1. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I suck at this

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Reece, Mar 11, 2019.

    I've been doing some chapter swaps, and the information I am getting back is so good, but the information I am providing is kind of crap. Anyone have any tips? What do you like to see? What do you not like to see? Any links for critique instruction that you have found helpful? I'm going over Cogito's again, but anything else would be very much welcome.
     
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  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Contributor

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    Look for things like tone, pacing, and things like that.
    Things should all blend together and hit peaks and
    valleys, depending on the story genre.
    When everything works together, then you offer your
    thoughts on what you liked/disliked, and offer suggestions
    to improve or cut certain parts.
    Think of it like a technical book report about your experience
    reading it, and offer your thoughts about it.
    :)
     
  3. Reece

    Reece Member

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    Thank you! I find that I am a bit too clinical about it. I think maybe because the people I am working with are not my friends, but I think it might be helpful to think of them as friends. That way I'll be a bit more human about it and approach it less like a machine.
     
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  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Contributor

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    :superidea:
     
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  5. EFMingo

    EFMingo Active Member

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    I not a fan of line-by-lines. I dont really think they help. Kind of like polishing crap, ya know?

    I like critiquing for logical fallacies, themes, the storyline path, continuity errors, flow. I think it's best to read the stories out loud too. Then you can hear the verbiage jumbles when they occur, or if the paragraph or stanza doesn't really fit.

    I always like to let writer edit their own work, but give direction to where errors are and hint towards possible fixes. I don't rewrite or edit others work directly. It's their project, let them make the big decisions and edits.
     
  6. Reece

    Reece Member

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    Thanks for this! I find it really hard to pull myself away from wanting to edit, because I do it a lot for my job, though not in the same capacity. The last line you wrote is something I need to remind myself of. Well said. Reading aloud is a great suggestion!
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes a partial re-write can go a long way towards illustrating what you're trying to say in a critique. I think there are lines you should be wary of crossing (such as attempting to change the piece to be something you would have written yourself.) But a short re-write can accomplish what lots of explaining can't. It can make the writer visualise how something might work better.

    I think any writer who puts something up for critique, and then gets offended when somebody does a re-write should back off and think again. It's a form of critique, and like any other criticism, you are free to not accept it or change your work in any way because of it. It is usually not meant to be arrogant. It's a way of illustrating the points the critique-giver is making.

    I can say, without a doubt, that one of the first and best critiques I ever got (not here on the forum, but long before I joined it) was when a writer friend of mine rewrote an entire chapter for me.

    His approach illustrated how differently my story would strike the eye and ear if I stopped using passive voice all the time. He changed a few other things as well, during that rewrite. It was a true eye-opener. I saw INSTANTLY what he was getting at, and how much better his version was than mine. And no, he didn't change anything that 'happened' in that chapter. He merely re-formed the wording. I will always be incredibly grateful to him.

    @Reece As far as other critique tips go, my Tip Number One is to critique only the pieces that say something to you. If a piece is not your thing, or you can't think of anything to say about it, just move on to somebody else's. Keep reading till you get to one that inspires you a bit. Wait till you find one that does give you something to say. (Good or bad.) There are lots of people here who will pick the pieces you skipped over, because we're all different, and we're all looking for different things when we read.

    Tip Number Two. Find out—and pay attention to—where the piece comes in the story. Is it the opening chapter? Does it come later on in the story? Is it the end of a chapter? I think it's a good idea for the writer to indicate what part of the book the piece comes from, when posting the work. If they haven't let on—ask.

    There is no point in critiquing everything as if it's the opener of a new book. The piece may raise questions that don't get answered, because there is a lot yet to come, or a lot has already come before. It's fine to say you're wondering about this or that. But don't always use it as the basis for negative criticism. If the piece is interesting enough as a story starter, the reader WILL keep reading to find the answers to the questions the chapter snippet raises.

