Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Giving Critiques

Week of April 17: The Power of Critiques
Wednesday, April 20—Giving Critiques

Critiquing is an art, but it’s an art you can learn. When you receive a manuscript to critique:

1.  Read the entire manuscript aloud. Do not write on the manuscript at this stage. Just listen.
2.  Think and reflect.
3.  Read the manuscript aloud a second time.
4.  Write notes. Pay attention to big issues first: Did anything not make sense? Were you confused at any point? Was anything out of order? Was the rhyme or meter off? Did you stumble as you read? Note those concerns.
5.  Some groups make line edits on manuscripts—changing punctuation, word choice, etc. That is a group decision.
6.  Offer possible suggestions for changes.
7.  Note any other books of the same genre that have similar themes, similar characters, or that might provide insight into the development of the manuscript.

When sharing a critique aloud (and even in writing), most folks follow the Sandwich Method.

Here’s how we state our critiquing process in our PB&J Critique Group guidelines:

Because PB&J members seek to provide honest feedback in a positive, constructive manner,we use the sandwich method of critiquing. We begin with a positive comment/insight, provide constructive criticism, and end with a positive comment/insight.  

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offers the following suggestions:
Criticism should be constructive and not destructive. “I didn’t like the way you wrote that” is never a valid criticism. It always helps a fellow writer to know the strengths of a manuscript as well as the weaknesses. A compliment offered first softens a “constructive” negative to follow. Try to tell your fellow writer why something doesn’t work for you and offer possibilities for change. Always be encouraging.

In addition to writing on a manuscript, I sometimes type up my critique. Here is an example:

Rob’s Critique of Baxter by Alice Author

1.   Congrats on the word count! That is usually one of the hardest things for picture book writers.
2.   You have all the ingredients to make a great story—problem, growing tension, resolution.
3.   You can never go wrong with a dog!!! And one that tugs at your heartstrings is even better!

1.   Right now I think the story reads like a magazine article, not a picture book. That has to do with pacing I think.
2.   I really don’t get Baxter’s feelings and why people are treating him so badly (as stated in the first of the story). Is this strong emotional situation needed? What is his real problem?
3.   Does the title represent what the story is about?
4.   As I am often told about my writing, this is a very quiet story and those stories are a hard sell. If you can amp up the action it may be more marketable.

1.   To clearly get the problem/solution established, try completing this sentence:

Baxter was a dog who more than anything wanted ________________ but couldn’t because ___________________, until _________________ happened.

2.   It might be cool if Madison and Baxter’s problems were parallel. For instance:
Has no animal friends                        
Favorite food eaten by others            
Taken to shelter                                  

Picked last for team
Favorite lunch/spills
Sent to time out

It’s Your Turn!
1. When critiquing others, practice the Hamburger Method.
2. Read your comments aloud to yourself before reading them aloud in your group. Make sure your comments have the constructive tone you want them to have.


The Storylady said...

I read somewhere - and I wish I could give credit where it's due - that criticizing is telling what is wrong, and critiquing is telling how it could be better.

I think that's a good way of thinking about giving and receiving critiques.

Rob Sanders said...

EXCELLENT perspective. Since I've worked as an editor and a writing teacher (among other things), I have a similar phrase: "Editors make writing better, writing teachers make writers better."