Four Rules For Giving Constructive Criticism To A Writer

I’ve done a couple of posts about how to take constructive criticism (here and here) but realized this weekend that I haven’t mentioned how to give it. As I’m in the process of polishing my latest MS, I figured that this was a good a time as any. So, here we go. 

1. Be Honest
That’s why the writer has come to you in the first place, right? For your honest opinion. It’s easy to say, “Oh wow, this is amazeballs! I love everything about it!” but that's not what the writer is looking for (or, if they are, they're not the kind of writer who's looking to improve their craft).

You know that saying, "Can't see the forest for the trees?" Well that's what happens to a writer when they spend months--even years, writing a novel. The writer is so invested in the story that they've lost all objectivity. And that's why they seek out critiquers--for honest feedback about what works and what doesn't. So if you've signed up to be a critiquer, please be honest because there's nothing worse than giving your writer the idea that they've written the greatest novel of all-time when it's obvious that it needs work. Why? Because most writers are trying to get published and the last thing they want is to submit a manuscript to an agent or editor that isn't ready.

As a critiquer, your job is to add water to this picture because, as you can see, when left to their own devices, writers can't recognize things that need improvement. Even when it's glaringly obvious to others.

So my best suggestion is this: If you really care about the person whose work you're critiquing, keep in mind that if you don't find something that could be improved, you're failing at your job. Remember, they're coming to you specifically for ways their manuscript can be improved, so please, be honest.

2. Learn the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism
There’s a fine line between giving constructive criticism and destructive criticism. The point of constructive criticism is to offer insight as to how a writer can improve on something. For instance, if you’re not connecting to a character, try and articulate what's stopping you, and the more specific you can be, the more helpful your criticism is. Simply stating: I hate that guy, doesn’t give the writer much of a direction to go in, aside from heading to the liquor store, that is.

requested by @BravoJeffrey

Undeniable True Story of Destructive Criticism: When I was in OAC, I took a writing class (OAC was an extra year of high school that existed only in Ontario high schools—no, it wasn't a hold-back kind of deal but an additional year of high school intended to prepare students who wanted to go to university). And this writing class was run by a not-so-nice teacher who took it upon himself to make up awesome creative words to grade my assignments. And how did he come to make-up these one-of-a-kind terms? Well, he’d combine the type of assignment with an adjective describing my work. The one that stands out is Balthetic: a combo of Ballad and Pathetic. 

So yeah, don't do that. 

3. Know Your Audience
Some Most writers are extremely sensitive to any type of criticism. After all, they've poured their heart and soul into their work and the last thing they may want to hear is that it's a big pile of crap-o-la (even if it is--remember that your first job is to be honest). 

But, learning how to interpret constructive criticism in part of an author’s job description, and therefore, not really your problem. However, if you know that your writer friend is likely to do a Google Earth search to find the nearest cliff with a twenty-foot drop onto jagged rocks after reading your comments, then I suggest the following technique: The Bummer Oreo, which is sandwiching criticism in-between two compliments.

Hey Sally, you’re a really talented writer. Chapter four was kind of choppy and I think you could take out at least twelve unnecessary adverbs but I really liked the way you tied it all up in the end.

Yes, that means a lot more work but sometimes it's best to act like Mary Poppins:


4. Don’t Be A Dick
If you subscribe to the belief that you have to make others feel shitty so that you can feel good about yourself, do everyone a favour and don’t critique anyone else’s work. We’re hard enough on ourselves and don’t need comments like this:

Like the ever classic "Balthetic," it doesn't give the writer anywhere to go...except to their contact list to remove you from their Christmas Card mailer. And their will (depending on if you were on there to begin with). 

So there you go, my four rules on how to give constructive criticism. Do you disagree or have something to add? Go through the list and then add it in the comment section. Suggestions that fail to abide by the four pricipals will be deleted, obviously, because this is a Dick-free posting (and not just because I'm a woman). 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Whattaya got to say about that? *waits*

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.