Showing posts with label critique. Show all posts
Showing posts with label critique. Show all posts

Feedback: Friend or Foe

When I took my first screenwriting course, I received a piece of advice I always keep at the forefront. Be careful of when and where you seek feedback. 

This is especially true at the early stages of any project. Share your ideas before they're developed, and you may be steered off the right path or encouraged to go in the wrong direction. Plus, when you receive too many ideas on your work from others, you run the risk of getting stalled by information-overload. This is neither good for you or your project.

For these - and other reasons - always be mindful of where and when you seek advice. I'm not saying never get input. (Sorry for the double-negative.) There are perils in going to the other extreme. Constructive feedback - and of course editing - are imperative for those who want to put out a professional project, which, by the way, should be everyone. 

Here are some rules to keep in mind where feedback is concerned.

1. Know your Work Before you Share It. You must have a sense of your project before you can be objective about any recommendations, and know whether you should keep or disregard them. Having trouble finding a path for your characters or the outline for your non-fiction book? Try writing things a few different ways, and give yourself the opportunity to decide on direction.

2. Choose a Few Trusted Advisors. Especially for longer work, at some point you will need feedback, editing, and maybe even some help with development. That's fine. Just keep your circle small and be selective. Reach out to no more than three or four people to be a part of this tribe. Make sure you have vetted any paid advisors before you bring them on board, and that the friends and peers you choose have your best interest in mind.

3.Share Work in Pieces. If you are having trouble with something specific and desperately need feedback, especially at the early stages, ask only about that bit. Keep your project as vague as possible, but share a scene, a character description, or an idea for something you might include. Compartmentalizing in this way will keep the conversation focused and unwarranted feedback at bay.   

I have a vivid memory of attending a critique group as a guest many years ago. A women read the first chapter in her romance novel, and people were offering her suggestions right and left. They ranged from changing the characters' traits and adding new ones to altering the plot entirely.

Afterwards, I sought out the author. It was my first meeting and I was not allowed to offer feedback in the group setting - don't get me started on that one. I told her to keep going in her direction, to follow her gut. There'd be plenty of time for input once she had a better sense of her novel, and could be objective about any recommendations.

What are your thoughts on getting feedback on your work? With whom do you share your work? Please share in the comments.

* * *

Debra Eckerling is a writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. Like the Write On Online Facebook Page and join the Facebook Group

She is author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, and host of the Guided Goals Podcast.

Debra is an editor at Social Media Examiner and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Finding a Critique Group

It is the first month of the New Year and for writers that usually means new projects, new goals, new and better ideas floating around in your head. It also means evaluating what worked last year and what needs to be changed. A renewal of your commitment to becoming more successful as a writer may include finding a critique group for that second eye at your work.

If you don't currently have a critique group you may be wondering if you need one and if you do decide it might be a benefit, how do you find the right one? Here are some tips for helping you figure out if a critique group is right for you and finding the perfect members to make it work.

A critique group should be a benefit to you and in turn you must be a benefit to the others.

  1. keep it simple
  2. keep the group small
  3. develop a trust within the group so that criticisms are not taken personally 
  4. don't let it distract you from your real goal of writing
That being said, how do you find your group or as some writers call it, your tribe?
Start with deciding what kind of group you want, online or in person. If you want to be part of an online group you can find your members from writing sites, online classes you have taken, through your current social media writing friends you already know or by asking and being recommended by other writers you are familiar with. Joining writer associations or other membership sites related to your genre can open up many opportunities to find a critique group in your area of interest online.

If an in person group would benefit you more, check with your local library for any local writers that might also be interested. Local papers might also offer articles on other local authors or even list support/critique groups for writers in your community asking for members. 

Keep in mind that a critique group should offer you critical points that advance your story but should not demean you in a personal way. That's where the trust factor comes in. You must always trust that members are not tearing you down to make their writing feel better but are giving points to improve and lead you to more success. You in return must be the same type of critique partner.

What other tips do you have for those seeking a critique group, and any thoughts on how and why a critique group has helped you  can be shared in the comments. Here is to a successful 2017.

Tread Gently - 10 Steps To Provide a Helpful Critique

As a writer, you have to develop a thick skin. No question. Not only do you have to anticipate criticism of your writing, you need to request it.

