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How do you see your role as a critiquer?

Using a good critique group is an excellent way to get  an appraisal of your work. 

Whether you have a portion of your story read aloud for a round-the-table, here are my first impressions, feedback, or a more in-depth written critique, where people have a week or two to go over your story in detail and provide a more considered response, the results can delight or disappoint, but are rarely worthless.  

I believe both systems have their merits, provided you make the decision to be a: thick-skinned and b: take any and all feedback with a pinch of salt (after all, like spouses and children, opinions should be embraced or ignored at your discretion).

I think we all have a good idea about what we hope to get from a critique, but how about the other guy or gal? Do you use the same review system for everyone, or do you try and tailor it to (what you consider to be) that person's needs, based on your perception of their skill level?

I plan to go into more detail on this next week, but for now, I'd love to hear other people's approach to this.

How do you see your role as a critiquer?  Are you a take no prisoners, if they can't stand the heat... kind of a person?  Do you treat different writers in a different way, and if so how and why? 

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( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
My job as a critiquer is to look for story or personal trait inconsistencies, misspelled/misued words and grammer, and to not when I'm totally confused so the author may understand that perhaps they've not explained things enough (although I always note that it may just be me, being confused). I do not feel it is my place to try to re-write the author's story. Although I may suggest ideas in a brainstorming way if I see gaping holes in the plot that need fixing (always IMO, of course). If I can tell it's a new author, however, I will focus more on grammar and spelling and punctuation sometimes, depending on how many errors there are, of course. I don't know why I do that, except I feel more experienced authors will find their errors in a next proofing.
Jun. 27th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
errrrr... and do NOTE when I'm totally confused!
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 27th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 27th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
I've only done online critiquing, but I always ask the writer first what kind of crit s/he wants and do it accordingly.
Jun. 27th, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
Great point. There;s nothing more embarrassing than giving a full critique when they only wanted a overall likedit or didn't opinion (or vice versa) :)
Jun. 27th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
I think the best way to give a crit is to spend time on it before the session, though I usually do them by email. And I do treat each writer differently, and it doesn't always have to do with their skill level. I've worked with a few ESL writers writing in English and their needs are different. Since they're trying to write in English I'll spend time on English idioms (for example) and explain them a bit if I think that's what the writer was trying to get at but missed. Also, the subgenre a person is writing in will influence my crit. If a writer is a fan of chill-inspiring horror, then their ending that lacks thematic resolution might be right for the story if it's only purpose is to titillate. Not that more attention to theme would hurt the story, but perhaps the market they're trying to sell to just wants titillation. Everyone's needs are different. And though it would be nice if we all could, not everyone agrees on what exactly a good story is. Readers have different tastes.

Fixing grammar and typos are usually more straight ahead, as if enough people take a pass on a story hopefully everything will be caught. Though you still see enough mistakes in publish fiction that someone always misses something. But the important thing to do, I think, is to ask yourself what sort of story the writer is trying to tell and not what your reading preference is. And sometimes it's okay to say, "This is not my type of story, but I'll offer my two cents." They can always ignore it.

As to the "take no prisoner, if you can't stand the heat"? Everyone should always be treated with respect and if a story is truly bad (in one's humble opinion), then one should be humble about it and chose their words carefully. Also, I'm big on offering praise for things done well in a manuscript. The writer needs to know what works too, and encouragement is a good thing!

Edited at 2009-06-27 07:01 pm (UTC)
Jun. 27th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)
'...Everyone should always be treated with respect '

I agree 100%. Too many times I've seen or heard people take way too much enjoyment in tearing someone's work apart. When it comes to critiquing it's tact and diplomacy at all times.

I also agree with the idea of catching them doing something right :)
Jun. 27th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
I've done a bit of both, but these days I find myself a bit more of a cheerleader than anything. I'll point out discrepancies and mistakes but I haven't done a line by line crit in a long while. I guess maybe I try to give each writer what they're looking for, heavy duty or just commentary.
I myself enjoy the feedback, even if someone doesn't like something or thinks I can do better, as long as the extent of the crit is "This sucks!" I wouldn't go that to someone's work and hope they wouldn't do it to mine.
Jun. 27th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
I don't mind 'this suck' providing it's followed up with a 'because' and a 'here's how you can fix it'. Otherwise it's no real help at all.

Thanks for sharing:)
Jun. 27th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm... interesting questions. I guess I see my role as both critiquer--one who helps the manuscript be the best it can be--and encourager. Because writing a book is super hard and if you just tear the person down I'm not sure what that accomplishes. I probably do treat different writers differently depending on my passion for their work--even though I don't mean to. I tend to give more comments on pieces I like because I love it so much I want it to succeed. If I'm less enthusiastic, sometimes that means less feedback. Weirdly opposite of what might seem intuitive.
Jun. 27th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
'Encourager' I like that one :)
Jun. 27th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)

When I critique I want to be honest and helpful.

I belong to two writing groups, and I think it really depends on the individual. There are those who won't listen to anything you say because they think their work is perfect as is...always...so I am pretty blunt with them.

Others who are new to writing are very fragile and need 'gentle critiques' and encouragement.

Others dish out hard core critiques themselves (but with good points!) and so I know they can handle me being the same with them.

I really go with the flow and try and help as much as possible in the process!

