How to Write Good Critique
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Previously, We’ve talked about the importance of critique, and how it benefits you as a writer to utilize it as a growth tool.
There are not many articles out there that really define the how to write good critique and the various methods used to do so. Not all are profitable for every person, that’s why it is imperative that you explore each method and decide which one works the best for you. You can’t change the skin you’re in, so finding and perfecting a critique method should be a top priority on your list.
Here are a few different methods and how they work.
The Lerman Method
- You start with a simple statement of meaning. This is a specific statement about something that grabbed you, caught your attention, or held meaning. This is a positive note to start off with, as it tells the writer what “got you.” Starting off on a positive note has nothing to do with niceness, political correctness, or sugar-coating. What makes it important is that writers tend to be unconscious of what they do well. By making this statement, you offer the author something to build from.
- Next, there’s the question and answer section. The writer asks, “Did you believe Adam killed Eve?” and you answer with a simple yes or no. If the writer seeks definitive answers, they will ask you later. Just keep it short and simple with a direct no or approving yes.
- Now it’s time for you to ask questions. This is important because sometimes what is glaringly obvious to the author doesn’t always come out that way in reading. Don’t be shy. Ask those confusing questions so the author learns where improvement and clarity are needed. Example: “What happened to the purple dress she wore in the first scene of the ballet chapter, yet she shows up in a red dress? Did she stop at a store on the way and buy something new?” or “How did Joffrey escape through the window if he was locked in the closet?” Little things like this can easily slip from the writer’s memory as they move from scene to scene. Your questions help find these holes so they can be corrected.
Do you think the Lerman method would really help you as a writer? I can certainly see the benefits.
The APA Method
The APA method is a very thorough method of critique. It considers many things beyond the writing, plot, and story arch. This could be an excellent source for brushing up your final draft before sending it off in queries.
- Basic Format: This checks the formatting of your writing. This is usually a critical submission point, so not following what your potential publisher expects could be the nail in beginning your slush pile. The APA method checks to ensure your paper follows the desired format.
- Abstract: this is a single page offering your critique on the manuscript. This should be a brief summary of about 150 to 200 words analyzing the manuscript as a whole, objectively.
- Main body: This is where you define your critique. You may discuss errors, plot holes, fact issues, unrealistic character expectations, lack of character/world/scene building, too much or too little description, backstory issues, etc. Think of this as the heart of your critique, an expansion of the abstract.
- Quotes: Taking sections that need work, like a line by line editing, and offering critique on them by copying what was written is a part of this method.
APA is generally used for more scholarly works, but many of its parts are implemented in basic critiques. Remember… critique is NOT editing, and should never be used for that purpose.
The Sandwich Method
- Offer a positive. Did you enjoy the story overall? Did the opening really grab your attention? Did the author have a brilliant way with words that felt unique? Is the story original? Find something good to say about the manuscript.
- Offer the negative. BUT don’t really think of it as a negative. This is where you say what needs work. “You use a lot of repetitive words through paragraph two.” “You have a lot of passive use combined with gerunds.” “You misused commas all over the place.” (Just examples)
- Offer a solution. This isn’t always easy, but if you can’t think of a way to rewrite it, offer a suggestion instead. “This sentence is really awkward. I’m not sure how you can fix it, but maybe using a stronger verb or splitting it in two will help.”
- Finish on a positive note. “You really hooked me with this. Great writing!”
The art of good critique
No matter which method you chose, there are still basic things to consider in any critique you do.
- Read the entire piece before starting your critique. Just read it.
- Read it again critically. Make notes as you go if you need to.
- Consider these questions:
- Is the title appropriate and clear
- Does the opening grab you and make you want to read more
- Is the story’s protagonist clear
- Are there tense or voice changes, too much head hopping?
- Is the point of view clear?
- Too many adverbs, passive voices, to be verbs, -ing words?
- Are the paragraphs clear, and start with a new thought
- Is the dialogue realistic and each voice is clearly understood and separate
- Does the plot move, what plot holes exist
- Does each section further the story and hold relevancy to the rest of the book?
- Is the backstory too much or not enough
- Are characters well developed
- Is the writing clear and concise, maximizing the use of each word
- Are transitions clear and understandable
There are many other things to consider when doing a critique, but the bottom line is if you ask the author to provide you with a cheat sheet (a list of questions), the critique goes much smoother. And remember, the purpose of critique is to help the writer, not put them down.
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