Critique writing steps are detailed in many different how to books on writing, editing and critiquing. I’ve never actually read any of these books, mostly because the details can be quite dry. Like many authors, I imagine, I have two full bookshelves of how to books. The books that I read are the books on crime scenes, on investigative techniques and on skill sets that my characters might have. Beyond Stephen King’s On Writing and the Romance Writer’s Phrase Book, I don’t read a lot of books on writing itself.
Critique Writing Steps
When writing a critique, first and foremost, your goal should be to strengthen the work and the writer. Furthermore, a critique partner is exactly that — a fresh set of eyes and a partner to strengthening the work, honing it and improving it. A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend who’d been asked to critique someone else’s work. She didn’t like the story, she didn’t like the viewpoint and she didn’t even like the setting. She was hard pressed to come up with something that she liked about the tale at all.
She was writing me to ask me what she should do. I asked if I could see the story without any names and she sent it over. I read through it. The first thing I looked for were instances of telling rather than showing (felt, seemed, thought) and highlighted those. I made suggestions of ways to make them stronger.
I looked at the first sentence and asked if it was a hook. Then the second and third, so forth and so on. I found the story’s real hook buried on the second page. So I noted what I found and why I thought it was a hook. I added comments here and there, including adding notations where I found the work to be particularly strong or the imagery vivid. Then I sent it back to my friend.
The funny thing was, upon reading the comments I made, she found a few recommendations of her own to append prior to sending it back. She said that my comments seemed to strengthen the work in her own eyes and that made it easier to critique.
It’s important when you are reading someone’s work whether it is their first draft or their fifteenth that you read it fresh. You mark what you like. You mark what tosses you out. You note areas that could be improved and how. You never say you hate something without saying why or what might be improved. In fact, don’t say you hate it at all.
I recently found a wonderful critique partner. We exchanged WIPs over the weekend and dove in. I found that I was marking up quite a bit through the first 60 pages or so, but somehwere around page 65, I was reading more than I was critiquing. Now this is an important comment to make. Because what was so magical about the story at page 65 that I immersed myself into it?
I had to review it a couple of times, but I think it was by that point I was invested in the characters and I wanted to know what was happening. I was invested in the world she was creating and on a second read through I had loads of questions to add to my comments.
In the end, I summed up my thoughts and told her quite honestly that I found her world to be similarly engaging to another published author. Told her what I liked about it and thanked her for letting me read it. Hopefully my comments will help her develop the work further (and I’ll get more to read!)
Once I’d sent my critique back, I got to read her commentary on my work. I laughed outloud when the very first comment was “Yuck!” She apologized for it, but said the word is exactly what she thought when she read what the character was saying. It’s an honest reaction and whether it will be useful or not going forward, remains to be seen because that’s a ‘taste’ issue and not necessarily a ‘writing’ issue.
Other comments included (in no particular order):
Those are examples of fantastic feedback on various scenes and actions in the story. Because they make me think about what I’ve written, they point out places where I may have slipped from one point of view to another without meaning to and ultimately will make the story a stronger one.
Remember the next time you read someone’s work for a critique the first step is to read it, the second is to comment and the third is to provide feedback that is useful to the writer. Even if you don’t like something, you can express why. When in doubt, consider the kind of feedback you find useful in your own work and try to achieve that.
How do you critique?