Benefits of writing critiques and how to solicit them
Last week I met with my city library’s writer-in-residence to go over a short story manuscript I’d submitted for a critique. A critique is a review and assessment of your written work. A good critique offers advice on what is and what isn’t working.
A well-done critique highlights what is strong in your story so you can build on it. It also points out areas which can be improved upon, such as confusing flow, inconsistencies, too much backstory, or not enough detail. It may pose questions which inspire you to think about the story in new ways and give it more depth.
There are a number of ways in which a writer can obtain feedback on his or her work.
Hire a professional to provide a critique. Many editors offer this type of service for a fee. You may find one through a local professional editors association or via an Internet search. I suggest seeking out recommendations from friends and colleagues in order to find a good reviewer suited for your type of writing. Although a written critique without any two-way conversation can provide valuable information, I think the best experience is one in which you and the reviewer can talk face to face. Being able to respond to questions and ask questions provides greater insight.
Join a writing group, where small groups of writers meet regularly to share and provide feedback on their work. I’ve written about the benefits of writing groups before. At their best, you get feedback on what worked in your piece, what details or phrasing resonated with others, what confused readers, and ideas for where to go next with the piece. My own experience with a writing group has been positive, but some writers eschew them for a variety of reasons. Participants are usually not as experienced in critiquing as a professional. There is a danger at times of members trying to rewrite a piece according to their own styles or preferences. Members need to concentrate on providing feedback which helps each member write his or her best.
Many writers, even seasoned writers, utilize beta readers, a small group of friends or acquaintances who read the supposedly-finished piece and provide feedback. Unless these readers are editors or writers, their feedback is likely to be different than a critique. It provides a reader’s perspective and reaction – what emotions were evoked, where they became confused or bored, what they wanted to see more of.
Like me, check out services at your local library or local writers association. Critique services may be available at no charge or at minimal cost.
In my case, I learned my opening sentence was strong, utilizing sense of smell, but there were also a couple of strong sentences later in that opening paragraph which were good first sentence candidates. I rewrote the entire opening paragraph, capitalizing on the strength of those sentences and better setting the stage for the rest of the story.
I learned the story had great detail, but changed scenes too quickly and too abruptly. The order in which scenes were laid out and information presented was confusing and at least one character reaction lost its impact because the reader didn’t know yet what gave that moment such significance.
The writer-in-residence also highlighted which part of the story was strong, suggesting that was the standard I strive toward with the rest of the story. I knew, although couldn’t always easily articulate, the answers to questions about motivation and lessons learned (or should have been learned). Thinking more about those questions is leading me to a stronger ending.
Reading is subjective. People like different styles of writing and different types of books. A critique may also have elements of subjectivity in it. It is a good idea, therefore, to solicit feedback from more than one source. A good critique is constructive and provides information you can use to improve your writing. It does not impose the reviewer’s style or preferences. It is ultimately up to you, the writer, to choose how best to use the feedback.
What have been your experiences with giving or receiving critiques?