Critique Like an Expert in 7 Easy Steps

You’ve read a story on WTW. You may think its great or you might think its not so great, but you see the potential. How do you help your fellow writer? How do you write a critique on the story and give them helpful feedback?

1. ALWAYS start out with what you like.

We all like praise, and everyone who has posted on this site has taken a risk in doing so. Don’t undermine their confidence by being overly negative. I get that you might find it difficult to find something to praise. Trust me, I teach 9th grade English. I understand that sometimes its seems almost impossible to find anything to praise, but search for it. It’s there. Really think about what worked in the story.

2. Make sure your praise is not empty.

We’ve all been praised for doing something well when we know that in reality, it was not so great. Did you ever earn a trophy because you took the field but didn’t ever score a goal? Were you proud of that trophy? Right. It’s because empty praise is as meaningless as harsh criticism.

3. Read the story carefully and slowly. Make notes as you read on what you like and what confuses you.

4. Focus on content and not just on editing. Does the story make sense? How do you feel about the characters? Are they believable? Is the setting clear? Is the story too predictable?

5. When you are done reading, read it again and expand your notes.

6. Make sure your comments are specific and substantive. Comments such as “good story, really good” or “that character is boring” NEVER (yes I used shouty capitals) belong in a feedback session or critique group. Tie every comment to a specific suggestion for improvement.

7. Once you’ve written comments on content, then you can focus on the language and mechanics.

In the comments below, I’d love for you to add any other ideas for providing quality feedback. What types of comments have you received that were really helpful? Hurtful? Useful? Useless?

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