Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Delicate Art of Writing A Critique

Listening to a critique of your writing can be hard. If it’s particularly hard-hitting, you might be tempted to lash back at the critiquer. Maybe you're considering buying a voodoo doll and taking pleasure in imagining the excruciating pain each needle causes as you insert it into your critiquer-victim.
Stop right there. You’re only harming yourself. It’s rare that a critiquer will aim his or her opinion at you personally. If s/he does, then by all means, disregard it. It has no relevance to your writing, and that is the objective, always: to improve your story.
And you know how difficult it can be, sometimes, to present your view of a story in a way that won’t offend. Especially if that story isn’t well thought out. Temper your constructive criticism with a generous dose of tact.
If you need guidance on how to write a critique that will provide the best possible constructive criticism, check out E-How’s article on How to Critique in Fiction Writing Workshops.
I follow these steps myself. Line editing is helpful for catching errors in grammar, pointing out word choices that perhaps don’t quite work, or typos. The overall critique is helpful for analyzing characters (are they two-dimensional stereotypes, or fleshed-out and believable?), story arc (does enough conflict occur? Is the protagonist’s journey realistic – whether the story is literary or fantasy or romance, this is a must.), point of view (if there’s head-hopping, is it intentional, and well done?), setting (do you feel as if you’re floating in outer space with these characters, or grounded in a place with authentic details?). It’s where you can point out logistical holes in the story – anything that makes you ask, wait a minute, how did the protagonist manage to do that? A plot point that doesn’t quite make sense.
Avoid vague general statements such as “I don’t like it.” Perhaps you didn’t, and maybe that was a completely personal take. It’s not helpful to the author, because maybe for every person that doesn’t like the story, twenty others do. What the author needs to hear are specific reasons. Legitimate reasons, based on established ideals relating to story structure, character development, and so on.
If you need further help, look to published critiques by recognized authors such as Isaac Asimov’s Cosmic Critiques: How and Why Ten Science Fiction Stories Work.
Even if you’re not a scifi writer, the method of breaking down a story into its various elements is universal. Learning the steps of writing a great story will also help you recognize the critical elements necessary to any story. An excellent guide to story structure is Madison Smartt Bell’s Narrative Design, which provides stories, and then analyzes each by plot, character, tone, dialogue, imagery and description, point of view, design and more. The more in-depth your own writing is, the better you will recognize what’s lacking in others’.
Happy writing!

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Terrific blog! It's always the advice that rankles the most that is usually the most helpful.