The Art of the Critique

Queenie Li  
At a site named "Critique Circle", critiques are obviously an important part of the ecosystem. What makes a good critique, though? This article breaks down and explores elements of the critique so that you can be more helpful to your fellow authors.

Unsurprisingly, critiques are an important part of this site. You have to crit the works of others before you can even post your own and the tit-for-tat system encourages reciprocating ones you receive. It's the lifeblood of the website that allows us to have a mutually beneficial exchange. Despite this, it may be an overlooked part of the site.

Let's face it: most of us sign up for the site because we want feedback on our stories. We're authors looking for valuable input in order to improve our writing. That is the focus—the 'good part'. It's easy to forget about the part where you help others the same way you want help. Actually, it's not just that. The bigger problem is that being an author doesn't automatically make you a skilled critter. You can be the best author in the world and yet not know how to give good advice to others. This is something that may become apparent after using this site long enough. There are many wonderful, well-meaning people here, but not all give the best advice. That's why I'm here to help.

So, what makes a good critique?

Constructive Feedback

The first thing to make sure is that you're being constructive in your feedback. This one may sound obvious to some, but not everyone understands this principle. It's easy to point out things you don't like and be negative about it. It's harder to offer meaningful advice to improve. No one wants to just read you complain about everything they wrote and offer nothing.

Instead of telling someone "this paragraph is boring", think about how you, as a writer, would freshen it up. Offer some suggestions on ways it could be more interesting. Just saying that something is bad is discouraging. It's important to leave a path to making it right visible to the author.

Even if the story isn't in a genre that interests you, that doesn't mean you have nothing of value to add. I don't ever read Romance stories, but I ended up giving a return crit to one and found something relatable that I could comment on. It's just important to keep in mind the genre when critting. Be upfront if the genre isn't one to your tastes, but also give the author leeway if what they wrote makes sense for their target audience. If they're writing sci-fi and that's not a genre that interests you, you probably shouldn't criticize them when going into technical details loses you. It's sensible that this genre will touch on technical terms. It's important to have some basic genre savviness, even if you don't read that genre. If you're unsure, a quick Google search can likely clue you in on the common tropes and structure of a specific genre.

Also, don't forget to praise things that are done well. When critiquing, it's instinctual to point out all the problems in someone's work. This can be very disheartening, as it leaves the impression that there was no good, and only bad. It's important to also tell people the things you like. What did they do well? This not only helps encourage the author but ensures they don't accidentally delete the good parts when they revise.

Consider Context/Intent

Many things can read very poorly out of context, but make sense in the right light. Sometimes you have to give the author the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true if you come into a story late and haven't read previous chapters. Just because something isn't explained in that chapter that you're reading doesn't necessarily mean it was never explained. Let's say you see a new character introduced and the author does a good job describing and setting up that character. You can assume the author knows how to introduce characters and concepts into the story. So if you later see another character with no introduction, it's probably not a good idea to get on their case about it. That's almost certainly a character a reader following the whole book should already know.

If you don't understand something right away, it's fine to make a note of it, but if it becomes clear later on, you should also state that as well. Too many times, I receive crits where someone complains about a lack of information and said information is given in literally the next paragraph. It's good to be patient and allow a story to unfold before claiming an error was made. And if you do figure out what the author was going for later in, it's nice to let them know. It can be annoying to an author to have people complain about things that are explained in the same chapter. At least acknowledging that the author properly addressed the problem will alleviate that.

Sometimes critical thinking helps. If something sounds off to you, first try to figure out what the author meant. Try to get in their head and see if you can make sense of it. This can be a good exercise that will improve the quality of your feedback. It reads a lot better to say "Hey, I think you were going for X but it comes across as Y to me." This is better than just insisting that the author wrote Y.

Make Sure You're Ready

Because of the tit-for-tat and Super Critter goals, some people might start thinking more about quotes than the human element of critting. It's important that you're in the right mindset before you begin. If you're not feeling it or are distracted, you're going to type something lower quality than you probably wanted to. Once you submit, you can't go back and change it. Make sure what you're submitting is what you want to send. If you seem flighty or not really paying attention to what you're reading, your crits will come off as unreliable and may be dismissed even if there are good takeaways mixed in. It's important that the story has your full attention when you're going over it. Anything less is doing a disservice to the author.

Don't forget that CC has an autosave feature. If you get interrupted mid-crit or are short on time, you don't have to push it through. Just come back and finish later. Only submitting half a crit because you had to go can come across as disingenuous. Since you can resume at any time from any device, there's really no reason why you can't come back to it and finish.

Have Some Fun

You're not writing a book report for school, so there's no need to be stiff and formal for your critique. Imbue your personality into it. There's nothing wrong with human interaction. React to scenes that stand out. Maybe you found something funny, so you throw in a laughing emoji. Maybe you feel for the character when something bad happens, so you comment "oof". People do enjoy reading genuine reactions to their works. While the bulk of your submission should be focused on helping them improve, reactive comments are still a form of feedback. Most authors I know (myself included) love hearing theories and predictions on where the plot is going, so if you feel inclined to make those, go ahead and throw them in there. You want your critiques to be uniquely you. And really, if you can't have some fun with it, it'll become a tedious chore.