    Tip Number Three. Say what you like or dislike—and also say why. If you can. If you can't put your finger on what delights or bothers you, admit you're not sure. However, it's a good idea (for you and for the writer) to try to figure it out. You don't have to fix a problem, if you can't think how, but it's helpful to the writer if you can at articulate what made you have the reaction you did.

    As you get more experienced at critiques, you'll come up with your own 'tips.' These are just my first three.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2019
  8. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale New Kitten Lost Behind the Fridge Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The other thing you need to do is critique to your strengths. I've betaed for a few people, and one thing that I'm very good at is SPAG, so I go line-by-line and look for screwed-up sentences, unclear ideas, and things like that. I don't think I'm so hot at spotting pacing errors or plotting, so I just don't worry about that, however, if something in the wording of a scene or a character isn't clear to me, I let my partner know about it, even suggest minor re-writes. None of us are restricted to one critique partner, so what you spot may well be what someone else misses. Don't worry if you're not hitting everything, you aren't responsible for the whole deal.
     
  9. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I did a chapter swap with someone, and I have nothing to compliment. I don't want to send feedback that is essentially telling this person that everything they've written is awful. :S What the heck do I do in this situation?
     
  10. Friederich Kugelschreiber

    Friederich Kugelschreiber Senior Member

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    Literally nothing to compliment? Damn.
     
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  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I can't imagine not having anything nice to say. Maybe give it a second read. Is it the writing you think is bad or the story? I mean how bad can it be? There has to be something in there that is good or has potential. Even if you are giving criticism for something along the lines of not being able to connect with the character, maybe you can picture the character or like a certain quirk the character has. I have always found encouragement to be much more effective than any sort of laundry list of complaints. When I go into reading a piece, I'm there for the good story and if I have to look a little closer because it's not quite there yet, I look a little closer. If all you can think to say about someone's work is that it's awful, I think it says more about your writing and reading capabilities. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's less harsh than telling someone their work is awful.
     
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  12. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I complimented what I could. It was an interesting premise. It was only the first chapter, so it's possible that the story could have gotten good, but the writing was not.

    There were two mains. I could not connect with either of them. There was nothing about either of them to like. The one character was a petulant brat, and she was also the narrator, describing the other main as a total loser. The writing was terribly disjointed. There was a lot of unnecessary punctuation and long-winded info dumping. Quite nearly half of the sentences started with a conjunction, which I know isn't necessarily wrong, but it stood out to me and pulled me out of the story. The dialogue was childish and only served to irritate me and make me dislike the characters even more. In the entirety of the chapter, essentially nothing happened. Despite the info dumping, I learned nothing.

    I agree that encouragement is much better than complaints, which is why I was asking for help.

    You weren't really being harsh so much as rude, considering you know nothing about me or the story I was reading, and yet you are jumping to the conclusion that I was going to tell someone their work was awful when my post was specifically stating that I did not want to do that. I do appreciate your insinuating that there are inherent flaws in my writing and reading capabilities. Thank you for that. It was almost as helpful to me as it would have been for me to tell this person that their work was awful, which I had no intention of doing, and did not do.

    [​IMG]
     
  13. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned Supporter

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    So, a hypothetical is: if an average second grader posted something and asked for a critique, what would you do?

    Sometimes, a writer has so much to learn, they really need more than we can offer here.

    I've a bookshelf of writing books I've read at least once: several by Maass, Strunk and White's Elements of course, Browne and King's Self Editing, several Writer's Digest titles, and lots of others -- including my most recent buy, The Art of Styling Sentences.
    When I look back at what I wrote before I read those books, the only advice I have for past-me is "Here's a list of books you should read."

    But that's not going to come off as very helpful critique, is it?
    It's a conundrum, and one without any one right answer.
     
  14. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    @Reece, this may be the best way to look at it. If it really is all that bad, you could focus on what you think this writer's next lesson should be. If you can't fix it all at once, say, "Hey, this is wonderful. You should definitely keep at it, but if I were you, I'd work on these character issues (or whichever thing you pick.)" Help to improve an aspect you think they're capable of tackling in this piece.
     
