How to Give an Awesome Writing Critique— Guest Blog by Brittany Touris

September 24, 2014 / Brittany Touris / A while back I did a post on how to get your work critiqued. I talked about how to humbly accept the advice of fellow writers without getting offended. But what do you do when you’re on the other side of things? It’s important when critiquing others’ work that you do a thorough job, but also that you don’t tear it apart.

Here are some tips to help you give an awesome critique.

  1. If you notice a pattern in their grammar or sentence structure, only mark it for the first 2-3 pages. If they’re making the same mistakes throughout the whole piece, it’s likely they don’t even know they’re doing it. If you mark it on the first few pages, they’ll get a sense of what you mean and then they’ll be able to go through and fix the rest. This also saves you from a lot of tedious work.
  2. Remember certain things are only your opinion. If you don’t like the character, it doesn’t mean every reader will dislike him or her. If you don’t like the style of writing, you might just not be used to it. And if it’s a genre you don’t usually read, there will probably be parts you don’t like. It’s okay to share these opinions, as long as you don’t state them like they’re facts.
  3. Mention parts you didn’t understand or that you had to read more than once. Even if you figured it out and all the information is there, if you had trouble reading it, someone else probably will too. If the writer wants to make it confusing, that’s up to them. But it could have been inadvertent, so let them know.

Don’t even apologize to the joker.

Never apologize for a critique. Don’t say things like, “Maybe I’m just dumb, but…” Or “Sorry to bring this up again.” They submitted their story to you so they could get your opinion, so give them exactly that. There’s no wrong way to read a piece and whatever feedback you have will surely help them better it.

  1. Ask a lot of questions. Usually it’s best to wait to ask the questions until after you’ve finished talking about your initial reaction. This way, the writer’s input doesn’t sway what you thought of the piece, as it stands alone. Once you’ve said everything, though, ask every question you had while reading. Some things the writer may not want to divulge yet, if it’s part of a bigger work. Still there is no harm in asking. The writer will usually be glad to have a chance to explain him or herself. And you can let them know if their intentions came through or not.
  2. Give positive feedback too. Sure, the point of critiques is to talk about what they still need to work on, but positivity is always welcome. It also helps to know what not to change. What’s working for the story is just as important to know as what’s not working.

Try these out at your next critique session and let me know how it goes for you!

Guest Blog by K. L. Gore: The Great Idea for a Book

It happened again. I went to a party, struck up a conversation with a very nice guy, and when he found out I was a writer, he said the inevitable: “Really? I have a great idea for a book.”

I wish I had a pen for every time someone said that same sentence to me. I would never run out of ink again. Anyone can come up with a “great” idea. Most of the time, that idea has already been done. And if it hasn’t, a variation of it has. Listen up…your idea is not genius.

The genius lies in how you construct your idea. In other words…how you implement that idea into a story.

Let’s take an example…an easy one. Harry Potter. Boy has a special gift. Only he can destroy the enemy. In the end, he wins.

That plot has been around for centuries. (David and Goliath, anyone?) But J.K. Rowling masterfully creates an entire hidden world of witches and wizards around it. And she sprinkles mythology throughout…bringing the familiar into the fold.

The other part I love about people who want to let me know they have a “great” idea for a book…most of the time they add, “Tell you what. I’ll give you my idea, you can write it, and we’ll split the profit.”

Really? You will come up with an idea…maybe spend ten minutes on it…then I can spend the next two years crafting it into a publishable book…and we can split the money 50/50? How lucky for me I bumped into you!

I suppose we could make a deal. If you build houses, how about I design one, hand you the picture, you build it, and then we split the profit after it sells? Or, wait, how about this? If you own a restaurant, I’ll mention what should be on the menu, you make sure the chefs make those meals, and we will split the profit!

Sounds silly? Then how about this? Instead of sharing your “great” idea with me, you spend the next ten years learning how to write a book, then write the dang thing yourself.

Ninety-five percent of those people with “great” ideas won’t even try. Four percent will give up before they finish the story. But one percent will make a go of it. And perhaps a handful of those people will succeed.

But a full 100% will understand…writing is demanding. Having an idea is only a fraction of the work involved. Making that idea work throughout the entire novel and finding a satisfying conclusion involves patience, research, and many hours of sitting at a computer screen praying loose ends can be tied up and readers will find the story plausible.

So when people tell me they have a “great” idea for a book and maybe they should have me write it (and split the profits), I tell them that I have more than enough ideas in my head, thank you very much. But that if they truly believe in their idea, then they should sit down and start writing that book.

It’s not going to write itself.