How To Critique Other Writers

researchPart of being in the writing community is critiquing, editing and beta reading other writers’ work. It can bring so much to your own writing by helping you be clear about craft issues. And it can be a wonderful circle of support. However, it’s one thing to read someone’s work, but it’s another to provide editorial notes.

Here are my 4 tips for critiquing other writers:

1. Build them up and not down. Even if there are major structural or character issues, part of you job as a critique partner is showing them the good in their work, as well as what needs improvement. All writers are unsure of themselves in that moment when they send things off for another person/friend/colleague to review it. They want you to enjoy it so make sure you tell them the good, too. By highlighting what is good and what’s working for readers you’re going to help shed light on how to frame the issues that aren’t working.

2. Don’t harp on the same issue. Make note of it once. There’s no need to repeatedly make note of the same thing. Give credit to the writer that they’ll be able to carry that note through the manuscript.

3. Be as clear and specific as you can. The more you can back up your point, the clearer it will be to the writer. If you can explain why something isn’t working you’ll have a better time making the writer understand how to make edits. ‘I don’t like this scene’ isn’t helpful. But, ‘I don’t like this scene because this is out of character’ is going to get you farther.

4. Keep it professional, not personal. Part of working with other writers or in the publishing business is working with wonderful people whose work is in line with yours. However, there will be some bumps in the road. Never use editorial feedback as a means of revenge or to get back at someone who didn’t enjoy your own writing. Keep objective, keep it professional, keep it on track with what’s best for them as a writer and what will help them reach their readers.

General guidelines to best critique a story:

  • What is the work about?
  • What about the work is effective? Why or how?
  • What about the work is awkward or weak? Try to figure out why. How might it be made stronger?
  • How would you describe the voice?
  • What words or phrases are particularly effective?
  • What words seem ill-chosen?
  • Does anything  confuse you?
  • Pick one thing you think is the strongest.
  • Pick one thing you think is the weakest.

Further Reading:

Looking for a critique partner? Read about how to find one.

The importance of critique partners.

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27 thoughts on “How To Critique Other Writers

  1. Good morning. I’ve been writing for years, but am finally working toward getting published. The idea of giving someone else my writing is scary – the thought that they might steal it or something, I guess. Is having a critique partner a safe venture?

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    1. Publicinhiding, it’s time to step forth! Yes, it’s absolutely safe to have a critique partner. I wouldn’t dream of submitting my work to an agent or editor without at least one other person reading it first. You can reduce your anxiety about who is reading your unpublished work in progress by finding that person through a reputable avenue. Your local library can be a great resource for finding other writers who work in your same genre. Writing classes and associations, too. If you write for children, try SCBWI. I can’t advise on associations for writers of adult literature. Good luck!

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    2. Very safe! At some point you have to let your writing out there and be consumed by the world. A critique partner is the first step. It will help you get better. And Marianne makes some GREAT points.

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  2. Great tips! I’ve had various pieces critiqued and been a part of some writing salons, I especially found the guideline questions you posted below, very useful. They are specific and focus in on key issues that might exist in the work. Sometimes I don’t know what to say to my my fellow writers aside from the positive, this will help guide me to be more specific with my comments. Thanks

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  3. Thanks – very timely advice as I look at the two short stories I need to give feedback on for my writing group. I find reading and giving feedback to others a bit difficult; however, I think I give pretty good advice and suggestions as our group discusses each piece. I guess I am more aurally/verbally attuned – which might explain why I like writing dialogue so much!

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  4. Great tips! I went to a bad critique group this weekend – it was such a waste of time! – I want to refer each and every one of those guys to this post.
    Also, I made a post a lot like this one and one about how to gracefully ACCEPT the criticisms on my blog a few months ago.

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  5. Reblogged this on In Loving Memoir and commented:
    Highly recommend this read to those of you who are just starting out in writing groups, beta reading or even if you’re just trying to critique your own writing. I know this is something I struggle with and am always reluctant to pass on criticism because it’s so subjective!

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  6. Hi Carly, Peregrine Literary Series Free Reading Sunday, October 20 in Lake Oswego, Oregon 7 p.m. I’m one of three women authors reading… I’ll be discussing Mermaid Black Fin Under the Sellwood Bridge. Love to meet you. All the best and thanks for the great blog about how to give feedback to writers. I heard about you on Twitter from @SFCpdx Mark Leo

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  7. Great post! Those four points are really important — especially the first if you’re hoping to make the relationship successful. I heard Susan Dennard, Kat Zhang, Sarah J. Maas, and Erin Bowman talk about the “sandwich” CP concept when I saw them at a book signing not long ago. They suggest you start out with something you liked about the story, then go to something you think needs improvement, then end on something else you liked about the story.

    Thank you for linking to my post! It was a shock to get the ping back. I appreciate it :)

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  8. Yes. This exactly. I’m in a critique class now, and I wish I could just hang these rules up on the classroom walls. Sometimes it seems like people get bogged down in, “Well I wish this would happen,” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if it went here instead?” It’s one thing if the story’s written in such a way that it doesn’t make sense, but much of the time it seems more like people projecting their own, independent ideas onto a student’s writing, which isn’t helpful at all.

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  9. This post and the discussion that follows is very helpful. Thanks, Carly. I have found that I’ve learned as much from the critiques I’ve given as those I have received. It is wonderful practice in honing your skills. I have even given a suggestion to another writer and later thought… wait, I made the same mistake! To those of you who are still apprehensive, I suggest that you do the following when receiving a critique that you find harsh or difficult to accept. Read it through the first time without emotion, if possible. Don’t try to figure out how to “fix it” immediately. Come back to it later.. maybe several days later, with a fresh set of eyes and a stronger will. At that point it will (at least for me) be easier to read and admit to yourself if the suggestions are valid and how to implement them. My immediate response when I began this journey was, often, one of hurt or even anger. Letting it sit softens this somehow. This has been my experience, anyway. :)

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