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If you’re serious about becoming a writer, then sooner or later you’re going to have to risk showing other people your work. Writing in isolation leads to stagnation, no matter how many hours of practice you put into the craft. But when you decide the time is right to start sharing your words with others, it’s essential to know what good critique is. First, because if you decide to get feedback from family or friends, it’s helpful to provide them with guidelines. More importantly, though, sooner or later you’re going to want help from other writers, people who have also studied the craft and who can offer deeper insights. People who will demand feedback in return.
When you become a great critique buddy, you’re in demand. You’ll have a choice of partners clamoring to work with you, giving you greater support and access than those who don’t take the art of providing critique seriously.
1. Critique the story, not the author.
Never make any assumptions about what the author thinks, feels, or is trying to do. You are reporting your feelings about a piece of literature, not performing psychoanalysis.
2. Make it an opinion.
“I thought Frank was a jerk” is an absolutely true statement. “Frank is a jerk” is up for debate. Authors tend to receive criticism better when it is written as an opinion rather than as fact, because it is less confrontational and controversial. (If you are the author receiving the feedback, you should always interpret comments as opinions, even if the person giving the feedback was less than sensitive.)
3. Look for problems, not solutions.
It is usually more useful for an author to gauge your reaction to a piece rather than to hear how you would rewrite it. When you start prescribing solutions rather than diagnosing problems, you may not be in tune with the author’s vision and therefore may not be giving useful information. If you do decide to give suggestions for rewriting, you should always pinpoint the problem (as you see it) first. That way, the author can take the information and use it in a way that best serves the story.
4. Be a wise reader.
Anyone who reads can be trained to be a wise reader, and the information they give is golden. When you read a book, you naturally (and usually subconsciously) ask certain questions about it. A wise reader notices when they ask these questions, and they write it down for the benefit of the author.
Read on for more! Part Two--The Heart of the Problem: Trying to Understand Critique Feedback