It’s What you Say AND How You Say It: Power of Critiques
Raven McAllan sends her best to everyone. She’s feeling under the weather, so I’m going to fill in for her today with a topic I’ll be presenting to my Romance Writers of America group, Romance Authors of the Heartland. We hope you feel better, Raven. Hugs.<3
So, critiquing for other authors can be an extremely daunting task. Often it’s hard to understand where to start, what to say, and how to be most helpful to the author’s work without changing the author’s voice. Plus, we have to believe that our opinion is worthy of being offered. That’s often as much of an accomplishment as the critiquing.
Before I start, I want to point out that critiquing is not really concerned with grammatical issues or punctuation problems, but if you catch a few of those and note them to the author, he or she will be all the more thankful for it.
Critiquing is usually a “higher level” look at the story, including characterization, plotline, continuity, dialogue, conflict, pacing, and more.
A few things to keep in mind when you’re reviewing another author’s work…
First, consider the author’s voice.
If possible, read another one of the writer’s finished works to understand what voice the author considers true to their writing. Do they have a consistent beat to their prose? Do they have a special way of involving a backstory? Do they take the time to point out details that might not seem important to you, but have importance to the character or story in the end so that you’re not pointing out something that might be cleared in conclusion?
Make all attempts not to change the writer’s voice. You don’t have to love their voice, but it is not yours to alter.
Second, know your strengths and communicate them to the author.
If you are wonderful at character development and elaborate plotlines, tell them beforehand, but if you struggle in developing conflict or finding authentic and differentiating dialogue for characters, then get that out on the table, too. We’re not going to be fantastic at everything, so if the author really struggles in the same areas as you do, it will be hard to be effective. So, you have to be as honest with yourself as you are with them.
Third, be constructive with your words and avoid vague platitudes or being overly critical. Be sensitive, but honest.
The point is to help the writer consider ways to improve the work. You may say something like, “I like the plotline and how you effectively close the main character’s relationship up. Please take a look at the side plot of XYZ, I think there might be a loose end there.” Maybe the writer has questioned the issue in their mind too, but he or she needed to hear it from you to validate the point.
Don’t be shy, but keep in mind that changing things like character names, plotlines, and such isn’t up to you. You work within what the author provides you pointing out issues and problems as you see them. It is their circus and their monkeys. You are in the bleachers watching and writing a report on the chaos and tricks of the monkeys.
Critiquing isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding. I’ve learned so much about my own writing by helping others and finding issues or enjoying phenomenal writing that inspires me, which is an added benefit, too.
What else do you think is helpful in critiquing or receiving critiques from others?
Now get out there and help each other! 🙂