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Dont Hesitate to
Offer a Critique
by Terry W. Ervin II
While there may be wrong ways to critique
another writers work, there certainly isnt
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, its likely
that he has well established experience in reading the
written word. Therefore, its 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 doesnt 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
isnt 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 walkways 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 isnt 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 isnt 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 flaws
presence became magnified. Or the landscaper might
recognize the failing shrub isnt receiving
sufficient sunlight due to excessive shade caused by the
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
As mentioned in the first paragraph, there isnt 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
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 shouldnt
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 partners 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.
© 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
When Terry isnt 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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