For two reasons:

1)  Rather be critiqued by a small group of people you trust, than be trashed by thousands "out there" whom you don't even know.
2)  By doing critiques for others, you will develop your own skills in the process.
When I was growing up, my father often said to me, "It's not what you say, it's the way you say it!" And this is true of critiques. Everyone is a critic, because everyone has an opinion. We all know what we like or don't like, or what works or what doesn't. But perhaps we need to learn how to say it, or how to receive the criticism of our darlings.

Today, let's look at how to do a critique as well as what to avoid. Next month we'll look at how to react to a critique.

1. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVES. Before you start critiquing, scan through the article and look for points you agree with, expressions you enjoy, sections of writing that make you smile. Using the comment section (if using Word Review) leave indications of your reaction. This may be a smiley face ☺ or an "Amen!" Perhaps you will leave a comment, "Oh yes, been there," or "I couldn't agree more." Or maybe you prefer, "I love this!" or "This story is so applicable." You can always do this as you go, but I find often I lose track of the need to encourage when I'm deep in a critique.

2. CONFIRM WITH THE WRITER WHAT SORT OF REVIEW (S)HE WANTS. Does she want an in-depth critique or only a general impression? Your crit partner may want to ask, "Does this work for the Baby Boomer market?" Read it through and resist the temptation to point out the extra spaces and the wrong punctuation. All she's asked for is whether you think it fits her proposed marker. Be careful not to destroy the writer's confidence in her work. Respond with an encouraging but helpful note. "I love it. I think it would improve if you wrote in 1st person though." Or "Great article, but I don't see it fitting in Chicken Soup. I could be wrong though." Or "Where I think this article has potential, I think it would be better for another market." (If possible make a suggestion.) In other words, give some constructive advice about the article, but don't go into picky details. If perhaps you think the article is good, but one illustration doesn't make sense, point that out.

I have had the situation where I've asked "Do you think this might work?" and the person I sent it to spent a good half hour of his precious time marking up every little dot and tittle of the article. The result was a waste of his time, and frustration on my side. I only submitted a draft to see if it would work. This wasn't my best writing and I didn't want a full-on critique of it. (By the way, this is the only time writers should submit a draft to a crit group, and they must be careful the recipients understand that it's a draft.)

3. APPLY YOURSELF TO THE TRUE REASON FOR YOUR CRITIQUE. You want to help the writer—you don't want to show off your own expertise. Make sure you understand the goal of the writer, and seek to find ways to help them achieve those goals. e.g. She has written for Chicken Soup. If you know C.S., look for ways you think the article is suitable and comment. Look for ways that don't fit the C.S. requirements, and point them out. If you don't know the market, say so. But then do the best you can with the critique. Good writing is good writing regardless of the intended market.

4. ASK FOR A POLISHED ARTICLE. If you realise this is a first draft, unless it is the situation as covered in #2, write back and say something generic, like, "This looks as if it has potential, and once you've done more work on it, I'll be happy to give you a full critique." I have been in a situation where a critique partner regularly sent in "first draft" material, relying on her critique group to tidy it up for her. You are not there to write the article. You're there to help make it better.

5. EVALUATE THE WRITING, NOT THE WRITER. Don't make comments like, "You're too preachy." Rather say, "This section comes across as preachy."

6. LOOK FOR ENCOURAGING WAYS TO MAKE YOUR POINT. Perhaps you want to say, "This is weak. You shouldn't use 'he ran fast'. Use a stronger verb." Rather say "Instead of the adverb, you could say 'sprinted'. That sounds stronger."

7. OFFER SUGGESTIONS. Instead of saying, "This sentence doesn't work," say, "How about . . . ?" And give the writer some idea of how they can go about making a change.

8. CORRECT MISUNDERSTANDINGS. As writers, we know what we're trying to say. Sometimes we get it all wrong, but because we can picture the scene, we don't notice the muddiness of the paragraph. You, as a critique partner, may read something and feel confused. Who is speaking here? Tell the writer. "I find this paragraph confusing. I'm not sure who's speaking." And leave it at that. Let the writer sort it out.

9. GUIDE, DON'T TAKE OVER. By all means give a few well chosen suggestions. But don't do a rewrite of the article. The resulting piece may well be much better, but the writer will have learned nothing—except possibly never to ask you for help again.

