FAQ: Requesting and Giving Critique

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    Giving Critique

    Giving effective critique is a skill just like any of the other myriad abilities you acquire as a writer. However, just as with the old proverb ‘he who teaches, learns twice’, acquiring the skill of giving feedback improves your own writing. It can be daunting to give feedback on someone’s work – for some people, even more daunting than receiving feedback on their own – so here are some guidelines.


    Try to start with a positive  No matter what your level of experience as a writer, no one is immune to nerves when it comes to receiving critique. Presumably you’re offering feedback because you want to help so scything through someone’s work and confidence is not your intention. Don’t be blandly nice if you don’t like something, but even if a piece of writing doesn’t work for you, find the positive before you rip into it. In fact training yourself to see the good even in writing you don’t like, whether published or novice level, is a valuable skill for learning to read critically and improving your own work.


    Be honest –  if a piece of work doesn’t work for you, patting the author on the head when you don’t like it isn’t any more helpful than tearing it apart. If there are flaws, the author needs to know.


    Be respectful – Feedback should always be given in a respectful way. This isn’t a difficult equation. If you find yourself poised to say something hasty and unpleasant, please walk away from the keyboard – get a cup of tea, do some yoga, stroke the cat, go for a run, whatever you need to do to ensure that you are replying to a piece of work respectfully. Remember it takes a lot of guts for someone to put their work out for critique. Everyone has different thicknesses of authorial skin too. So while you might be happy for someone to look at your writing and say ‘this is sh!t’ bear in mind that many other people are not okay with that approach.


    What did the writer ask for?  Try to give critique on the areas of assistance a writer has asked for. While feedback on dialogue may be useful, if a writer has asked for help with structure then you might be confusing the issue rather than helping.


    Be specific – illustrate your comments with examples from the work you’re critiquing. (This is great because it forces you to look at how writing works on a fundamental level which you can apply to your own work.)


    Lots of writers find they do their best critiquing, and that their writing improves the most, when they find their tribe. Why not try joining a group? Some of the best critiquing happens in small tight knit collectives because writers get to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. If there isn’t a group that suits you, why not start one and see if a few like-minded writers would like to join?


    How to seek a critique 

    Have you given critique? Once you’ve posted the work you would like feedback on, and preferably before, go and check out someone else’s work and offer critique to them. Don’t worry it you’ve never done it before – it gets a lot easier with practice. It’s a give and take system here in the Den, and it’s good etiquette to offer critique on someone else’s work before expecting it on yours.


    How many words have you posted? While critique in groups may mean that larger chunks of novels, novellas and short stories are posted, this is usually with the group’s agreement. Here in the main critique forum, sticking to 3000 words approximately or one poem or a few pages of a screenplay or stage play, means that someone is more likely to read it and give you effective feedback. Other forum members may then ask to see more or even exchange MSs but limit it to around 3K to start with.


    Who is your audience?  An introductory three or four sentences to say who you’re writing for and what genre your work roughly falls into will result in more of the right readers checking it out and giving you useful feedback. Use the tags section of the new topic form to make your post searchable.


    What do you want feedback on? Help your readers by saying what you specifically want feedback on – plot? structure? dialogue? characterisation? pacing? Or are you looking for general feedback and impressions? The more specific you can be, the better and more useful the feedback will be.


    Expect to sometimes disagree – you will not always agree with the feedback you are given. Worse, sometimes it will hurt and not because the reader is trying to hurt you, but because their honest opinion doesn’t coincide with yours. The knee-jerk reaction can be to defend yourself or your work and say something hasty, especially via internet where a reply is devoid of social cues such as facial expression, tone and body language. But you are not being attacked so if you find yourself about to reply angrily, please walk away from the keyboard – get a cup of tea, do some yoga, stroke the cat, go for a run, whatever you need to do to ensure that you are replying to feedback respectfully. Remember it takes a fair bit of courage not to mention effort, to read and critique someone’s work. It’s okay to disagree. Not everyone has to love your work. Remember all feedback falls into three categories: accept, adapt and reject. In the end, it’s your work. (Although if there is a consensus of opinion you might be wise to consider whether or not your readers have a point!)




    Can I add something extra to this list, Jules?

    By all means, give examples of how differently something could be written when you give feedback – sometimes seeing the work written differently helps you as the author to understand what difference that kind of change could make to your story. But don’t be tempted to completely rewrite the whole piece – it’s not necessarily helpful to the author because it doesn’t help them to write any changes ‘their way’.


    Yes. Excellent point, Squidge. When monkeying around with someone else’s work, it’s important to always remember that your ideas and the author’s ideas may not mesh. Any rewriting should be done sparingly, strictly as an example (unless the author requests otherwise) and the power should always be returned to the author when you’ve finished.


    It’s worth reminding ourselves here of Neil Gaiman’s famous quote:

    ‘When someone tells you something isn’t working, they are nearly always right. When they tell you how to fix it, they are nearly always wrong.’


    One of y favourites, RichardB, and so true.



    Also while keeping an open mind to the feedback you receive, don’t forget you’re in charge and you can ‘Accept, adapt, reject’. You don’t have to take on board all advice you’re given and the best way to decide what is and isn’t useful is to read feedback and then give yourself time to think about it, coming back to it after a little break with a fresh eye.


    As I am still learning about the sight. Please can you tell me where one would post a wip for critique? Thanks


    Back up one level to the ‘Critiques’ forum and set up a new topic, JT


    Thanks Daed. I am just still learning about this fab site, about where the blogs go etc. Its very exciting. Many thanks to everyone who has help set it up. It must have taken a lot of dedication.

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