How to Critique

From: PNWA
The purpose of a critique is to assist the author in gaining new insight into their own work as early as possible in the writing process.
Rules For When You Give A Critique 
  • ALWAYS start with a positive, no matter how simple.  If you say something negative, the author may not hear the critique that follows
  • ALWAYS use the first person, the ‘eye’ (‘I’).  For example, compare these two comments.  “I couldn’t follow the scene.” versus “Your scene doesn’t flow right.”
All you know is your own experience so be careful to speak only from YOUR experience.
Identify What Worked
  • “I liked…”
  • “I could see, hear, taste, smell, feel, sense…”
  • “What I saw, heard…” lets the author know what they communicated
  • “I was drawn in by….”  lets  the author know what hooks worked.
Identify What Didn’t Work
  • Note: language is critical – always speak in first person
  • “I was bumped out of the story by…” (Compare this comment with – “A problem with your story is…”)
  • “An image that didn’t work for me was…”
Possible Bumps
Below are list of the most common reasons readers fall out of a story.
  • Alliteration
  • Repeated words
  • Repeated sentence structure
  • Repeated images
  • Clichés
  • Weak or passive verbs
  • Errors of fact or disbelieve
  • Unnecessary tag lines
  • Telling, not showing – She was pretty(telling) vs. She had wide blue eyes, a dimpled smile and wavy brown hair that spilled over her shoulders.
  • Too many adjectives – She walked slowly and leisurely through the park vs. she sauntered through the park
  • Orchestration problems – Orchestration problems crop up most often in fight scenes and sex scenes and refers to problems with stage direction.  Your hero can’t slug the villain in the face if your villain hasn’t entered the room yet.  And passionate kisses don’t happen if your lovers aren’t in close physical proximity.
  • Continuity – Continuity problems are glitches in the details.  Your character had blue eyes in chapter one, but now in the middle of the story, she has brown eyes.  Or your protagonist parks his Dodge Charger and later drives home in a pickup truck for no apparent reason.
  • Animated independent body parts – Body parts shouldn’t be the subject of a sentence.  For example, her eyes flew across the room. Really?  I don’t think so unless perhaps you’re writing horror.  Instead make the person the subject.  She looked across the room.
The Author’s Role
  • Do not preface your work. Each character and scene must stand on its own.
  • Do not defend.  Do not explain. You may know that their question is dealt with on another page; that’s fine, but you wanted to hear the question in case you didn’t.
  • You may pose a question to focus the critique either before or after the reading.
  • At the end of the critique try to sum up the key facts you heard to see if that checks with what the group was trying to communicate.
To find critique partners, talk to other people at PNWA meetings.  We will also have meeting space available by genre at the conference to meet other authors in your genre to critique each others’ work and/or practice pitching.
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