Tuesday, July 20

The Art of Critique


Most writers, at one point or another, have critique partners.

I have had more than I can count.

Some good, some awful.

Some really great who have lifted my writing to a new level.

Some were in person, face to face, more on the 'net; people I will never meet.

Recently, I was thinking about what I need/want out of a crit.

I guess it might be easier to start with what I don't want.

1. I don't want to be torn down. Good crit, even if it has a negative in it, will leave you feeling good, not awful.

2. I don't want to "be taught". I've been at this a long time, I don't want somebody to act like a know-it-all and shove they're agenda (GMC, character arcs, etc) down my throat.

3. I don't want to be lectured. See above. Unless you're Linda Howard or Sandra Brown, don't lecture me. I already went to college and sat through a whole bunch of lectures!

4. I don't want my sentences/scenes rewritten. I have a certain style and I like it.

5. I don't want to be told how Author X does it. I'm not Author X, I'm DLD.

6. I don't want to have to wait and wait for turnaround. It's disheartening to have to wait for crits.

Now what I do want!

1. I do want to hear the positive. Everyone likes praise.

2. I do want to know if a scene or character isn't working. Point it out, I'll fix it.

3. I do want to know why something isn't working for you. You and I aren't the same. Things I find sexy, you may not.

4. I do want to know if GMC or character arc or whatever is weak. Just tell me, don't lecture. Covered this already, didn't I?

5. I do want constructive criticism. There is a difference between conctructive and destructive criticism. One builds, one tears down.

6. I want a positive experience for both me and you. Sort of like sex, it works better if we're both getting what we need!

I'm curious, what do you want in a CP?


  1. I want the truth. I like for it to be positive, yet if I'm making the same mistake over and over again, I'd like to be slapped with reality. I've had crit's that made me bawl, I've had crits that made me smile. As long as I grow I don't care, what may hurt my feelings one day, will make me grow the next. Everyone has different styles in critiquing.
    Pointing out good qualities is great, but I really need to know about those weak ones.

    I need to know if there's a quicker way to catch onto something. Or if maybe I need to tweak things down. I need to know my characters have depth, the plot makes sense, and not just to me, and I need to know people can relate to the Hero and the Heroine.

    What I don't need is you're wonderful, you're great the way you are, because yeahhh I'm not. My very first CP is a dear friend. So dear she was biased and my work was total and utter crap.

  2. Oh grr. Sent send too fast

    Great topic!

  3. I agree, Hales. "You're wonderful", and "this is brilliant" aren't helpful, but "If you reworked scene A so character X shows up sooner is."
    Thanks for coming by!

  4. Well I'm Hales it's my personality that is wonderful *winks* my writing is a growing never ending work of art that is in constant need of improvement...

    Well though... I do have days where I'ma crab apple :)


  5. I want my CP to tell me what works and what doesn't. I take whatever they say with a grain of salt. They may not like the way something is written, but that's what they are there for. I might not change what they think I should change, but at least it gives me a different view.

    They also might have a inside track on what publishers are looking for.

  6. LOL Sandy a grain of salt? Sniffles :) Kidding. Yep that's what you have to do just digest and sift out what doesn't work.

    I also like being at a place that has different levels of professionalism. Not everyone is good at every aspect of critiquing but when you have a small group with varied levels of expertise it's easier to learn. To me at least.

  7. Hi, Sandy~
    Yes, what works and what doesn't is good. Part of my do wants list is the presentation. I don't want my writing to be turned into my CP's writing....

  8. Hales~
    You're cracking me up!

  9. LOL I Beta for Sandy we have a grand time of things.

  10. Good list, I love to hear what someone likes as much as I need to have feedback about what they might change...

  11. Great post, D'Ann! I'll agree with Hales -- I want a CP to tell me the truth, even the bad stuff. But I also don't want to *only* hear the bad stuff. Give me a mix of 'this works (and why); this doesn't (and why)' and I'm a happy camper. I try to do the same in my critiques, sometimes though I do forget to tell my CPs all the stuff I really, really like. I need to be better about that!

