A note from Alex: This is the third post in a 3-part series of guest posts by the ever-awesome Aimee Laine.
My grandmother used to say, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.” In the world of writing and critiquing, that saying is about as wrong as it can get. Sorry, Grandma.
By saying nothing at all, the author is left with no wisdom or advice on how to improve.
In our two previous posts, we talked about the purpose of a critique and what to look for. Sometimes, though, a piece of writing doesn’t stimulate the-reader in any way, shape or form. How, then, can we effectively provide feedback? How can we be useful to our fellow authors if we have nothing positive to say?
Heard anything like this before?
- No one’s going to understand this.
- When will you make this something we can actually see or feel?
- This entire scene is a mess.
- I’m sorry, but if I see this error in your work one more time, I’m going to throw my laptop across the room.
If you’ve taken on the job of critiquer, it probably also means you’re an author — and an author first and foremost. That one little tidbit should then be in the back of your mind as you read a piece of writing and formulate your critique. Would you, the author, want to be given feedback like the above if this piece were yours?
When an author has poured her soul into a work, hearing that a reader is unmoved, unimpressed or disappointed with the work may damage self-confidence, erode self-esteem, and some may turn away from writing.
Sure, that other old expression, ‘if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen’, may apply, but even current-day bestselling authors write a flop, or two — and some openly admit it. Who tells them? Their editors.
Who do we have? Our fellow author-critiquers.
Authors need to be told, but just as a parent disciplines with love, a critiquer can offer guidance with gentleness, dignity, respect and with a mind toward regional communication styles. Are a Georgian and New Yorker different? How about an American and a Brit? Absolutely. Keep that in mind as you formulate your responses.
Let’s look at the first example above and rewrite it.
No one’s going to understand this.
I am not understanding/feeling/sensing the core of the work.
By rewriting the first line to be about how the critiquer is feeling, the impact is positioned on yourself and not on the author. The intent of the comment remains.
Let’s look at the second example.
When will you make this something we can actually see or feel?
I am not seeing the scene. What are the colors, textures, sounds, etc? Is there a way to build in more of the five senses?
The use of the word you implies that the author is the problem. Explain why you believe there is no ‘visual’ from your perspective.
Did the author fail to bring you into the story? Were the characters not compelling enough? Was the scene flat and lacked the five senses? Did the writing suffer from new-author syndrome, filled with the simplest of errors that prevented you from really getting into the meat of the material?
When writing a critique whereby the critiquer has nothing positive to say, select words which talk about you, not the author. Describe yourself, not the writing. Let’s look at the third example.
This entire scene is a mess.
Consider outlining the scene. Sometimes this helps me see the logic and flow and I can better edit my next draft to keep it consistent and clean.
We’ve all seen scenes that are so convoluted it’s hard to keep up. What is the problem, though, with simply telling the author it’s a mess? Will they be able to fix it on their own? Give them a potential solution to help them in the future.
The mark of a good critiquer is the manner in which they deliver bad news. Sure, there’s a point where hard and fast works — in drag racing perhaps. Critiquing? Not so much.
Back to our examples:
I’m sorry, but if I see this error in your work one more time, I’m going to throw my laptop across the room.
This is a repeated error, so I won’t note it anymore, but consider looking for them throughout the piece.
Think there’s no way someone would say something like that? Think again.
If there is no room for Praise, stick to Teach through the use of industry-specific Correction. Go back to the process. Scan. Correct. Dissect. Teach. Praise.
Find the nuggets.
Choose your words wisely.
You’ll be on your way to providing critiques everyone will be dying for instead of from.
Photo Credit: Personal Development Blog