Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to critique your partner's work.

This won't be a how-to post, so much as a what-works-for-me post. And what works for me, may not work for you and your partner, but you never know until you try. The reason behind this post, or really the thought behind it, is that I've seen some pretty poor critiques--NOT FROM THE SISTERS, but on random writer websites--and it made me realize that there are a lot of aspiring writers out there, who mean well but don't know how to give honest feedback.

**insert random thought: this popcorn is ah-may-zing**

First things first, and this is a tough one for me, read through the entire manuscript you are given without making edits. Make notes to yourself if you need to, but leave the text alone until you know the outcome. When you know where you'll end up, you can better decide how to get there.

Next, keep in mind that every writer has a unique voice. You may have the desire to totally change the tone of every sentence to fit your vision. But it's not your vision. It's hers, and you need to respect her voice. That doesn't mean you can't help her reword something so it sounds better, or change the structure of a sentence to make it stronger. It just means that Lauren Kate's Luce, is not Lisa McMann's Janie.

Third, be respectful, but be honest. It does not help ANYONE to pussyfoot around sensitive comments. You might not want to tell a random writer that you think "this" sucks, but if she's your BFF, you'd be doing her a service. On that note, if you are the one receiving the crit, you have to be open to suggestions and not take it personally. So, be respectful, but be honest and also be sure to point out the things you like and what you'd like to see more of.

Finally, when doing a thorough critique, it is most helpful to your partner to work line by line, leaving comments on how you think it could be better, what isn't clear to you as a reader, where there is a loop-hole, if something is out of character, a misspelled word etc. When working in MS word, you should have a "Review" tab. Click that and select "track changes". This will show any edits you make in the text. There you will also see "add new comment". To use that feature, highlight the text you want to comment on and click "add a new comment" and type out your comment in the bubble.

In closure, write out an "over all" message. Tell the writer what you loved, what you hated, what you think she can add or leave out. And it's always nice to end on a positive note :)

Do you have any successful critiquing tips to add? We'd love to hear 'em!


  1. Those cartoons cracked me up! I am definitely a fan of the tough love approach -- both giving and receiving it. I think that's why our group is such a good fit as we're all on the same page with that.

    I do edit on my first pass through -- for typos, verb tense issues, or just when something odd jumps out out me. My second sweep is for the big picture issues like story arc, dialogue, characterization, etc.

    Great post Lacey!

  2. Great post Lacey! The only thing I would add is that I, personally, like to comment on what I think is happening in the plot as I read through the first time so that the writer gets a sense of how their story is unfolding and whether or not it's reading as intended.

  3. Excellent post! The hardest thing for me is trying to alter the style. I really need to work on that.

  4. Wonderful post. There is nothing better than an honest critter. Sure, it hurts sometimes to have your work's flaws pointed out... but the Growth!

  5. Diane, countryangelFebruary 1, 2010 at 6:12 PM

    I really liked the carttons :)

    I think you have to be honest whether you hurt someone's feelings or not.
    That's the way you learn, one step at a time.


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