Monday, May 9, 2016

How to be a Good Critique Partner

A good critique partner can be as hard to find as a rare diamond. Once found, it’s all important to hold onto them. The best way of doing this is to be a good critique partner in return. Anyone can read a manuscript and offer an opinion, but a good critique partner does a little more, thinks a little deeper than the average reader. Below are some tips on how to be a good critique partner.

1. Respect the author and the manuscript. Before delving in, remind yourself that the manuscript you’re looking over isn’t your story and neither is it likely to be written in your voice. While you’ll only ever have your opinion, it helps if you are able to approach the manuscript not as a general reader, but from the writer’s point of view, attempting to see what the writer is trying to express through their work. Rather than offering what you think should be portrayed in the words, try to work out what you think the writer is trying to portray and then, based on that, offer your opinion.

2. Tread lightly. Treading lightly is especially important with relatively new writers or writers who have never experienced a critique before. Be mindful that the writer is a real person with real feelings and their manuscript is often their precious baby they have entrusted into your hands. Your valid opinions will have a greater chance of being heard if they are delivered in a thoughtful manner.

3. Avoid assumptions. If you happen to spot a broken writing rule, don’t assume the writer made a mistake. Perhaps the writer broke the rule on purpose. Ask yourself what the author was trying to convey. Did the author achieve their goal? Don’t make assumptions about the characters either. Perhaps the author has a grand plan in mind which will be revealed later in the text.

4. Offer concise comments. When you make a comment or change the text, make sure you clearly communicate the reason. If it’s about personal taste, then it helps to offer why. This gives the author a chance to see where you are coming from, to get to the heart of the issue. The author knows the manuscript far better than you do, so what you think might be the issue, may only be a pointer to the actual problem.

5. Offer suggestions. If you do see a problem, your job isn’t done once you’ve pointed it out. It’s especially helpful to the writer to hear possible suggestions on how to fix the problem. The writer may not follow those suggestions, but they might inspire a whole new solution. Hearing the suggestions might also give the writer a greater insight into the problem.

6. You are a critique partner, not an editor. You may not have the same vision for the piece as the writer, but that shouldn’t get in the way of your job, which is working within the bounds of the writer’s vision. If you can see a path that’s different, by all means share it, but make sure you justify your reasons for the suggestion otherwise the writer could be left in the dark as to why you feel a change would be appropriate.

7. On Grammar. If you are going to correct the writer’s grammar, please make sure you have checked the rules first. Too often I’ve seen critique partners ‘correct’ already correct grammar. And if you are the writer who has been critiqued, always double check the grammar that’s been corrected. Don’t assume your critique partner is right.

8. Follow instructions. Sometimes a writer is after a specific kind of critique. They might not be after all that little stuff like sentence construction, rule hunting, or even grammar. They might have just finished a messy first draft and needs someone to cast their eye over the bigger devices such as the general plot, the pace, the character arcs. If you then offer observations on the little details, you are wasting both your time and the writer’s.

9. Praising what works is as important as spotting what doesn’t. This is not about stroking the writer’s ego, or softening the blow for a later critique. It’s helpful to know what is working in the manuscript. It can often bring insight into the reader where the writer couldn’t see before.

10. Return the manuscript in a timely manner. The best critique partners are fast workers, but not everyone has the time to churn out a carefully considered collection of comments. This is fine, so it helps if you can agree how long the critique might take. If you are delayed, then let the writer know. If you are a slower critiquer, then it also helps to return portions of the manuscript at a time so the writer isn’t waiting around for the full finished piece. This way the writer can start working on the first part while you continue to critique the next part.

What do you look for in a good critique partner? If you are looking for a partner, then don’t forget the IWSG Critique Circle on Facebook.

Lynda R. Young


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I will be looking for one soon.

Praising what works is so important. That's why they say to sandwich criticism between praise - it softens the blow and doesn't put people on the defensive right away.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Suggestions help! Otherwise you just stare at the problem with no idea how to fix it.
Excellent check list, Lynda.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Excellent points here, Lynda. Thank you so much for sharing this with readers. I'm still looking for that wonderful critique partner, one who will perform all the points you mention. I need to know what's not working and where I'm giving the wrong impression. I've shared this on social media. It's too good not to.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lynda - this seems like a really good list - and I'm sure will help many of us. I guess if there are difficulties/challenges ... making the connection via Skype or the phone perhaps could get the feelings over ... rather than writing them down (or as well). Body language and tone add so much to voice - even for a critique partner ...

