Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Critiquing With Grace & A Little Panache

So you have finished writing a novel and you have edited the ink right off of it. So now what? You find some willing eyes to look over your work and tell you what you missed. And you do the same for them. That's right! You find a critique partner/group that you can share your story with that will be honest and open about the problems with your story.

And yes, there will be issues with the brilliant story you've woven. There are no perfect writers, and even the best of the best need some tweaking here and there.

Now is the time you need to find these critique-ers, or critters, as I like to call them. You can ask a writer friend, like I did with fellow Alley Cat, Pepper. (And she is brilliant, btw, adding description and depth where I am lacking.) Or you can join a large critique pool like the one offered by ACFW. I recently joined and am starting to get some pretty good feedback. You critique two submissions (no larger than 2500 words) for every one that you submit. A good thing about a pool is that sometimes smaller groups form naturally, which can be very beneficial.

Once you have received a chapter to critique, what do you do? There are two ways to format your critiques.

  1. If you are using Word, use the Review Track Changes. This allows you to add (periods, commas, words, etc.) and delete (unnecessary phrases, punctuation, etc.) easily, while allowing the author to Accept or Reject those changes with a click of the mouse.
  2. You can type directly into the document, using a different color font, making your comments and suggesting within.
Tips for Critiquing:
  • Let the author know what you liked about their work. There is always good in every story and the author needs to hear what works.
  • Look at the story as a reader. What worked? What didn't? Did you like the characters? Is the plot believable? Did you want to keep reading?
  • Let the author know things that need to be fixed. Punctuation, grammar mistakes, passive verbs, cliches, too many pronouns, repetitive words, unnecessary words or phrases, telling instead of showing, etc. 
  • When you are alerting the author to what is wrong, give examples of how it could be fixed. Show an active sentence instead of a passive one. Let the author see how to 'show' instead of 'tell'. Give examples, so that the author understands what really needs to happen.
  • Never put down the author. It takes a lot of courage to write and then let others read their work, so be gentle. You may not like the story or the genre, but you can critique the story without degrading the author. 
  • Critique like you want to be critiqued. The Golden Rule of Critique-land. 'Nuff said.
Critiquing is all about the give and take of fellow writers, working to make their story better, and helping others to do the same. It's about generosity. It's about growing into maturity as a writer. It's about grace.

Let's be gracious writers. Let's build up one another in love, for we know what goes around, comes around. 


Vonda Skelton said...

Great advice! Thanks!

Saumya said...

I just had my work critiqued for the first time this past weekend and enjoyed the feedback I received. My critique partners were honest but diplomatic and helpful. These are wonderful pointers! Thank you for sharing :)

Christine Danek said...

Great post. I will check out the link. Thanks!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Yep. Yep. Yep. I concur with everything you said, Sherrinda. I know, aren't I Miss Agreeable today? :) Great post!!!

Beth K. Vogt said...

The most important thing is to start with the positive, i.e. what you liked about the author's work. (You mentioned that right off!) So often, critters like to start off with what didn't work, what they didn't like. This sets a negative tone.
It also helps to ask, "Do you have any questions about my feedback?" That way, the critiquing isn't all one-sided.

Keli Gwyn said...

Great tips, Sherrinda. It sounds like you're a full service CP. One thing I've learned is that I'm more comfortable dealing with the details than the big picture issues. Comes from having worked as a copyeditor, I suppose. I make sure those for whom I read are OK with my approach before I begin, otherwise my kind of deep edit could be a shocker to them.

I work hard to give a balanced critique, offering positives along with suggestions, as you and Beth said. I think it's important to let a writer know what works as well as pointing out which areas could use a bit of work. To let those I read for know which comments are which, I begin my complimentary ones with a smile face. That way when they look at their manuscript and see lots of smileys it's easier for them to digest the other comments.

I like to give my impressions as a reader, too. I'll say things like, "Ooh. INSERT MALE MC's NAME HERE earned some hero points when he . . ." or "Great foreshadowing. You've really left me with some unanswered questions that make me want to find out what's going to happen."

Sorry to post a long comment, but I'm a firm believer in the value of critique partnerships, as you know. I've got two awesome ones on my Dream Team. I wouldn't be where I am today without them. I'm glad you're blessed with yours, too, Sherrinda.

Julia M. Reffner said...

I think the idea of giving examples is a great one. And you can't say enough about the "Golden Rule" of critiquing.

I am a bit of a computer "dummy" at times and poor Casey was subjected to my lack of knowledge about the "track changes" feature. Mine went right into the document in large clumps of text.

Casey said...

Great points Sherrinda! I love a good critting relationship. :)

Julia, you are no dummy. :) You should SEE all the places I dare not go in my computer. ;)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

What I like about that large critique group that Sherrinda referred to is the variety of comments. Each person seems to focus on a different issue. No one person could cover ever aspect. As a result, my critiques received are complete and I don't feel obligated to write down everything I see.
I agree that the positive comment needs to come first, after all that's what the Apostle Paul did in his writings, and He was led by God what to write.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Vonda, I'm glad it was helpful. Thanks for chiming in!

Samuaya, it is a brave step to take putting your work out there for others to critique. Good for you! Your story will only get better with it. Good luck!

Christine, thanks for stopping by. Hope it was helpful.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Sarah, I love it when people concur! And to have YOu concur with ME, well, it just made my day!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Beth, that is a fabulous tip! Asking if the author has any questions about the critique opens the floor up for some great dialogue. Thank you for offering up some great advice!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Keli, I should have had YOU write my post today. I know from your glowing reports from your CP's that you are an excellent one. Detailed crits are so incredibly helpful and as a copy editor, I'm sure you know what you are talking about! Thanks for sharing your expertise!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Julia & Casey, you two are so cute. I bet you both make a great team in reviewing each other's works. I'm so glad you have found a partner in each other.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Casey ROCKS!

Casey said...

Julia, sheesh. Make me blush, because you are AMAZING! ;D

Pepper said...

Great post, Sherrinda.
And I'm so thankful for you - and your willingness. I'm tempted to join a crit group, but I don't know if I would be very beneficial to anyone with my time constraints.
I love editing, though - and helping envision other people's work. Sherrinda, you have such beautiful creativity, and the heart of a marvelous story (otherwise, it wouldn't have WON the TBL contest)

Case, you are a gifted author, with great insight from someone so young. I can't WAIT to see how God grows your story and writing craft. Wow! If only I could have been at your level when I was your age.

Gia Cooper said...

This post is wonderful, and I am really excited to get started in a ACFW critique group. I have amazing people in my life that have helped with all stages of my manuscripts, and find myself beyond blessed. But it so scary sharing work.

Angie Dicken said...

I love having a crit partner, and love getting tough criticism! When I get a challenge, I can't let it lie! My writing has grown so much from using criticism to my advantage!
The ACFW crit group is awesome...I had to stop for a little while because I couldn't keep up with two for one...hopefully I will get back on track soon!
Good tips Sherrinda!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Pepper! You are such a sweetheart! You have such a big heart with oh-so-little time. You will never know how much I appreciate your critting my stuff when you are so busy. Wonder Woman, you ARE!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Gia, have you signed up for the ACFW crit group yet? I know you will get alot out of it. And you are lucky to have people in your life that can look over your work. Be blessed!!!

Angie, so you like to walk on the edge and take it all in! Good for you. Not everyone can handle the tough crits. You must be something special. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Ha, Sherrinda! Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment? But really, even if the criticism is tough, I like to take a step back and evaluate what I should listen to, and dare to change if it resonates with something I knew all along...
And, perhaps, I can only take it in small doses, that's why I have periods of "hiding" my work! :)