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Craft: Critique Essentials

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

(Blog Post)

A critique given or received is based on the author and critiquer developing and maintaining a bond of trust. Mutual respect and clear communication are imperative. To help achieve both:

* Never discuss a specific critique given with anyone other than the author of the work.
* Never show an author’s work to anyone else—not to your spouse, to your mentor, nor to your writing friends. To breach confidentiality is to breach trust.
* Within the agreed upon time, do the critique and then return it to the author. Everyone’s time is valuable. Respect your author’s, and your critiquer’s.
* Before work exchanges hands, establish ground rules between author and critiquer. Set specifications, request specific desires.
* Give only what the author requests on any specific critique. Offer constructive criticism on any changes you, the critiquer, recommend. Do not issue edicts and/or destructive, cutting remarks.
* If a novel element or aspect works well, emotionally grabs you, the critiquer, note it. And note why you think it works well. Positive feedback is crucial. If the element/ aspect worked once and the rationale can be identified, then that aspect can be again implemented. What strikes you as being done right is equally important to that which strikes you as being done wrong.

GIFTS: Time spent on your critique could have been spent on your critiquer’s own work. Even if you disagree with every word the critiquer says, with every suggestion made, recognize the critique for what it is—a gift.

IT’S NOT PERSONAL: Remember that remarks made by a critiquer are only that critiquer’s subjective opinion and the comments pertain to the work, not to you, the author of the work. Weigh comments and suggestions received from that perspective.

VISION: Realize that only you, the author, holds the vision of your entire novel. When you receive a critique on a partial of the manuscript, weigh the value of the comments and/or suggestions in context of your vision of the entire novel.

INSTINCTS: Trust your instincts. Before altering a novel based on a critiquer’s comments, read and digest the critique. Take time to absorb, and then again read the critique. If the revisions then seem valid, do them. If they strengthen the work, keep them. If not, try a fresh approach that accomplishes the desired goal.

DEFEND: Given criticism, resist the urge to defend or explain. Your critiquer notes areas s/he feels require your attention. What attention you elect to give those areas is up to you. Writing and critiquing are subjective. Akin to a review, a critique is just one person’s subjective opinion. Weigh the value of that opinion and then act. Trust. But squelch the desire to defend.

SPECIFIC: Be specific about what you hope to gain from the critique. The more detail you impart, the more able is the critiquer to give you what you need and seek.

GRACIOUS: Be gracious. A critiquer’s gift to you is their personal time and sharing their knowledge and experience. Whether or not you, the author, agree with the critiquer’s findings in your work, you should not diminish the value of their gift.

RIGHT: What is right, or what works in a novel, is as equally important as what is wrong. Don’t neglect to note what works as well as what doesn’t.

RESPECT: Respect the work. This is NOT your story and you, the critiquer, shouldn’t attempt to overhaul the novel as if it were your story.

CONSIDERATION: Do consider the stage of the work. If a draft, then focus your comments on content. If a “final” ready for submission, then do a more in-depth analysis of the work. Always give the author, as best you’re able, what the author requests.

PERSPECTIVE: Do critique the work from the perspective of requirements and criteria of the work’s targeted market and/or genre. Judging a category novel on mainstream criteria greatly diminishes the value of the critique.

CLARITY: An excellent critique is worthless–if the author can’t understand what you mean. Strive to be clear and concise—easy to understand. Offer examples that drive home your point.

SENSITIVITY: Before you release a critique, ask yourself: “How would I feel if I received this?” Be honest, be fair, but be sensitive to the author who has invested their time, energy, and emotion into this work just as you have invested in your novel. Offer solutions to challenges, specific statements, not nebulous generalities that are a challenge. Constructive criticism and validation of the positive aspects is your goal.


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