Part 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.