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The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 7:44 pm
by crit33321
Hi fellow Critters:

First, just want to give a shout out to all the scifi/fantasy/horror writers out there. Our forum seems to be the most active, with posts all the way up through the current month and year. Nice job!

I joined Critters earlier this year and have really enjoyed the community so far. I’ve done my fair share of submitting stories and critiquing the work of others. And if you’re a victim of one of my critiques already, I hope you found my comments helpful.

Thank you so much for the time you’ve taken to read my stories and offer critiques. Many of your comments have been very helpful. Some...not so much. A few have been downright mean. But hey, I can take it: I’m a writer after all!

After reading everyone’s critiques on my own stories and the stories that others have submitted in the weekly queue, I thought I’d post some information that might benefit us all. Many of us have to balance our writing time wisely between jobs, family, and other outside obligations. Our time is limited, and time spent reading stories and writing critiques sometimes comes at a cost – it’s time we could be spending on our own drafts, revisions, and submissions.

Given our daily time constraints, we want to make sure we’re not wasting our own time – or the time of authors – writing unhelpful critiques that either don’t address the needs of the story, or worse yet, make an author wonder why they bother writing at all and feel like giving up.

I’d venture to guess that most stories coming through the weekly queue are either first drafts, or first or second revisions. In some shape or form, they’re all still pretty rough around the edges when they get to us. I’ve learned there are actually three different kinds of story critiques:

1. Content Critiques, where the focus should be on fixing the overall story. Characters may act out of character. The ending may not fulfill the promises set up in the beginning. Goals and motivations may not be clearly defined. Actions or settings may be inconsistent. Narrative may be confusing. Gaping holes might be left in the plot. The big stuff. You get the idea.
2. Line Critiques, where we get into imagery and language, tightening up paragraphs and eliminating needless words. This is where we pour through the Thesaurus to find just the right word. Would it make more sense to move this sentence up to that paragraph?
3. Copy Edits. Pull out your copy of Strunk & White and your fine-toothed comb. Periods, commas, semi-colons, and em-dashes. Spelling and grammar Nazi’s unite! Should the word ‘President’ be capitalized here or not?

For most of us, I suspect what we’re really looking for with our submissions – what would be most helpful – are the Content Edits. Fixing the parts of the story that are broken. After all, who wants to spend ten minutes making sure a page is grammatically correct when everything on that page needs to be scrapped altogether because it’s bogging down the story?

By using our time wisely and focusing on the correct kind of critique for the story we’re reading, we can give our writers the exact information they’re looking for to make their story the best it can be without wasting their time or ours writing about the wrong kinds of elements. In the words of Neil Gaiman: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Hope this information is helpful. Write on!


Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Tue Aug 22, 2017 9:00 pm
by crit32950
I agree. Content edits all the way. If the crits are line and copy, then you're generally closer to what you want your story to be, I reckon.

Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 4:21 pm
by crit33427
Hello and welcome to the forum,

You make some interesting points and I would like to respond to them.

Perhaps every writer is hoping for something else in the critiques they expect to receive. As writers I am sure they are also capable of expressing this clearly. Each manuscript submission has an opening and closing note attached to it. These provide ample opportunity for the writer to explain what exactly he is looking for. I think this is a far more accurate, flexible and representative way of governing proceedings rather than trying to create a blanket rule. One man's meat..... and so one.

Personally, I make no distinction between the three kinds of critique you outline. I ask for critiques because I want to know how my text effects others. Everyone is different and hyper sensitive to different stimuli. For instance, I dislike all uses of the word Nazi out of context. Some people are quite happy to read a piece that is full of plot holes as long as the spelling is good. That is their thing. It is not my place to judge them. If a person's enjoyment or appreciation of my prose (even a first draft) is spoiled by bad grammar then I want them to tell me this. Otherwise, I am exercising a form of selective blindness and intentionally ignoring weaknesses in my own skill set.

For me there is no such thing as 'First draft spelling, punctuation and grammar'. Prose writing is based on a certain formal framework. Some people feel insulted when a writer doesn't bother to get the basics right in a submission. They feel the writer is playing fast and loose with THEIR valuable resources as a critic. I try and make my submissions the very best that I can regardless of how early or late in the project I am. This is how I push myself to improve my skills as a writer. It is the critic's role to find the points where I slipped up so that I can do better next time.

There is a place for stretching and bending the rules employed in prose. It's called poetry and requires its own set of skills and rules.

Nevertheless, as I am sure you would agree, we are all different and looking for different things.

Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2017 5:37 pm
by crit33888
You make some good points and I more or less agree. Personally I look for something very specific in my critiques. I want to know if/when you were entertained/bored and if you were ever confused. This more or less covers story structure and prose. Line edits or even section edits seem like a matter of style to me which is very individual and not as helpful to get commentary on. If it was entertaining and it made sense, then I'm happy!

Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 11:35 pm
by crit33916
I sort of do a blend of all those- I've tended to give general comment about how I found the story at outset and then continue line by line, spotting typos and content that I think could be stronger or is symptomatic of things I think are problems in the story, (ie people acting out of character, plot holes, cliché, etc). That's felt natural to me so far but I feel I could certainly get better. What other sorts of things do people find most helpful?

Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Thu Dec 28, 2017 7:46 am
by crit34123
I like my story doctoring to go in the order that the original post stated.

1. Plot holes, characterization, pacing, etc. (overall)

2. Word variety, imagery, etc. (by paragraph)

3. Grammar and punctuation. (line-by-line)

Consequently, I critique manuscripts in the same fashion.

Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Thu Dec 28, 2017 11:45 am
by crit19292
That is nice, but mechanic problems (grammar, punctuation, tense, etc.) will prevent people from recognizing your ideas. It is like wanting someone to speak on the maneuverability of your vehicle when it doesn't even run properly. It makes much more sense to tell you to fix your engine, as that could also fix your maneuverability problem.

There is also the fact that today's word processors make mechanical problems almost non-existent. If you have them then I see someone who is not really concerned with their writing, so why should I be concerned.

You don't go out until you are dressed properly. The same with your writing. You should not expose it until it is presentable. With it in a shape where one can respect it, you will find your writing treated with respect. Someone will then be willing to spend time with it and notice such things as plot holes, characterization, and other intricacies of your story.

Re: The Right Kind of Critiques

PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2018 12:53 am
by crit33524
Continuity editing: don't have a character that died in chapter 3 doing stuff in chapter 7 (aside from vampires and the like, or if you've explicitly had the character resurrected), make sure any two cities (floating cities that explicitly move around excepted) stay the same distance apart and have the same geography between them, have travel times match distances and transportation tech/magic, etc.

Factual/technical editing: get the trivial facts right - don't poison an ordinary human with a small amount of sodium chloride; if it MUST be with sodium chloride then have the story justify table salt being that toxic. If your story is set in our world then make sure the geography (including distances) actually matches our world.