I often talk about critiquing stories and I forget that not everybody has the full understanding of what I mean by this. Critiquing stories is not as simple as saying you like or dislike something. For me, it is about trying to help the story creator reach the full potential for that story.

You have to understand that when someone hands over their story to you, they are handing over a piece of writing that they have spent hours on. Indeed some writers liken their manuscript to a baby; they have spent hours nourishing it with attention; often into the late hours of the night or early hours in the morning. It’s the first thing they think of when they wake up, the last when they go to sleep, sometimes the characters even infiltrate their dreams. For this reason you should try to be as diplomatic as possible, nobody likes to be told bad things about their baby.

If you don’t like something you have the right to say so but follow it up with a suggestion about how the writer could fix the issue. If it’s the entire story you don’t like and this is because the genre is not something you like to read, tell the writer that this genre is not to your liking. The story may not be to your taste, but for other people who like that particular genre it may be just right. This gives the writer the option of finding others who like that genre to critique their work.

It’s also a good idea to say which bits you enjoyed and why you enjoyed them. This helps the writer know which bits are working and whether or not to keep them in their final draft. Try to find some good things to say about the story, as only hearing the bad points may discourage the writer and it can damage their confidence in writing.


5 Responses to Critiquing

  1. Willsin Rowe says:

    I’ve only been critiquing for about a year, but I concur wholeheartedly, Kelly. Like or dislike of any element is so subjective that there always needs to be a detailed reason given, even if no better option occurs to the reader. I firmly believe it’s always wise to allow other writers to critique, rather than, say, a family member who’s a non-writer. Only another writer is likely to truly grasp the diplomacy that’s needed.

    Nice post.

    • Kelly Hart says:

      Hi Willsin,
      Thanks for checking out my website.
      I agree that another writer would most likely be a better option for critiquing, family and friends who arn’t writers usually only say the good things about a story because they’re afraid of hurt feelings.
      Another writer (one whose judgement you trust) will know the conventions and help you pick up things only a writer or editor would notice. They might even have suggestions on how to improve the story.
      I have one rule when it comes to having my work critiqued – if I think the advice is valid, I make the changes. If I don’t think that the advice will improve my story, I don’t use it.

      • Willsin Rowe says:

        Hey, let’s stick together! QUEENSLANDER! Ahem…

        There’s also the likelihood that a non-writer will have fewer active suggestions to make. I’ve tried it before and come up with fairly poor results. Then again, if you get the wrong writer to critique, the results are often poor. I’ve had other authors who’ve gone through short stories of mine and completely missed the point (though I do tend to be quite figurative and metaphorical at times).

        I’m lucky right now that I have a small group of excellent foils. Two girls (now women) who I went to school with, actually, and a writer (and blog-buddy) in the US. That’s another factor that can be important in a critique. Cross-cultural references.

  2. Olwyn Conrau says:

    so true, Kelly. The only way a writer can improve is through guidance and proper coaching on what needs improvement (as well as what may not be necessary). I do know of someone who sent her ms to an assessor at one of the state Writing Centres and it was totally caned (and canned) so much so she gave up. And they don’t even disclose who is undertaking the assessment so it could have been anyone.
    But I do believe a lot of writers still need to know if the ms works or not. Just remember, poor Raymond Carver had his editor (Gordon Lish) scrawl red marks all over his short story collection that the final copy was about half of what had been submitted. I actually enjoy both short and long versions
    Very helpful to have this as I think many writers remain uncertain as to what the process is once the draft has been done.

    • Kelly Hart says:

      Hi Olwyn,
      Thank you for visiting my website.
      It always saddens me to hear of writers who have given up because someone has destroyed their confidence in their writing. Most writers I know (yes, even the published ones) are extremely generous when it comes to helping other writers because they know how much work goes into a manuscript.

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