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  15. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I told them that they had a good idea but that it was difficult for me to connect with the characters. I suggested that they work on the dialogue and make it more age appropriate. I told them to consider reworking the first chapter to help cultivate some sort of a hook to keep the reader engaged.

    I tried to point out areas where they could trim unnecessary information and tried to emphasize that, at least for me, it's more interesting to figure things out for myself than to be told everything, especially when it is already apparent. I said that for the first chapter, as a reader I need a reason to keep turning the pages. I don't necessarily need to love the characters, but it's difficult for me to care what happens to them if I actively dislike them.

    I told them why I had a hard time liking the characters. I pointed out a few lines of the story that I did like and tried to emphasize that I thought their idea was really unique and interesting. I tried my best to give useful and honest feedback but to sandwich it with as many compliments as I could scrounge up. I hope it was helpful, at least a tiny bit. I just didn't want to tell them 'wow this is crap' or 'wow this is great.' I was really struggling with trying to find the good bits to try to be more encouraging. I did my best.
     
  16. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    I bet you did fine. Depending on how thin skinned the writer is, of course (and there's little you can do about that,) those sound like useful things to hear. If they are thin skinned, and believe me when I say I'm speaking from experience, learning to emotionally process help as help instead of insult, is part of the process. It seems like you were mindful of feelings though, and that's important. If you think you might be dealing with a fragile writer with any potential at all, and if you care, because it sounds like you do, you could check in again after an appropriate interval. Knowing that someone who had criticisms is interested in your progress can go a seriously long way in the confidence department, and what better tool do we have than the confidence to continue?
     
  17. Reece

    Reece Member

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    That's excellent advice. I think I'll do that!
     
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  18. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale New Kitten Lost Behind the Fridge Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. Remember, critique is critique. Constructive criticism, not praise. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't praise the parts that are good, but there is no worse critique than just praise, it doesn't help the writer to improve at all. I've mentioned elsewhere that on a previous forum I was a member of, I put up a story for crit that I was going to submit to a competition that had publication as the reward. Like, ink on dead trees publication.

    The only response I got back was that my story was "awesome".

    It didn't win, and I've since had other people point out very real and valid flaws in it, everything from sloppy word choice to weak characterization. Not saying I would have been able to fix everything and win had I known back then, but after a week or so of begging for any more impressions, I submitted it and later learned it hadn't made the cut.

    Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet* don't be afraid to tell your writer what's not working, that's what they need to hear most.

    *The original quote is from Gen. James Mattis, advising his Marines on how to comport themselves while stationed in Iraq.
     
  19. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I try to make sure it's relatively well-measured, because I don't want to be so critical that the person either thinks they are awful or writes off all the suggestions as my just being a bitch. I tend to also take myself into account, like how would I receive it. I like praise, as most people do, but I don't want empty praise. I can handle constructive criticism, but I don't want to hear a rambling list of all the ways in which I suck. It would just make me feel shitty, and I don't want to make anyone else feel shitty.
     
  20. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    When I read something my main question is "What is this piece supposed to do?" and then I try to figure out if it accomplished its goal, and how it failed. If it is supposed to be tense - is it? If it is supposed to hook my attention and draw me into the conspiracy - did I get hooked? How a piece fails what appears to be its mission usually holds all the keys to fixing it.
     
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  21. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    You said this above. And my response was based on what you originally said. Sure, you can change what you said now, but you're the one who said there was nothing to compliment. I don't think I was being rude at all. You have since stated things very differently. So, it's really not fair to act like I was out of line in any way. If someone can't figure out how to spot the good as well as the bad, I do believe that is a reflection on the person giving the critique more than the writer. No one wants to hear their writing is awful. I don't even let myself think that when I'm reading work for someone. Maybe you'll learn or perhaps you have, but you are the one who said you had "nothing to compliment."
     
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  22. Katibel

    Katibel Member

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    I love to give critiques!