10. ALLOW FOR FEEDBACK. Members of the group I currently belong to encourage us to write personally to the person who gave the critique in order to clarify what they meant. Perhaps after correcting the section, I may ask "Is this what you mean?" However, if the writer becomes defensive, or wants to argue, say something like, "I have given you my opinion. Feel free to ignore anything you're not happy with." In fact, I almost always say that when I offer a critique. It is only my opinion, and the recipient is free to take it or leave it.

Now over to you. Do you have anything to add? Do you have an example of any of these that you'd like to share with us?

Further posts to read: 
Critiques are Essential by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice
Finding the Right Critique Group by Linda Moore Kurth

Next Month: Gracious Acceptance - Eight Ways to Deal with Critiques by Shirley Corder

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer contains 90 meditations based on her sojourn in the cancer valley.

Please visit Shirley's Write to inspire and encourage website or at, where she writes to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook

Helpful Critiques

I don’t know what I would have done without my critique groups over the years. They keep me accountable, give me a deadline to meet, and each person has had a strength that helped me improve my writing. Without feedback, I get too close to the writing and can no longer be objective or see the mistakes.

Here are some hints for critiquing:

As Critiquer: This is important! Always start out your critique with the positive—what you liked about the scene, what worked well, what evoked emotion, memory, nice descriptive phrases, etc. When you talk about something that didn’t work, say “I bumped on . . .” Try not to “fix” the problem or tell her what to do—let the author do that.

As Critiquee: When you are being critiqued, remember the motto “JUST NOD AND SMILE.” It is best not to try to explain too much and especially not to get defensive about your work (it’s a natural reaction, but not constructive).Just take in what the critiquer is saying and use it or not as you see fit. It may be something you might not agree with at the moment, but after thinking about it, maybe it starts to make sense. Or, it’s a question that you know you’ve answered in a previous or upcoming scene. When the critiquer asks a question, you are not required to answer it—it’s just food for thought.

Things to look for in doing a critique:

Point of View (POV)—not switching from one to another within scenes. Trying to avoid the omniscient.

Character Development—emotions and feelings. Does the character stay “in character?” Growth/change as the story progresses. What does the character learn from his/her experience?

Setting and Grounding—Descriptions, using the five senses (Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, Taste). Keeping the reader “grounded”—reminding him/her where the characters are and what they’re doing during dialogue.

Dialogue—realistic, concise, not overly didactic (giving info to the reader through dialogue where the character would obviously know it and not have to state it). Watch for overdoing dialect. Watch overuse of “taglines” (he said/she whispered). Whenever possible, substitute with an action or a reaction by the character. This helps with grounding and helps you develop each character’s individual voice.

Show vs TellHint: Any time you write “He/she felt something” or “He/she was something” you are TELLING. You want the reader to identify with your character, to be inside his/her head. Do you identify with the first or the second example?
“Sally felt so sad and depressed after John died that she cried all day.” Do you feel her sadness or depression?
Or-- “Suddenly she realized the sound in the room was her own sobbing. Tears burned hot on her cheeks. She raised a hand and it trembled before her eyes. She could end it all right now.

Orchestration/continuity. At the beginning of the scene she was wearing a blue dress, by the end she had on brown pants. Or how did he get from sitting in the living room to suddenly standing in the kitchen? Are all the arms, legs etc. in the right place, doing things that are physically possible (in a love scene or a fight scene etc.)?

  A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Critique Comments versus Author's Ideas

As writers we want and need critiques of our work. But what is a writer to do when the critique and suggestions totally changes what the author has in mind for a piece? What if  the author disagrees with the critique and refuses to revise the piece in any way? My experience is certainly more limited than that of a seasoned author but here is how I see the purpose of critiques and what an author should be able to take away from any opinion of their work.

A good critique will give positive suggestions on making a written piece stronger and more marketable. That doesn't mean that there won't be negative comments and comments that an author does not agree with. However, a good critique should show the author a view of the work looking through a wide lens and from a different angle, neither right or wrong...just different.

