Constructive Criticism – Part IV: How to Give

Someone has asked you to read their piece. Could be a friend, a family member, could be someone online. How do you give advice that’s helpful, objective, and respectful?

FIRST: Ask what kind of feedback they are looking for
Maybe they just need a little encouragement to keep going. Pick three things that really work in the story and tell them why. Maybe they want a proof reader to catch typos and would prefer if you didn’t comment. Have the writer confirm that yes, they are looking for constructive criticism before you start reading.

SECOND: Ask how far along they are
Are they working with a concept? Have they finished a first draft? Is this their final draft? Knowing where they are in their process will help you comment accordingly.

THIRD: Know what to look for
o How have they described their settings and characters? Too much detail? Not enough? Have they used interesting metaphors? Can you see where they are and who they are?
o Are the characters rich? Believable? Do they jump off the page?
o Is the dialogue interesting? Realistic?
o Look at the plot. Are the stakes high enough for the characters? Does the plot make sense given the world and
the people in it?

FOURTH: Ask, don’t tell
Asking questions is a great way to give feedback. Asking how a scene helps to move the plot forward is far more helpful (and respectful) than saying a scene bored you. If you really feel something doesn’t work and you can’t form it into a question, explain why. Give an example.

FIFTH: Remember, objective not subjective
Each reader brings not only their personal preferences, but also their baggage to everything they read. If your partner has just broken up with you, you’re not going to want to read a romance. Put aside personal feelings and look at the work objectively. Is it a good story?

Happy critiquing.

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