Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How to Be Thorough with a Critique

So if you choose to critique someone's work in the workplace, how can you be Oh So Thorough? After all, you see what's wrong immediately and you'd just like to say it and hear your glorious words of truth ring throughout the land! Just because you see what's wrong doesn't mean the writer will hear what you say (or agree with you). If you'd like to be truly heard, then you need to demonstrate that you've thoroughly evaluated the positive attributes as well as the areas that need improvement.

God help us all, I fear I've critiqued more than a thousand writers in on-line workshops, in person workshops, and for paid editing work (only a few of whom have come to hate me). I believe this is because I really try to understand the work before I say anything about it. I try to get it. I don't just lambast, because frankly, lambasting is easy.

There are always general elements that you can make specific comments. I'm going to focus below on critiquing in fiction, but much of this also applies to non-fiction and poetry.

  • characters
  • diction (word choice)
  • logic
  • pace
  • passage of time
  • point of view
  • plot
  • setting
  • structure
  • tense
You could make up your own list in your own field and I bet it would have as many if not more elements. Again, there are always positive things going on in someone's work. You just need to find them and explain what is right before delving into what may not work. And when you go into what may not work for you, remember that it's only your opinion.

And, writers? If someone can't find what's right in your work (as well as what's wrong), don't let that person read it. Period.