How to CRITIQUE

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I always talk about the importance of critiquing, so this how-to will provide guidelines and examples of how to critique a story.

You have to be VERY careful of giving out critiques like the ones I talk about here to others. A lot of users here don't take criticism well, and you'll end up getting attacked. My suggestion is to only give out critiques like this to a friend who you know will appreciate getting their writing ripped apart. Even if a person says they want a harsh critique, they may not be emotionally ready for one. I've seen someone post their writing on a critique thread (on another website), and when it was critiqued, the author lashed out at the critic for being too “critical”. So make sure you specify to the person exactly how in-depth you plan on critiquing, and make sure they agree, before leaving a critique. Critiquing is a very messy business, emotionally, for many authors. It's because of all the backlash I've gotten from people whom I've left critiques for that I now only critique books for three of my friends whom I know appreciate it.

Also keep in mind this method of critiquing is my personal method. There are so many different styles of critiques that you can try out, and this is just one of them. If this doesn't fit your style, feel free to try out another.

There are my warnings and disclaimers, so now let's move on to the actual how-to.

1. The opening line disclaimer. It's always a good idea to post a disclaimer at the top of the critique to let the author know a little about your critiquing style. I like to start with, “I do not sugarcoat, and I rarely point out things done well unless they blew my mind. This is my personal opinion, so feel free to disregard anything you don't agree with.” Make sure the author is aware you aren't forcing them or demanding they follow your suggestions. A critique is your opinion, and they have every right to disagree with it.

Other things you can talk about are letting them know you don't mean to sound harsh if it comes across that way. If you write a review based on elements (e.g. one section on characters, another on plot, another on flow/pacing, another on grammar and style, etc.), maybe you can mention that. I've seen someone have a 10 point rating scale for each section and then tally up a score at the end. My personal critiquing style is go line-by-line and critique as I read with an overall thoughts section at the end, though some people read the entire thing and leave their overall thoughts at the end. So however you want to format your critique, go ahead.

2. Avoid talking to the author. Have you ever received a comment where someone talks about all the things YOU did wrong? All the mistakes YOU made? When a critique uses the word “you”, it's (usually) personally attacking the author, even if the critic didn't mean it like that. That's how it comes across. I'll show you the difference in the following examples:

“You did a lot of telling in the first paragraph.” vs. “The first paragraph had a lot of telling in it.”

“You use semicolons wrong. ” vs. “A semicolon was used incorrectly in this sentence.”

“You go on to say she groaned a second time, and that was really annoying.” vs. “The overuse of the phrase 'he/she groaned' makes the character sound annoying and whiny. Consider a different action to show their frustration such as, ____.”

Hopefully you see a stark difference in tone between each pair. The first sounds attacking and mean, and the other sounds a bit nicer and more professional. The first will likely earn you a rude reply from the author.

Of course, there will be some instances where using “you” is unavoidable, and that's okay. Especially if you're making a side comment to the author, who is a close friend of yours. For example, my friend tends to overwrite descriptions on unimportant things, so I always jokingly tease her about that. If I'm actually talking to her at that point in the critique, a “you” or two might slip out. Just try to avoid “you” whenever possible in the actual criticism. When it's not possible, don't worry about it. (note, I use “you” quite a bit in my how-to's because I am actually talking to you readers. I am not critiquing your writing. A critic should talk about the writing, not the author.) If, however, you are praising something about the story, it's actually a nice gesture to use "you" and speak directly to the author. e.g. "I love how you have such a big contrast in personalities between the protagonists. It sets up the conflict beautifully."

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