them to decide.
     
  16. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    Download a template. Use it as a guide. Be honest. Mothers will encourage, you need to tell the truth.
     

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