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I don't claim to be an expert in critiquing, in fact, since I’ve joined Critique Circle (CC), my overall rating has been “Very Helpful” rather than “Perfect”. But I write this blog post with the hope it gives fellow critters food for thought.
The suggestion to write it came from a fellow critter after we discussed a revised version of his wonderful story. It had been posted on CC three years ago. The six critiques he received didn’t convey much about the story and, though he didn’t say it, were disheartening. That is not to say there wasn’t useful advice, it was just so difficult to unearth.
The question that rose in my mind as I read the critiques was: Were those critiques truly critiques? I will categorise them, as they appeared to me:
The ‘English Teacher’ Critique - By all means, help a writer by pointing out spelling and grammatical errors, but if that’s all you do, are you critiquing or editing the story?
The ‘I need 300 words’ Critique – This Critique was thoroughly positive. However, of the 341 words, ‘cool’ appeared 7 times and ‘really’ 13 times. The critique was repetitive and those things they thought were “really cool” were never defined.
The ‘Unhelpful Expert’ Critique – This refers to a person that may have formally studied creative writing in some form or read many ‘How to write’ books. That adds the expert element to the category. The unhelpful part comes from how they convey their advice. There were comments such as “A publisher won’t like that”, “Incomplete sentence” and “Passive sentence”. Which is useful advice providing the sentences they refer to are highlighted and the terms are explained.
None of the critiques mentioned the plot, characters or dialogue in a meaningful way. I don’t doubt that they didn’t all enjoy the story. It’s just that a few of them neglected to mention it. I think the key to determining if your critique is truly a critique, is to ask yourself: Why am I writing this critique?
If the answer is simply to earn credits to post your own work. How would you feel if the critiques you received were simply doing that?
If the answer is to help other writers develop, which in turn helps you. Ask yourself whether you are doing that, and how you’d feel if you received your critique? This is not a question of how brutal or how honest you have been. This is a question of whether you have conveyed all your thoughts in a way the writer can understand.
CC suggests new critters use the detailed crit template with good reason. Using the subheadings such as Conflict, Plot, Setting, Character Development and Overall impression, create a very well-rounded critique.
But many people seem to lose this thought process. I try to keep them in mind as I critique, no matter which template I use. I view CC as an opportunity for writers to share their work. So that no matter what stage of the process we are at, we can help each other get to where we want to be. Personally, I don't see a critique and criticism as synonymous. I think it is more constructive to point out the elements I feel are done well, so that writers have a frame of reference to understand why I feel other elements don't work.
So, before you hit that submit button, ask yourself: Is my Critique truly a Critique?