Critique, Don't Criticize
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
From published authors to writing hobbyists, everyone in a critique group has the same goal: to improve their writing. Some may need help with organizing plot, some with developing characters, some with presenting conflict and tension, some with depicting emotion, some with… You get the idea. Others will do many of these well, sometimes with seemingly little effort.
The key is in recognizing these differences and embracing the sharing of knowledge. New writers can learn invaluable lessons from accomplished writers, and even published authors can hone their craft by explaining what they do to others. A successful critique group has benefits for everyone.
The other side of that coin is that nobody, from the bestselling author to the newest beginner, likes to hear that their story needs work. It’s just the nature of who we are. So, as we exchange our opinions and suggestions on each other’s writing, try to truly critique and not just criticize.
When identifying a story element that needs work, don’t just mark it wrong. Anybody can grab a red pen and mark what they don’t like about a story. Instead, turn those issues into opportunities for improvement. Explain why. Give some examples of how to improve. Maybe even provide a resource or two for the author to research and learn.
Everybody can get tunnel vision into their story. Authors build worlds with which they are familiar, develop characters they know and understand, and put those characters in situations to which they already know the outcome. Invariably, some detail that the author takes for granted may not make it to the written word, either through oversight or through editing.
Providing an explanation as to why a particular element (character, dialogue exchange, action) didn’t work will help the author step back and see the story from the reader’s perspective. Understanding a better way, and not just finding out what is wrong, is key to learning and improving one’s craft.