Week of February 5, 2011: The Power of Critiques
Wednesday, February 8—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 read and 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.
When I participate in paid critiques at our Florida SCBWI meetings, the critiquers always use a form that discusses nine points:
1) The positive aspects of the work
2) The elements that require attention and improvement
3) Notes on character development
4) Notes on plot/structure
5) Notes on language/diction
6) Notes on voice
7) Notes on marketability
8) Next steps
9) Additional comments
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
THINGS I LOVE
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. This is a 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
Sent to time out
It’s Your Turn!
1. When critiquing others, practice the Sandwich 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.