A good critique should never be all negative nor should it be all positive because in reality the work being critiqued is not ready to publish so not perfect. Comments stating " I like it" or "it doesn't work for me" are not specific enough to improve on so become meaningless to the author. A comment like " I think the character needs more emotion" or " the climax is weak, can you increase the tension here?" gives the author a starting point to improve the work.

An author should not feel obligated to change an entire manuscript based on the results of one or two critiques unless it will improve the work. The author should consider other points of view when deciding what needs to be revised with a conscious effort to leave the personal and emotional aspect out of the revisions. Developing a tough skin and the ability to cut, revise, and reshape a manuscript without hurt feelings comes with experience but is a must if one wants to be published.

Critiques offered by agents and publishers should be considered slightly more valuable because at this point the manuscript should be almost ready to publish. An author working closely with an agent or publisher benefits from making some suggested revisions for the purpose of pleasing the one who will make the effort lucrative. Even to that end, the author still holds the key to what changes will be made and what remains in alignment with the character, plot, and purpose of the work.

Authors need to find a solid group of critique partners, one or maybe two, that can be counted on to be honest, objective, and noncompetitive when helping to improve a story or article. Relatives, spouses, adult children, and neighbors may not be the best choices because of their lack of objectivity and their feelings of loyalty to the writer. It is better to have a critique partner that is also a writer and one who understands the pieces of a story, a story arc, and character development.... one who can spot a flaw with a manuscript and give suggestions for improvement. Those critiques will help an author grow and improve, and in the end isn't that what we authors strive to achieve?

Integrating Feedback into the Writing Process

Integrating Feedback into the Writing Process

Guest Post By Laura Bickle

Writing for oneself is a completely different animal than writing for other people. When writing for oneself, there's a freedom to explore any idea or format that one likes. There's freedom to make errors. With an audience of one, there's very little pressure to conform to the ideas of others. There are no rules.

Writing for others is different. When developing an idea or manuscript for sale, there's a certain amount of external input needed. Input comes in many forms: from beta readers, critique groups, agents, and editors. External input is invaluable: as a writer, I'm often blind to flaws and blatant errors in my own work. I can read the same sentence over and over and not see a mistake in logic that another will readily see.

But too much feedback can also be a bad thing. Each reader approaches a manuscript differently, has different tastes and desires. One reader may adore a chapter while the next may hate it. And if I've solicited feedback from many sources, that feedback can sometimes conflict. I feel that I have to address every issue raised...even when there is no way to incorporate everyone's opinion. I can sometimes fall into analysis paralysis, and never find my way out of the revision forest. The old saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth definitely comes into play.

I think that there's a balance between using our internal compasses and soliciting external feedback. To be certain, some feedback is vital and necessary. It produces a more sound work. And some of it - particularly editorial suggestions - are not optional.

But there must be limits. Writers must remember that not every book is for every reader. And creating a work that encompasses all possible feedback is frankly impossible. Over-critiquing a manuscript can sometimes be harmful...a writer can lose track of the original inspiration and voice. Being in a state of constant revision can result in disjointed, disconnected parts. The flow can get lost. When I read manuscripts for others, I can often tell when plot threads were snipped and moved around over and over, because threads are dangling.

Sometimes, it's helpful for me just to set a manuscript aside for a while. Let it percolate. Read it some months later with a fresh eye. Sometimes, the project will not see the light of day. I take what I've learned and move on. Sometimes, I'll go forward with it after time has passed.

And I think that it's also helpful to develop a small network of folks who are able to act as critique partners. People who will be honest, who understand my genre. Folks who aren't afraid to scribble in the margins: "What the heck is this platypus doing here? And when did he learn to play the kazoo?"

I think that's valuable. I gather three or four sets of feedback, with the sources depending upon the project. With three or four recipes, I have a pretty good idea of how to improve my chicken soup. I still feel as if I have control of the project, and that the book isn't being written by committee.

With any artistic endeavor, you can't please everyone. And that's also true for writing groups and critique partners. The trick, I think, is to be able to filter feedback and integrate it into a work without losing track of what you set out to do. 
Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science, and when she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library she’s dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs (she also writes contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams). Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and a herd of mostly-reformed feral cats. THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel. Get the latest updates on her work at


The Gift of Feedback
Would You Make a Good Reviewer?
Writing Fiction: Character Believability and Conflict

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