Does it make you want to keep reading? Does the opening have a hook or story question? Conflict Does the piece contain conflict? Is it physical conflict or mental conflict — in your opinion does it work?
What exactly gives you that feeling? How can you avoid giving it to someone else? Giving the right kind of critique takes some effort and thoughtfulness. And in doing so, you'll be developing both your critical thinking skills and your skills as a writer, too. You will have to sort them out from the useful ones and make your own decisions. But save this sorting-out for later. Otherwise, the sorting-out process will interfere with your ability to listen.
And you'll probably do a better job of sorting out the good advice from the bad if you take some time first to digest everything. Take careful notes on ALL the feedback and ask questions if there's something you don't understand. Don't argue with the critiquer or defend your piece. Don't even try to explain it. After the critique, we suggest taking a break before you try to sort the feedback out. Getting a critique can be hard. Relax a little afterwards.
Go out with some friends; watch TV; get a good night's sleep. It will improve your perspective. This break might last twenty-four hours or a couple of weeks -- however long you need to get some emotional distance on the process. Then take a fresh look at what you've written.
Some people combine these two stages or steps, and process their response to a piece very quickly. This certainly may be appropriate in some cases. The danger it is that you may stop at the first stage and not want to do the harder work of actually critiquing a piece. One thing I always ask myself in responding to a piece of writing is What are the terms of this piece?
In other words, what is the writer trying to do? Unfortunately, because the language is so abstract and distanced, the story never engages you. To critique this story, you go through step No.
In this case, the writer might need to try a different approach to the material, such as trying it in third person, rather than simply revise here and there. In another case, you see, for example, that the writer is attempting to be humorous or lighthearted. Did the story start at the right place? Did it end at the right place in the plot? Are there scenes which do not seem to further the plot? Were there too many flashbacks, which broke your attention? If the piece was a short story, were there too many subplots?
If the piece was a novel, could it be improved by more attention to the subplots or have more subplots? Conversely, does it have too many subplots and you got confused about what was happening?
Was every subplot useful? Did it add to the overall story or did the author seem to stick it in just for complexity? Resolution of conflict: Did the conflict and tension in the plots and subplots come to some reasonable ending? Or did the author leave us hanging, wondering what happened? When you finished, were there things that you still felt needed to be explained?
If the author did leave some conflict unresolved, did they indicate somewhere that future stories are pending? Setting Is there enough description of the background in the story to paint a picture that seems real enough for the reader?
Did you feel that you were transported to 'that time or place'? Was there too much description so modern readers might tend to become bored? Was the description written with cliches? Did the author use good enough names for people, places, and things? Names help set the tone for a story. Were some names of people hard to keep track of? Did some names seem inconsistent with the character?
Were the names too stereotypical? Similarly, Bubbles La Toure is hardly the name of a saintly nun, whereas Modesty Blaise is a sexy and intriguing name for a female counterpart of James Bond. Did the author convince you that people in that time or place would behave that way? Is the timing and order of events in the story consistent?
For example, did John drive his new car on his vacation in chapter six but it wasn't until chapter ten that he bought it? Characterization Did the people seem real? Allow for failure The ability to offer constructive feedback is a skill that develops over time. It takes practice to grow into the kind of reader who can observe the writerly moves beneath the words.
Allow yourself to fail at this in the beginning. Just as writing takes practice, so does the art of critique. The first time I offered feedback to a classmate, I focused on their punctuation and use of passive voice.
I felt ridiculous when all of the other students asked leading questions and focused on the content. But, I learned from my failure. The students gave me a safe place to fail while demonstrating how to do it better.
How does it function in terms of what you feel the writer is trying to do? The first example is an appropriate critique whereas the second is both unprofessional and inconsiderate. In another case, you see, for example, that the writer is attempting to be humorous or lighthearted. How many times have you missed that in your writing because you passed over it without seeing it?
But when I think I see a touchdown, I cheer. To grow and cultivate our craft, we need to sit down and do the work, but we also need each other. Now consciously read the piece through more critically. If you are the person they feel is qualified to provide that feedback, then embrace the invitation as an honor, and approach it with respect.
Don't we often base our decision to buy or not buy upon those first few sentences? You need to address the piece in light of its terms.
There is also our sense of the writer, whether she wants and need a lot of criticism or needs basically affirmation in order to proceed, or permission to engage in a lot more process as opposed to rushing a product.
Make solid suggestions for improvement. Exchanges like these are a sign that this is not a beneficial or positive critique relationship.
It was of good value to me as it got me started thinking more deeply about my characters. Read the piece through the first time as a pure consumer, for interest and hopefully enjoyment. It will improve your perspective. Resolution of conflict: Did the conflict and tension in the plots and subplots come to some reasonable ending? This course is amazing. Bear in mind that some of these questions may be affected by whether the piece is a standalone short story or a section of a larger piece — for example, when it comes to character development and plot.