Edited at 2009-06-27 09:43 pm (UTC)
Jun. 27th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
I agree with the idea of tailoring the critique to the critiqued. As you say, the goal is to be honest and helpful :)
Jun. 28th, 2009 01:38 am (UTC)
I've always felt that by reading anybody's story I'm investing something in the process that is the most important thing I have: time out of my life that I'll never get back. If the writer asks me my opinion I'll give it. And I give it raw. If I liked it I will say so and I'll tell them exactly why. If I didn't like it I will say and I'll them exactly why. I think that a writer needs honesty more than anything. If they want or need cheerleading or handholding or backslapping and a hearty "Well done!" then they need to find those people who will provide that for them.

Different writers have different needs.
Jun. 28th, 2009 09:23 am (UTC)
In other words, 'If you don't want an honest critique, show it to your mum - or mom if you're in the US' :)
(no subject) - dferguson - Jun. 28th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 28th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
In my view, there are two unforgivable sins that critiquers can commit. One is to give a clever critique at the writer's expense, saying things to be witty rather than to be helpful. The second is to lie. I don't believe in "take no prisoners," but I do believe in honesty. You can omit information (no need to ever say "I thought it was crap.") but don't give false information. And I do think you should always say what you like as well as what you don't.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Connie Willis when she was GoH at Balticon last year, and we were comparing notes about critique groups. She said something I thought was insightful. She said she had decided the most helpful thing was to point out things that could be fixed and not mention things that couldn't.

I should point out that when I give my husband one of my books to read, I remind him that I have a critique group for honesty, and his job is to say nice things.

Jun. 28th, 2009 09:25 am (UTC)
'... point out things that could be fixed and not mention things that couldn't'

Good advice. Thanks for sharing :)
Jun. 28th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
The critique given depends largely upon the manuscript. Some stories need a spit and polish line-by-line. Others aren't ready for something so nitty-picky. It's often necessary to make your own judgement call on the writer's skill level and base the crit accordingly. If someone can write technically yet can't seem to piece a plot together, focus on the plot points that did and didn't work for you and temporarily forget about the nitty-gritty stuff like repeated words or missing commas. No sense prettying up what might get cut anyway. Then again, if the plot is pretty smooth but the writer can't construct a sentence properly, it's a whole different ball game.
Honesty is always best. Always. Even if the writer gets in a snit. In the end, the writer learns something whether he wants to admit it or not. I've no patience for those who simply want to be told how wonderful they are--how they're the exception to the rules of writing.
Jun. 28th, 2009 09:31 am (UTC)
'... no patience for those who simply want to be told how wonderful they are--how they're the exception to the rules of writing'

I suspect that kind of writer gets more bland critiques than any other, because his/her fellow critiquers soon decide not to waste their time preparing feedback that will either be dismissed out of hand, or argued against.
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Jun. 28th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 28th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 28th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)
At my group meetings, we critique the submissions that were handed out the month before, and hand out new submission for the next month. That way we have a full thirty days to give each ms the attention it needs. Exceptions to that are when we do "homework" (writing prompts and exercises). Those we bring and pass around copies of, and discuss on the spot, because sometimes a cold read/first impression can be as valuable as a regular crit.

I take a person's needs into consideration. That covers a lot of ground. Skill level, whether or not they must meet specific guidelines, which draft it is (first drafts oftentimes need line editing too, and picking apart, where as later drafts should not), how much they've handed in (a chapter localizes your attention more than a full half of a novel--with nearly the whole plot in front of you, you must think in much broader terms).

Sometimes a member asks for a specific need. Recently, a crit-mate gave us 10 beginning pages of two different YA novels, and wanted everyone's individual opinion on which had the more interesting hook (she couldn't decide which one to write first). If the ms is ready to be sent out into the world, that plays a part too--before I packaged my novel for mailing, my crit-mates read the final draft as if they had grabbed it off a retail bookshelf. In DIY terms, a broad polishing brush and finish nails was what it needed by then, instead of jackhammers and crowbars and demolition.

This is all I can think of right off the bat...

Personally, I cannot abide critiquers who take no prisoners. When the name of the game is helping someone, the only reason you would pound them into the ground is if you simply get some bizarre kick out of that. We must tell the truth, and be honest; lying to spare someone's feelings is only doing them a terrible disservice. However--you should be constructive in that honesty, or don't bother.

"Some of your sentences are convoluted. I had a hard time understanding them at first. I restructured a few as examples to help you with the others..." makes someone think, yeah, I can still do this. "I had to SLOG through your writing for three days because of your sentences. Do you know sentence structure? The way things are now, there's no worth" makes someone put their pen down and never write again. Gah--unacceptable behavior. :(

I'm shutting up now. :)
Jun. 28th, 2009 10:50 am (UTC)
I'm with you on the take no prisoners thing. An invitation to critique isn't an invitation for mockery or spite.
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Jun. 28th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 28th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Jun. 28th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dynastic_queen - Jun. 29th, 2009 07:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Jun. 29th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 28th, 2009 10:39 am (UTC)
Oh, geez--DON'T get me started on the folks who always get in a huff when the praise they fully expect is not forthcoming. Even if 20 people bring up the same problem, every single person must be wrong.

*rolls eyes* LOL
Jun. 28th, 2009 10:51 am (UTC)
Oh dear. Sounds like you know someone :)
(no subject) - dynastic_queen - Jun. 29th, 2009 07:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dferguson - Jun. 28th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 28th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
'...while at the same time being supportive'

I think that sums it up admirably.

Thanks for sharing :)
(no subject) - kmarkhoover - Jun. 28th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 29th, 2009 09:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 28th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Great points. Especially the neggie-sandwich.

Thanks for sharing :)
(no subject) - dynastic_queen - Jun. 29th, 2009 07:35 am (UTC) - Expand
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )

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