We're all here to help one another and the more helpful we can be, the better and more useful this site becomes. Here's to becoming an outstanding critter!

19+ Comments


I found this extremely helpful. Thank you.

Mar-12 at 13:01


Good article. You hit the high points.

some people might start thinking more about quotes than the human element of critting

If you mean critters may extract quotes from the story or chapter to increase their word count, that is not true if I understand the process. Quotes are not counted.


Mar-12 at 15:13


Only if the critter uses the ‘quote’ feature from the task bar. If they just copy and paste a sentence or paragraph, then those words are counted. However, it’s usually only newbies that do that (until they work out the features).

Mar-12 at 16:05


Officially, it’s supposed to work either way.
“If you quote the story in your critique, this word count will be deducted from the total critique word count through a heuristic feature applied to the text which tries to dig out segments which are a part of the story rather than a part of the critique.”

Mar-12 at 16:14


Ahh! You caught a typo. I meant to say “quotas”

Mar-12 at 17:45


Good helpful blog post.

Mar-12 at 18:28


Thank you for the outline! Now if only the person who gave me my first critique on this site by remarking simply “this is not funny” or “you’re trying too hard” multiple times would read this :wink:

Mar-12 at 23:00


Interesting. I find quoting more difficult when I am working off of my phone as opposed to my laptop. I often switch between devices mid-critique.

Transcription has proven Helpful, too. Though as you can See, sometimes it has the effect of Undesirable, formatting, like changing from lower to uppercase when trying to restart the transcription.

Useful if I can’t get to my laptop as much as I’d like during a period, but otherwise, I prefer to at least edit with my laptop before posting.

Mar-13 at 04:13


This blog showed excellent examples of the etiquette of critique. Polite and constructive crits are much more helpful than harsh and vague comments.

Mar-13 at 12:20


This was an excellent blog post - succinct in answering the question posed. Learning to critique is hard (I say as a newbie to the site), because, as you deftly pointed out, it means we have to remove ourselves from our vision of how a text should be and keep the understood (sometimes misunderstood) intent of the author in mind.

I think it is also imporant to keep in mind that each manuscript is at a different point of completion (some in 1st draft and another in the 8th draft) which may require different focuses and approaches. As a less experienced critter I have tried to rely on providing a reader perspective, as I do not command the technical vocabulary when discussing literary devices and am still learning the fixes (Am reading On Editing and hoping to improve this).

Anyway, thank you again for the article - as you can see it has provided some material for reflection - and will be taken into account when I do some more critiques!

Mar-13 at 12:25


Sorry to hear that was your experience. You aren’t alone - I had a message from another person who left after receiving some critiques in this vein. As a person who also has a lot of screening done, I enjoyed My Mammories (I just didn’t know how to critique it). There used to be a very funny blog called The Vagenda and your piece reminded me a bit of that.

Mar-13 at 12:38



Solid advice, especially the last one (have fun). If I enjoyed a story or some part of it, I definitely want to let the author know and I also think critting can be legit enjoyable.

I had two additional thoughts, reading your piece.

  1. I think it’s useful to give holistic advice (in addition to line-by-line). I usually try to think / write about how the whole piece hit me, and if it’s a chapter, how I felt like it fit into the bigger picture (so a relatively relaxed chapter after a big climactic scene makes a lot of sense, but if there’s a bunch of relaxed chapters in a row, that might be a pacing issue)

  2. You say in the beginning that most people are here to get their stuff looked at, and I think that’s true, but I also think critting is super valuable for the person doing the crit. It’s hard to think dispassionately about my own work – I’m too close to it – but I can react to what other people are doing and analyzing my reaction helps me see things in my own writing I’d otherwise miss (I’ve found this true for things outside of my usual genres)

Anyway, good blog post–thanks!

Mar-13 at 13:42


Solid blog.

Well written and clearly laid out. A skill in its own right.

Mar-13 at 14:01


Your point one was kinda covered by by the OP’s point 2.

But your second point is bang on the money.

Mar-13 at 14:02


For sure it’s part of ‘Consider Context’ – my thinking is that there’s a slight distinction between “consider” and “provide explicit commentary on” and I find the explicit commentary valuable enough to be worth calling out

Mar-13 at 14:13


Aw, thank you for your kind words. That person had an agenda; they also critiqued MY critique of their work, saying I’m too new to give proper feedback. Bizarre first interaction here, but that’s what the block button is for! Everyone else–including you–has been kind and helpful, so I let the negativity go the moment I read it.

Mar-13 at 19:07


Oof. Never critique a critique. Discussing points is fine I’d the person critiquing is open to talking more about it, but people shouldn’t complain about someone taking the time to try and provide feedback.

If you really don’t want first-timers critting your story for some reason, there’s a setting you can check that says "only experienced " can crit

And just because someone is new to this site doesn’t mean they don’t know anything about writing. And really, how do you learn without doing?

Mar-13 at 19:39


Thank you for the reminder of Context vs Intent. I try to err for a writer’s style, but I also tend to overcorrect if I’m not seeing context elsewhere. It served as a reminder to me to be kind.

Mar-16 at 02:37


@Crazyli825 Thanks for an informative and upbeat blog post.

Mar-17 at 05:37
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