Things I wish I knew about Critiquing when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about critiquing when I started writingCritiquing means different things to different people.

For me, it was always about finding the flaws so they could be fixed.

I’ve never made it a secret that I want to get my stories in front of as many people as possible, and I assume everyone else does to (unless they say different).

That influences my approach to critiquing, because to get your stories in front of people beyond your immediate reach, you have to give them a story they want to share.

It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do, how popular you are on social media, or even who you know, if you write a story that people don’t like, they aren’t going to share it.

Having a broad base of support is a great advantage, but word of mouth has always been, and will continue to be, a writers best friend.

In that sense, it’s kind of pointless to seek feedback if you’re not going to listen to what’s said.

It’s pretty rare that the solutions people offer will work for your story, but if several people have the same problem with it, then there’s almost certainly an issue you need to deal with.

That’s my advice, at least.

Here’s some more great advice from other writers:

“Being diplomatic and constructive is very important when critiquing, as its somebody’s ego you’re poking. Be true but kind.” Mark Mercieca

“It’s as much about asking the right questions as about the writing itself.” Robyn McIntyre

“Critiquing will take up a large amount of your ‘writing time’, but don’t worry to much about that because its worth every minute.” Mark Mercieca

“You learn as much from reading the critiques of others as you do your own.” Roland Boykin

“Early in the process, there’s a fine line between following your vision and incorporating another’s ideas. Don’t expose your baby on the mountain until she can survive the elements. Then incorporate those suggestions that make your story the best that it can be.” Janine Donoho

“I wish I’d demanded written critiques, not scribbles in the margins of my hardcopy. Week’s later when you go over these reviews they often don’t make sense or you can’t read the reviewers writing.” Mark Mercieca

“There is a big difference between giving criticism and being critical. Be honest, but be constructive. Telling someone their writing is rubbish doesn’t help them. Telling them why it doesn’t work for you and helping them improve it does.” Angeline Trevena

“Like editing, you need multiple reads for: plot / world building continuity, prose / rhythm, plot pacing.” Drew Briney

“Early on I felt that sometimes I couldn’t contribute or identify issues other critiquers picked up. Don’t worry. This definitely improves with practise.” Mark Mercieca

What’s your best critiquing advice?

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View, Dealing With Rejection, Editing Your Own Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

Questions for beta readers and critiquers

Old writing tools, old books and a tableHave you ever given your stories to critiquers or beta readers in the hopes of getting some good feedback?

If you’re like me, you’ll find that sometimes the feedback’s great – very specific, very detailed, and very useful.

Other times you’re lucky if you get anything useful at all.

Giving critiquers a specific set of questions will help you get better feedback.

Here’s a list you might want to use.

Overall

  • What do you think works well?
  • What do you think could be done better?
  • Am I providing enough information/backstory in this book?
  • Am I giving away too much information?
  • Does the it fit the ABCXYZ genre?
  • What would you say are the story’s main strengths?
  • Did it leave you thinking about:
    • The characters
    • The Story
    • The World
    • What might happen next?
  • Anything else?

Characters

  • Did you care enough about the characters to want to know what happens to them?
  • Who was your favourite character?
    • Why?
  • Who was your least favourite character?
    • Why?
  • Are there any characters you didn’t care about enough to be interested in what happens to them?
    • Why?
  • Could any of the characters be developed better?
    • How?
  • Did the characters’ motivations work for the story?
  • Are the characters distinct enough from each other?
  • Were the characters three dimensional?
  • Were the characters’ relationships clear?
    • Were they convincing?
    • Were they satisfying?
    • Were they believable?
  • Anything else?

Story and Structure

  • Was the story structure about right?
  • What could be done to improve the story’s structure, if anything?
  • Did anything stand out as being ‘out of place’?
  • Was anything confusing?
  • Was the beginning intriguing enough to keep you reading?
  • Was the ending satisfying enough?
  • Did the overall plot work?
  • Anything else?

Worldbuilding

  • Does anything about the world feel ‘out of place’?
  • Is anything missing?
  • Did you get drawn into this world?
  • Was anything about the world unclear?
  • Anything else?

Conflict and Threat

  • Is there enough conflict between the characters?
  • Is there enough conflict external to the characters?
  • Is there enough internal conflict (doubts, fears etc)?
  • Is the overall threat to the characters/world/character goals strong enough?
  • Does the conflict create enough tension?
  • Anything else?

Theme

  • What would you say the main theme is?
  • What other themes stood out?
  • What other theme(s) could be worked in or better developed?
    • Why?
  • What theme(s) failed to hit the mark?
    • Why?

Style

  • Is there too much exposition? Not enough?
  • Is there too much description? Not enough?
  • Did you want to skip over any sections?
  • Is the pacing about right?
    • Too fast?
    • Too slow?
  • Do the various story threads connect well enough?
  • Anything else?

Technique

  • Are there any consistent grammar or punctuation problems?
  • Are there any repetitive phrases or words that stand out in a bad way?
  • Any other bad habits?
  • Were there enough highs and lows in the story?
  • Was the action balanced with enough calm moments?

What other questions do you like to ask you beta readers and critique group?

You can find more posts on writing in the The Craft.

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