  12. I love your do's and don'ts list. Your don'ts are what keep me working on my own and staying away from crit groups. I kinda know when my stuff is finished 'cuz like you, I've been at this a long time and have gotten enough grants and publications to know that I've got the right stuff. I go to other writer's readings and that seems to replenish me enough. I love the Yahoo online writer's groups I belong to though, 'cuz I feel connected to other writers w/o having to do too much work. I simply don't have time to critique other writers work anymore. I saw something on one of those groups about two writers who meet at a bookstore once a week, they barely talk, they just turn on their laptops and write. It keeps them connected and accountable. A great idea.

    I may send your list to my MFA program at The University of San Francisco. When I was there years back, the other students were HORRIBLE in their critiques - brutal and not helpful at all. I stuck with it, though, and at the end of the program told the critique bullies what I thought. I got a standing ovation. Yay! Thanks for the post...Mary Kennedy Eastham, M.A., MFA, Author...The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget and the upcoming novel Night Surfing

  13. Like you, D'Ann, I want constructive criticism. I don't have critique partners, but I have given some of my sold and edited novels to other writers whose work I respect for critiquing. And I appreciated their input.

  14. Like you, D'Ann, I want constructive criticism. I don't have critique partners, but I have given some of my sold and edited novels to other writers whose work I respect for critiquing. And I appreciated their input.

  15. Hi, Chloe~
    Yes, good along with the bad makes the medicine go down easier.

  16. Kristi, trust me, you're a good CP!

  17. Hi Word Actress!
    Thanks for coming by! I have some great CPs! But I've been through hell with some, too. Congrats on all your success.

  18. Hi, Jaqueline.
    Thanks for coming by! Appreciate it!

  19. With my CPs - of which you're one :) - I'm looking for someone to help me spot when my writing is lazy, to see those grammar errors that seem to sneak in and for to make sure the story is readable and interesting. I want a CP that pushes me to be my best. Critiquing is subjective so I'm open to whatever advice a CP has even if I choose to go another direction.

  20. D'Ann, you and Hales have it. Tell me what works for you, and what doesn't. Don't be afraid to tell me why it doesn't work. I love that.

    I've had some brutal crits and some kiss-ass crits. Too much of each doesn't fly, but a great mix of the two-as long as you're honest-is fine.

    I don't like having to wait for my crits, especially since I'm so damn reachable to do the critting. My ideal critique partner would be someone I could bounce ideas and plots off of, who'd do the same with me. I've never had to worry about blockage yet(knock on wood, salt over the left shoulder), but if that day comes they'd talk me off the ledge. No hand holding though, hate that.

    Great lists, BTW.


  21. D'Ann, I like your list.

    I must admit when I first started as a CP I made mistakes. I lost some good friends because of misunderstandings, which is sad. Hurt feelings is key to doing a crit, balance the positive and the negative (i.e.great or needs improvement).

    Thanks for sharing your post.

    jj Keller
    Love Hurts...can you really trust in love? Lyrical 9.6.10.

  22. Hi, Cassie!
    Glad to have met you, and your thoughts are close to mine.

  23. Avril~
    You're right, too harsh isn't good. Too sweet isn't good either.
    Happy medium is best.

  24. Hi, JJ.
    Good to see you! How've you been. You gave me some good crits on Morgan's! Thank you!

  25. everyone's critting style IS different....some will give you great marks because to them, it IS great.....and vice versa...you almost need a generalization of your crits...same as with a contest review....if only one judge says OMG that was AWFUL....then they personally feel that way, and no one else was bothered by it ......if 4 out of 5 judges say OMG that was AWFUL....well, then it's time to look at it twice.

    everyone's style is different...that makes it a little more interesting...

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. My first critique partner, 1> didn't like my story, 2> didn't like my voice (I could tell because she kept rewriting whole scenes that no one else has, so I know they work) and 3>, turned my Single Title into a Category because she suggested I take out the subplot that didn't directly tie into the romantic story line...The sad thing is, though I didn't change the stuff she totally rewrote, I did take out most of the subplot...Now, I'm reworking the story as a category (something I never thought I'd write because I read very few them).

