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  Don’t Hesitate to Offer a Critique
by Terry W. Ervin II

While there may be ‘wrong’ ways to critique another writer’s work, there certainly isn’t any single ‘right’ way to accomplish the task either. That reality causes hesitation in some writers when an opportunity to work with another writer or to join a crit group presents itself. The writer may feel inadequate to the task, concerned about giving poor advice, or fear alienating or insulting other writers.

Starting off, if someone is a writer, it’s likely that he has well established experience in reading the written word. Therefore, it’s not difficult to fathom that writer providing a well reasoned opinion on a piece beginning with his very first critique, be it an article, essay, short story or novel.

The advantage is that while a reader (someone who is well-read but doesn’t write) may be able to tell a writer what is working, be it characterization, pacing, conflict, among other aspects, they may not be able to explain exactly why. A writer, having more direct experience in the nuts and bolts of composing fiction for example, may have clues as to why a piece is working and suggestions on how to replicate such in other areas. In addition, the writer may recognize not only why something isn’t working, but also have concrete suggestions on how to improve or fix an observed weakness.

This analogy should help to illustrate the point. Everyone has probably visited a home or business with immaculate landscaping. The ornamental trees are the right height, bushes are well placed and manicured, the flowers always appear in bloom resting in perfect mulch beds, and the brick walkway’s color and pattern compliments the house or office building.

Someone who has toured such landscaped establishments can recognize a well orchestrated creation or sense if something isn’t quite right. He may even be able to identify the concern. The parallel lines in one section of the brick pattern are out of alignment, or the one of the decorative shrubs isn’t thriving. But can that individual provide a solution to the problem? Just like a reader critiquing a written piece, probably not. But a landscaper, just as a writer, may be able to point out the exact place where a brick was set slightly askew, and as the following bricks were placed the flaw’s presence became magnified. Or the landscaper might recognize the failing shrub isn’t receiving sufficient sunlight due to excessive shade caused by the building.

Once a writer believes he has the skills to offer a critique, then, even if the writer has an opinion and suggestions to offer, is he prepared to do it ‘the right way’?

As mentioned in the first paragraph, there isn’t a single ‘right way’ to crit a piece. So, even if a writer believes he has the insight and skill to offer a worthwhile critique, he may not want to risk doing it the ‘wrong way’.

Even though it may be helpful and timesaving for the receiver, critiquing is more than identifying typos and grammar goofs. As such, no two individuals will approach the task in the same way. And that is beneficial! It offers varied and different perspectives to the recipient. One crit partner may be better at identifying plot holes or inconsistencies. Another may be of more assistance with pacing or dialogue.

One key point, however, is to avoid simply praise heaped upon praise as much as a critiquer should avoid providing an unending litany of observed mistakes and concerns. To be on track to doing it ‘right’, I believe a crit partner should point out at least one positive about a piece. And if the crit partner cannot find something that causes concern, then explain why the piece read well. If there are identified problems, be constructive and not condemning or condescending. Offer suggestions for repair when possible.

Once a critique is finished, the critiquer shouldn’t fret over what constructive suggestions the recipient accepts, if any. The critquer has already completed his obligation to the process: stepping forward to give a careful read, thoughtful reflection and a clear, honest opinion. Even so, other crit partners may offer differing, or even opposing views. Nevertheless, except for possible follow-up questions, and learning from the process and possibly other crit partner observations, the crit partner’s responsibility ends with the critique. It is then up to the writer of the piece to determine what advice, if any, will be accepted and implemented into subsequent drafts.

Writing can be a very isolating venture. Exchanging thoughtful and honest critiques benefits all involved through improving writing, motivation and building a support network. And like many other skills, critiquing gets easier, more efficient, and improves with practice.

Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All rights reserved.

Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is a frequent contributor to Fiction Factor and his fiction has appeared in a number of places, including The Sword Review, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and MindFlights.

When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his family, he can be found in his basement raising turtles. To contact Terry or to learn more about his writing endeavors and recommended markets (among other things), visit his website at:


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