How to Critique – and Not Cause Your Authors to Weep

critiquing-not-writers-weepingBack in 2002, a beloved teacher approached me about editing for the school newspaper. I had barely begun writing fiction (fanfiction) as a hobby, but I thought “Why not?” and became a part of the newspaper staff without any real idea of what I was getting myself into.

I learned how to edit and critique by doing everything wrong. I covered my writer’s articles in red ink, slashing each unnecessary comma, marking out words that were too “difficult” for their high school audience, and marking through run-on sentences. My advisor was soon back, asking me to meet with each writer to go over my “changes” and to encourage them in how well they were doing.

I share this story because I hope you will not have to go through the same experiences(thereby causing your writing friends to wring their hands first with despair, and then with rage), but instead that you will learn how to become a sought-after editor, critique-er, and beta-reader by doing the right things.

*Learning how to receive a critique and criticism is another post – if you have suggestions or questions about that, leave us a comment!

So what kinds of things will a writer expect (and want) from a critique you give them?

Critique Overview:

  1. Character Development
  2. Flow & Pacing
  3. Plot (the story structure)
  4. Grammar & Punctuation
  5. Word Choice
  6. Language Choice/Diction

There are other things a beta reader or critique can check for a writer, but these are the main items feedback is expected on.

As we hit the different critique topics, the links will be updated as posts go up (and we’ll include this list in each post).

Starting Point: A Good Rule of Thumb

No matter what kind of critique you’re giving, you need to balance your suggested changes and/or criticisms with encouragement. (I assume if you’re reading this, you want to give constructive criticism.)

Even if your author has written a paragraph with five unnecessary commas in it, or has changed what was an interesting character into a cardboard cut-out in chapter 3, you want to encourage them through the flaws! Grammar and punctuation were not everyone’s bread and butter in school.

Character Development:

Learning how to give your characters flaws can be difficult when you want them to be a conquering hero! See Are Your Characters Too Super-Powered? If you have suggestions for how to add flaws and weaknesses to your writer’s character(s), do so! Just make sure you are not slamming their entire work – you can see room for improvement – that by having more weaknesses, her character is going to become more relatable to her readers.

If you can’t pinpoint why a character is losing your interest, then just include that note to the author! They probably have more insight into the character than you, as a reader does. In that case, you may have to communicate with them more than once, trying to encourage more depth and complexity in their characters. See How to Make Readers Fall in Love with Your Characters for more tips.

It’s also your job to remember (and remind your writer) that no matter how amazing his world or even the plot is, if the characters are flat and uninteresting, the readers will be uninterested – or worse, dissatisfied!

Finally, make sure you tell your writer just what you DO like about their character(s). There’s a reason why a writer has created their protagonist and side characters, and it should be simple to pick out a few things that are interesting, or at least have potential to be built upon. Give suggestions if you have any, but offer them as just that – suggestions. No writer wants their story to be told by another; you’re here to help and encourage, not to take over their project or have it told your way.

If you have other thoughts about how to give feedback on characters, let us know in the comments!


Katie, signing off

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