(Image credit: Michael Scialdone, Worst Grading Assistant Ever)
If you imagine from the title that I'm some experience professional story reviewer who will shower you with nuggets of wisdom, I am sorry to disappoint. I am a newbie. So any reasonable person is probably asking, "So what do you actually have to offer?" or maybe a more direct, "Why should I waste my time reading this?" Well, like many of my critiques, the answer is perhaps nothing, and it is a waste of your time. That doesn't mean I shouldn't write them, though.
Okay, a brief history, I've played with creative writing from a very young age, typing out terrible fantasy stories on my electric typewriter (the things we had before laptops and printers were in every household). Most of my stories were just a way to waste some time and paper (or bytes in later years). The few times I shared something with friends or family, I received effusive praise that was neither deserved nor appreciated. I knew I wasn't terrific or mediocre, but everyone was always too polite to confirm that. Fast-forward a few decades, and the YouTube rabbit hole led me to a series of lectures by Brandon Sanderson. The top thing I took away from those was the need to find a writers' group. I'll skip the tiresome journey in doing so and simply say that I finally found this one built on a system of critiquing stories for the points so you could post your own stories.
"This is great! Only serious people will be here!" I proclaimed. Then I huddled down in my shell, realizing I was not a "serious" person. How could I critique someone else's work when I didn't even know what was good in my own work?!??!
Luckily, researching is the way I like to handle many problems. So I watched a few videos, read a few articles, and realized I still wasn't ready to critique. The problem was those bits of advice aimed at people that were already "serious." I needed to know how to work from the basics. The site has a checklist for new participants, and one of the items is to read a critique written by someone else. I got unlucky when I followed this advice and clicked into a masterpiece critic, obviously written by a best-selling, multiple-PhD, professional story editor/author! If I'd stopped there, I would've never written a single word and left the community with my tail between my legs.
Obviously, since I'm writing this, I did not stop there. I read multiple critiques from other users. The thing I realized is that the critiques are a mixed bag of quality, the same as anything else on the web, I guess. Some critiques are masterpieces of writing and analysis themselves; others are more confusing than if written in ancient greek using Chinese calligraphy. Some people are hyper-focused on grammar and word choices, others on how they "feel" about characters and scenes, and others speak of the flow of the story. The only rule I found is to be kind.
So, what I learned, and the lesson I offer to you, is this: If you can write a story, you can write a critique. Your writing may be excellent, or it may be trash. Your critique may be excellent, or it may be trash. You can only improve by doing and seeing what feedback you get!
So, stop sitting there, staring at your screen, and trying to pick the perfect story for your first critique! Read a few other critiques, then get writing! Just remember, be kind. Sarcasm and derogatory comments don't belong!