    What I have been doing lately is accepting I won't be as emotionally engaged or attached to the work as the writer. This is actually a good thing. So, instead, I try to view my task from the position of the writer. What would I want back? Well, sweet, personal words about how great the story or characters are would be lovely, but more than that I want the truth. Are the characters relatable? If not, why? Is the plot engaging? If not, why? And so forth. In essence, I take a very practical and distanced approach, pointing out the technicals of every problem in polite but unmasked verbiage. I always try to be encouraging, too, though (because a bad work is no reason to give up). So if I see something needs a lot of revision, to the point that it is entirely unpublishable, I tell them the work in its current form won't sell (truth), and that every draft sees multiple revisions before becoming the polished work you see at market (also truth). This has generally gone over well with patrons to my critiques, so I tend to trust it now.

    Occasionally you get the sensitive, distrustful type who interprets this style of criticism as a personal attack or pretension. This hurts, however, I don't mind them. I was there once, so it is understandable. If they are serious about writing then they will have to accept critique at some point in time, whether they feel it is cruel or not.

    And, as mechanical technique goes, I read through a whole piece (or chunks) once before critiquing in-line. I want to take advantage of the insights I'm bound to have upon first introduction to a work as much as possible, but also need a feel for the big picture. I'll jot down notes as I go, then dig into the meat of things after. For very large works, I'll typically cut them into maintainable chunks, then start with content and do the copy edits and proofreads last (if applicable). As well, I always try to follow any critique with proven advice on how to solve the issue. If I cannot provide advice on how to correct an error, I do not mention the error at all.

    As for what I don't like to see in received criticism? Personally, fluff. Candy-coated nonsense. Thinly veiled rejections of an idea that end with "but everything is SO good." I don't like seeing compliments after every critique, and I don't appreciate critiques from people who can't take themselves or their task seriously. Those who rush their critiques or fail to apply themselves the same way they would their own work are better off away from mine.

    Hope that helps!

    (Edit: Oh, something I found helpful early on: the adage "write what you know" applies to critiquing too. Critique what you know. Don't try to do more than that. You're not obligated to, anyway. Although there's nothing wrong with researching an issue and sharing what you find!)
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
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  23. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I do.
    I was enjoying and agreeing with everything you've said up until this point. If I find that something doesn't work, I point it out. I try my best to explain why, but I may not be able to. And that's OK, because the common reader might not be able to explain it either. It's a good thing that the author knows that something's amiss right there. So I say it, even when I can't put my finger on what.
    As for how to correct it, I may be even more clueless. I always suggest how to fix it when I understand what the writer is trying to get at and failing, but if I don't, then that's the critique: I'm failing to see the point the author is trying to make with that passage/piece/sentence. It's impossible to know how to solve it if I can't begin to grasp what the author is trying to do.
    When this happens, I'm vague: "I don't understand this part / dialogue / detail, etc". It's better that the author knows something isn't working than let it pass as nothing to point out.
    As a writer I've had people reading that are not beta readers and don't know how to express what's wrong, but I appreciate when they tell me something is not right. That way I can at least try to figure it out by myself.
     
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  24. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds to me as if you did exactly the right things. Did you get any response at all? Just curious what they thought of your critique.
     
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  25. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. You don't have to 'know' why something bothers you. Only that it does.

    I know one of the questions I asked of my first tranche of beta readers for my novel was this: If you find your attention wandering, or you're getting the feeling you want to skip over part of the story, can you let me know where those spots are?

    They didn't need to tell me why they were struggling there. Just 'where.' I had about ten people doing reading at the same time, so I took note of any responses that seemed to agree with each other. These were particular areas of concern.

    Sometimes just 'where' can help the writer pinpoint some problem areas. Better if you can tell them why you slowed up or skipped, but even if you can't, the place where it happened is useful information.

    (This is presuming you are trying to read carefully. If it's a long piece, you will get jaded, so don't force yourself to read too much at one time.)
     
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