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?
You’ve figured out who to ask and what to ask. Now you’ve received your feedback. Do not read it. I repeat… DO NOT READ IT! Let it sit for a day, two days, maybe a week. The longer you let everything sit, the more objective you’ll be when you read it.
When you finally do read it, there will be three types of comments
1) Great advice that you can’t wait to follow
2) Great advice that makes you a bit defensive
3) Advice you know you can’t use
1 is easy. With respects to 2, ask yourself why you feel defensive. Did your reader suggest you cut your favourite part? Would the story be better off? With 2 comments you can let the work sit for longer or save another copy of your work to test out the changes. You can always go back to the original if you feel it’s not working.
With 3 remember, not everyone excels in separating the subjective from the objective. Saying a section is boring because there isn’t any fighting is different than saying it was boring because there was nothing to help or hinder your main character.
After you have made edits to your piece you can either give it back to the person who made the comments or give it to someone new (or both) Just be sure and thank your readers even if the only comments they give you are 3s. They still took the time to read and comment on your work.
Next article – How to give feedback to others
You’ve selected the lucky person (or persons) to give you feedback on your work. Excellent! While you could give them your piece and just ask for an overall review, it would be best if you came up with some questions to help guide your reader.
Was the setting clear and vibrant? Was there too little or too much description?
Do the characters feel like real people?
Does the protagonist have a clear goal? Are the stakes high enough?
Were you interested in the character’s journey? Did you care if they reached their goals?
Was the protagonist’s motivation clear?
Did the protagonist experience growth by the end of the story?
Were you bored at any point? Which part? Why?
Were you confused at all? Did you have a hard time following your plot?
How did you feel when you finished the story?
Remember – It is also perfectly acceptable for you to say that you just need encouragement. That you just want to hear one thing they liked so you will have the courage to go on.
You’re the writer. Ask for what you need.
Upcoming Post – Constructive Criticism Part III: What to do next
You’ve got a solid draft and now it’s time for some feedback. But who to ask?
There are advantages and disadvantages to each group. You’ll have to decide which one (or combination of) is best for you.
Family / Friends
First ask yourself if they are readers. Ask yourself if they are willing to tell you the truth or if they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. Would your feelings be hurt if they didn’t love it?
A good way to determine if a family member or friend is a good person to ask, is to think about the last time you asked for advice. Was it helpful? Did they understand what you needed?
Many writers use teaching as a way to supplement their income, but not all writers make good teachers. If you are taking a writing class be sure to listen to what your teacher says about the works of others as well as your own. Do you agree with their assessment? Remember – you want someone who will be objective, who wants what’s best for the work. If you liked the teacher don’t forget to keep that contact once the class is over. They may not have the time to read an entire piece if you are no longer their student, but they might agree to analyzing the first page.
This one can be tricky if you have different personalities in your group. Just because you don’t like a writer personally, does not mean you should discount their suggestions. Pretend someone else gave you that same advice. Would you take it?
Some writers believe they will receive more “honest answers” from strangers than they will from someone they know. Perhaps. But be warned, those who give opinions via the internet are less likely to be tactful since they will never have to face you in person. Try looking for blogs or websites that give feedback on a regular basis. Although I have not submitted to her yet, I enjoy reading Janice Hardy’s Real Life Diagnosis. Writers can submit a page which she will then post and critique. You can also ask other writers to comment on your work in exchange for looking over some of their pages.
Next week – Constructive Criticism Part II: Questions to ask your reader