On Critiquing

Bloggers with rabid fans (e.g. Dooce, Miss Snark) fascinate me. Or, rather, the fans fascinate me. Anything the blogger says they will agree with. God forbid they disagree with the blogger and get banished!

So, I was pleased to see that some of Miss Snark’s fans actually disagreed with some rather dubious advice that she gave recently.

A snarkling had read a writing buddy’s manuscript and found some aspects of it lacking (this is a shock? It’s a draft by an unpublished writer…) and asked Miss Snark what to do. The snarkling seemed to be baffled at this development, like the possibility that the manuscript wouldn’t be ready for publication hadn’t even crossed her mind.

Miss Snark:

You say “I was glad to read your novel. I never offer comments but I can answer questions about it.” General questions like “did you like it” can be answered truthfully with “not as much as I hoped I would after reading -and this is where you insert the name of the work you did like.” You’ll know she has no idea about character development if she doesn’t ask anything about it.

What?! Give the poor writer a critique, goddamnit. You’re her writing friend, not her mother. Don’t be mean, but do be honest. Tell her what she’s doing wrong. (If it’s an unmitigated disaster, pick your battles; choose whatever’s worst and start there.)

You don’t say: “Your novel sucks.” That’s being a jerk. You say: “I didn’t find your characters believable because *insert reasons here*. I suggest you do this.” This is constructive criticism. There are three parts to it:

1. Make it an “I” statement: “I think…” “In my opinion…”
2. Give specific reasons why the characters (or whatever) aren’t working.
3. Suggest what could be done to fix the problem.

I know it’s hard. Do it anyway. Both of you will be better writers for it.

If she takes it well, she’ll have an awareness of her writing that she never had before; this may be a turning point for her. If she takes it badly, you’ll know not to offer to read/critique her work again. Regardless, you will learn so much from critiquing. It will make your writing better. Honest.

Thankfully, some of the snarklings offered suggestions along this line. In fact, this time, they offered much better advice than Miss Snark herself. Read the comments.