S2, E23: Giving Feedback

In episode 21 I talked about having Alpha, Beta, and Gamma readers give you feedback, so this episode I talk about the flip side – being one of those feedback givers! So let’s look at why you should critique others work, reminders on the general principals of being a good critiquer, and I’ll give you an overview of my own personal critiquing methodology.

  • Critiques/Alpha/Beta/Gamma Reading
    • Why do it?
      • It helps others and exposes you to other styles of story telling
      • It helps you improve your own writing – yes, really! When you begin critically examining other works, you’ll find yourself starting to better notice the things that bugged you or felt wrong in your own works as well
    • Broad reminders
      • Remember the author is human too, they have feelings and emotions, same as you! Be polite and watch your tone.
      • Being honest does not mean you have to be a brute or act like a jerk! You can give useful feedback, positive and negative feedback, while still being kind; and if you act like a jerk, your critique will likely be trashed (at best) or cause someone to walk away from writing (not good!)
    • Be constructive – this doesn’t mean you have to coddle, but it does mean approaching critiquing as a way to help someone else
    • Don’t fluff – while no one likes to be treated badly, most writers do not want a fluff critique filled with empty praise. Again, be honest – even for the best works, people can usually find something they didn’t personally like or that they might consider changing
      • Stay objective – if you have a personal issue with an author, don’t critique their work
      • Try to be encouraging even if the work needs a lot of work; particularly if its someone’s first time getting feedback on their work around!
      • Point out both good and bad – if you like something, say you do. If you don’t, try and say why
      • Be relevant – don’t fill up a critique with three paragraphs about your self and if you can’t be bothered to pay attention to the work, move on; comments that clearly show you didn’t read the work tends to annoy
      • Be specific – saying “this sucks” doesn’t tell anyone anything, explain why you didn’t like something
      • Remember, it isn’t your story – don’t spend your critique rewriting huge chunks into your story telling style!
      • When critiquing individual chapters/segments, be mindful of having not read previous stuff – it may have already been explained!
      • Don’t just throw out those common “writing rules” automatically – did the issues actually bother you while reading or did you feel the need to say it because you’re “supposed to”
      • If critiquing in person or via small groups, be prepared to discuss the story with the author and don’t presume that because the writer asks a follow up question that they are being sensitive and can’t take “honesty”
      • If the writer gets really upset at your critique – try to continue to be nice, but don’t be afraid to just disengage. While it is far rarer that people like to claim, there are some writers who just can’t take anything less than hearing their work is perfect; in which case you can just hope they move past it while you don’t let it color you view of the rest of the writing community
      • And, of course, it should go without saying but do not show the works you critique to others without permission
    • How I critique
      • Chapters via critiquing sites
        • First, I read any leading material, i.e. story introduction, author notes on things they’d like to know, genre tags, etc.
        • I “blind” read, meaning I don’t generally read the work before deciding to critique beyond the first paragraph or so.
        • I generally call my critiquing method “reader reaction” style, as in I read through the piece and as I go through, I give my reactions as a reader. If something makes me laugh, I note it. If it makes me sad, I note that.  If I end up with questions, I pop them in no so much because I want answers but so that the writer knows they came to mind and can decide if he or she wants them to or if they should be answered.  If something is contradictory, I’ll note that.  I point out nice phrases/descriptions, etc.
        • If a sentence feels off or is oddly worded, I’ll note that and sometimes offer an alternative phrasing (though rarely)
        • I will note a few grammar things/typos if I notice them but it isn’t my forte so I mostly don’t focus on them
        • Once I reach the end I’ll add a few paragraphs of remarks on the chapter as a whole – what I liked, what didn’t work for me, questions, etc.
        • For a 3000-4000 word chapter, my critiques usually run 800-1500 words in length.
      • Whole works
        • Generally in Word with track changes for making notes inline
        • Other than that, my process is fairly similar – read through and make notes. I’ll put notes at the end of each chapter on the story so far, then overall notes at the end.
        • If done via critiquing sites, obviously it is almost exactly the same except when I get to the last chapter, on top of the chapter notes I’ll include notes on the story as a whole.

Progress Report: First tome of the novelization printed and gifted; Tome 2 not started. Aisuru on break for beta feedback while I plan to start some work on Reconstruction with a new revision process.

Randomness: Adaigo Teas, creators of the amazing IngenuiTEA and sellers of awesome teas (http://www.adagio.com/)