Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giving Critiques

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

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
Favorite lunch/spills
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.


Cathy Mealey said...

Your example critique on "Baxter" is terrific. Helps those both giving and receiving critiques to have a grasp of what a constructive review looks like. Thanks!

Brenda Harris said...

Excellent post. Handy for carrying around when attending critiqe groups. :)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Thanks for this excellent and very helpful post on critiquing. It is a hard thing to do well. And I think much of what you included here can apply to your own mss as well (although it is admittedly harder to identify the problems in your own work!)

Tina Cho said...

Thanks for sharing your detailed critique rules and sample! It's great to see how other groups run!

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, all. These aren't rules, Tina, just possibilities. Rules choke me--possibilities give me new and better ideas. Best of luck to all!