    What I could have used concerning the story, which my agent(hopefully she'll sign me after I resubmit my story to her), was that I had too much introspection and not enough action, that some of the story was too over-written. That would have been helpful.

    I currently have two CPs, I value them both. One I contacted off a list. I did so with lot of trepidation because that's where my first CP came from. But she has turned out to be wonderful. She gives me great advice when a scene just doesn't do it for her. She's honest and efficient.

    My other CP I literally stumbled upon simply because we both agreed to disagree with everyone else on a forum.(yeah, D'Ann that's you). She's been great. And I'm not just saying that because this is her blog. One of the best things she has done for me is helped me fix all of my MANY ranching mistakes. (Maybe that's why we really should only write what we know...I write contemporary Westerns, but even though I grew up on a farm, it was in Central Pennsylvania.) She has been invaluable, and I can't begin to say how lucky I feel to have her advise.

    These two talented people helped me find faith in critique partners again. Because after having my ego ripped and torn up by the first, I was a little gun shy about getting another.

    edit---It helps if you proofread BEFORE you hit submit...LOL

  28. You nailed most of them. Although I like it when someone suggests something that makes me go "Ahhh....that could work even better." and opens a door I maybe hadn't considered before.

  29. Awwww, Sara.
    What a compliment. Thank you.

  30. I completely agree, Margie.

  31. I agree with Hales. I want the truth. Lying to me and saying everthing is hunky dorie guarantees that my writing will continue to suck. I like to see positives, but I pay more attention to the negative because it may help me be a better writer.

  32. Thanks for coming by, Shawn.

  33. I want many of the same things everyone wants.


    Someone likes my voice and style so they won't try to take over my story.

    Someone who ISN'T hamstrung by "the rules."

    Someone who is advanced enough look beyond the page/chapter their reading and comment on pacing, character arc, story structure etc (that one is hard to find.)

    Someone who DOESN'T need me to tiptoe because they cry if I have a moment where I am less than perfectly tactful. (doesn't happen all the time, but yes, it does happen.)

    Someone who will repeatedly kick my crutches out from under me.

    Someone who is as equally committed to writing as I am.

    Was this supposed to be a wishlist? I'd settle for a lot less than I've listed, but that's some traits I'd want in an ideal crit partner.

  34. I am a tough critiquer. I am not mean nor do I intend to hurt anyone, but I don't pull punches and I don't play nicey-nice games. I want just as thorough and just as hard hitting a critique as I give because I tend to be hard-headed. I dish it out, but I can also take it. I'd far rather hear a hard hitting crit from my partner, than "no" from an editor who isn't going to give me any feedback at all. The best crits I have ever gotten didn't spare my feelings or beat around the bush.

    I will say that once you reach a certain level of competence, "New York Quality" as one author friend (the St Martins, not iUniverse kind) put it, it becomes exponentially difficult to find a critiquer who is good enough to help. Yes, writers of lesser skill can provide insights, but they tend to lack experience and skills to really know what you're doing wrong, because the things they do wrong, you do right. It leaves you at sea trying to find other people on the verge of making it, or authors who already have made it but are not yet on the treadmill that is big time publishing.

    Not to be overly critical, but you sound pretty sensitive when it comes to critique. Lots of people are sensitive, particularly beginners. I've never yet met an experienced writer who was. I have to say, the editors whom I've worked with (mostly in journalism, but editors r editors) really appreciate the ability to take critique without upset. They know it's a mark of professionalism when you don't take critique personally.

    At any rate, I hope that you find a good fit for you. I think that the "good fit" is as important in a crit partner as anything else.

  35. Thanks for your comments, J.
    Apprecaite your thoughts.

  36. Thanks for your comments, Dejah.
    Just because I want to give/get constructive not hurtful crits?!!!

  37. You can be honest and even blunt without being hurtful and it's a good trait in a critique partner simply because it's easier to hear negative things if it's phrased tactfully. I know that if I don't like the way something is said, it's easier for me to dismiss it even if I shouldn't. Maybe ESPECIALLY if I shouldn't.

  38. J~
    My CP Liz and I don't agree on anything, and we don't hurt each other. Right, Liz? Liz? Liz...?