Friday, November 27, 2015

Fiction Friday: Critiquing Beginning Writers

I've been doing a lot of critiques for friends in my various writers' groups lately. Some of them are still fairly early in their writing careers, and it occurred to me that the feedback I give to beginning writers is very different from what I share with seasoned veterans of the Writing War. Here are a few tips:
  • Stay positive. I read somewhere once that, when providing criticism, you should offer two items of positive reinforcements/praise for every bit of negative feedback.To be honest, I can't usually pull that off, but I do shoot for a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative.
  • If you genuinely don't want to do the critique, or you don't have time, say "no." A decline is better than writing up a hurried, ill-considered critique
  • Be upfront about your genre expertise. I can offer useful criticism on romance and women's fiction because I write those genres. I'm less helpful with SciFi/Fantasy because I haven't read enough of it and I don't know the rules for the genre.
  • Don't use the critique to demonstrate how clever you are. You're not writing to entertain and amuse. You're there to help. Skip the zingers and stick with simple language, couched as positively as possible.
  • Avoid critiquing word choice. It doesn't matter if it's not the word you would have chosen. When you suggest alternate wording, you're not trying to improve their writing. You're trying to turn it into your writing. Unless the word is used incorrectly, leave it alone.
  • On a similar note, don't try to hijack their story and take it in another direction. If you feel strongly that their premise or plot are cliched, it's okay to mention other books that have a similar story line, but every story is different. Cliches got that way because those themes resonated with people. Let the writer tell the story they want to tell.
  • For first drafts, stay at a high level. At McDaniel, we used the following template:
    • What Must Be Kept?
    • What Needs Work?
    • Where Do I Think This Is Going? (for partials)
That last one is especially useful because it lets the writer know what they're telegraphing via subtext or the use of familiar tropes. I've had several wrtiers say, "Totally didn't realize it was coming across that way," or "Wow, that's a little too obvious. I need to rethink this."
  • Finally, let yourself enjoy the process. You never know when you might be fostering the growth of an amazing new storyteller.

1 comment:

Pauline Persing said...

I like the thought...Let the writer write the story he wants to tell. Same thought works for art...Let the artist paint the picture he wants to paint.

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