Writer's Beat Critique Guideline
Yes, it’s that time of the day again–the time to give a brand new critique.
But why should you give a critique? Is it because you are bored and have nothing better to do? Or, perhaps so you can get some entertainment for half an hour?
To keep it short and simple, critiquing helps. It helps you, it helps the writer and it makes whole world is happy.
Helping YOU help yourself: There are many pitfalls in writing: your characters could be poorly developed, your grammar could be bad, or maybe it’s just the matter of a plot that’s falling apart. The point is, how do you identify these in your own works? The most obvious answer would be to read quality literature and note down what works for them–if it worked for them, it will obviously work for you as well.
The less and more effective answer is to critique. By reading through poorly written stories, you can locate where they go wrong. Of course, when you first start critiquing, you won’t spot everything that’s wrong immediately. It takes practice and consistency.
Take me, for example. I started writing seriously a little over a year ago. I joined a writing forum and happily posted up my ‘masterpiece.’ It’s not too hard to imagine what happened. All the comments I received tore my first chapter apart. Despite being devastated, I knew it was manners to return their critiques. The only problem was, I was such a budding writer then, I had no idea what to say. The sum total of all my replies was, “Wow! That was great!” Today, after giving some eighty to ninety critiques, I can go back to those ‘amazing’ stories and tell the people who wrote them what exactly worked and what did not.
Be consistent in giving critiques. It helps you grow as a writer and don’t forget the feel-good factor in knowing that you’ve helped someone improve in some way or the other.
Now that we’ve established that giving critiques is vital for your growth, let’s move on to the rather more important:
How to Give a Constructive Critique:
Keep one thing in your mind: “Comment, comment and comment.” That’s the basic guideline to critiquing. What you need to do is pinpoint whatever you think is good (or bad) and take the time to tell the writer about it. It’s not enough to just read through some story and say, “Well, that’s a piece of crap!” or “Wow!” Figure out why it’s rubbish, why you loved it. Once you’ve got that, note it down and make sure you steer clear or go right beyond it. The least you could do for the writer who has just helped you out is let him or her know too.
Watch out for:
Overall Story: Good, bad, riddled with holes, no sense of direction, utter rubbish? Figure it out. Were you interested or not? Why? Were there any paragraphs you skimmed over? Didn’t skim over? What held your attention most? Was action or description lacking?
Setting: Did you get a feel for the setting, or was it just moving blindly in the dark? There was a story I once critiqued, where right until the end, I was positive that it was set in a bedroom. It was in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Nothing could be more different, right? Setting is not just about visual cues. Do you smell the stench of fish, or the perfume of an exotic flower? Can you hear the bubbling brook, or the roaring traffic? Are you able to feel the character’s lover’s soft skin, or the gnarled wood in the forest? If you are, then you’ve just met a master Setter. If you can’t, find out why.
Characters: A bit tougher, this one. It only comes with a lot of writing and critiquing practice. Are they developed or not? Can you identify them? Do they seem to have a purpose in life? Most of all, are they believable? A story is nothing without its characters.
Spelling and Grammar: Last, but not the clichéd least, spelling and grammar. Was it hell wading through incomprehensible sentences? Or was it clean and crisp, perfect to the point. Were verbs used effectively? Was there a heavy reliance on description? Was the language too flowery? Was the tone clear, or so utterly boring you wanted to sleep?
Once you’ve identified the above, try to find out if anything else is standing out – whether it’s a mistake or not and comment on it. Remember the basic guideline - "Comment, comment and comment"
So, you think you’re almost done, right? Wrong. Now you need to boost that poor writer’s confidence by giving some positive feedback–after all, you’ve just ripped apart his or her prized possession. List everything you thought worked in the story and also how he or she can improve his or her writing. That’s the main purpose of constructive criticism: to help the writer improve. Well, at least it’s the most unselfish one there is.
Above all, stay aloof. Never, and I repeat, never, attack the writer as a person. If he or she gets that impression, it’s needless to say how much it would devastate (or infuriate) him or her. Always put in a comment to the effect of, “This critique isn’t directed to you as a person, but to your writing in particular.”
On Receiving a Critique:
You’ve just got a long, tough critique and you want to cry. Get over it. If you’re writing as a career, the road ahead is going to be littered with rejections and critics and if you can’t deal with that, then tough luck. If you can’t take a constructive critique, you aren’t ready for writing.
But, if you are willing to lift yourself up and face the critique (and the critic), good for you! That’s half the battle already won.
Politeness requires you to respond with at least thanks, or to make that critic even happier, a constructive reply. What would work even better would be to go to that critic’s works and give him or her a constructive critique right back. It will help you as a writer and the critic too. And that way, you’ll also get more critiques!