Fantastic resource too - via the IWSG Critique Circle ..

Cheers - Hilary

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Finding a good critique partner is so wonderful and helpful. It works best if you have a tough skin. Nothing is every perfect in the first draft.

Anonymous said...

Number 10 I always have problems with. I tell people I know life gets busy and if it does can they please find a second to email me so I know. Right now, I think that's happened with someone who agreed to critique a story. It's been a couple months and the last time I talked to her, she had said she would get it to me shortly, but had some personal things to sort out at the same time. I think the personal things won out.

H. R. Sinclair said...

#7 is so true!

It's also good to add comments about part or lines you thought were well written. One critter I had added comments to where she caught on to what was happening or when she had an inkling. This was helpful, I knew if I was developing the right way or given too many clues or not enough.

cleemckenzie said...

All excellent suggestions for crit partners!

Pat Hatt said...

Great tips. And yeah agreed, don't always assume the grammar is right.

Christine Rains said...

Excellent advice! I have awesome CPs, and they all do these things wonderfully. It's also good to make comments where you laughed or gasped or got emotional. I love knowing when I've affected my readers like that.

Natalie Aguirre said...

These are all great tips. I especially liked #1 not to try to look at the manuscript as if you would write it. That's so important.

Sadira Stone said...

Excellent advice--I'll share this with my critique group. Specific suggestions are always the most helpful. My critiques usually consist of questions, mainly. E.g.: What did you mean by this phrase? How could you help me to picture this setting with sensory details? It's been difficult, but I've learned to confine my comments on mechanics to asking for clarification. My inner English teacher cringes, but I try to focus on the story.
@RhondaGilmour from
Late Blooming Rose

Anne R. Allen said...

Excellent tips! Sharing...

Olga Godim said...

Great post, Lynda. I'd add only one thing: your critique partner should write or at least read in the same genre. Once I had an unfortunate experience with people critiquing my story - I write fantasy - while they didn't read or write speculative fiction. The result wasn't pretty. They didn't even recognize the terminology.
Currently, I'm looking for a critique partner interested in fantasy. I will check out the FB group. Thanks for the tip.

Chrys Fey said...

You read my mind, Lynda. I have a post like this ready for the other blog I co-host. At least it won't be a double post here. ;) Respecting the author and their work really is number one. I've had some really cruel critiques before that had no right to be that way. I've never really gotten over it.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Diane, everyone likes a little praise on the occasion :)

Alex, giving suggestions take a little extra time, but they are often so helpful.

Victoria, I hope you find the perfect CP. Thanks so much for the share.

Hilary, voice or face-to-face do add another helpful dimension.

Susan, the more you experience a critique the easier it gets.

Patricia, yeah, I had one CP hold my manuscript for a full six months which is way too long, and another just didn't get back to me at all.

Holly, yes! Sharing the reading experience with the author is so helpful

Lee, thanks

Pat, grammar can get tricky

Christine, that's so great you have good CPs

Natalie, so very important!! Thanks.

Rhonda, I hope it helps you and your group.

Anne, thanks for the share

Olga, I had a similar experience. It does help if you can find a CP who works outside the genre, but is at least open to your genre with a smattering of knowledge of that genre. It's good to get a different opinion. But when they have no clue about the genre, it really doesn't work.

Chrys, I had a chuckle at the double post comment. It's bound to happen eventually, but everyone has a different take on a subject so it's all good. And yeah, cruel critiques are so unhelpful.

S.P. Bowers said...

Great tips. Being a good crit partner is something we can practice, just like writing.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Lyn! Great post. Very helpful. I know I made some of those mistakes when I started out. Hopefully, I've improved since then! The Hamburger Method as referenced by L Diane is the way to go. It's too easy not to mention the great parts, forgetting that an author likes to know what works as well as what doesn't. Here's to Critique Partners! Couldn't live without them!

Michelle Wallace said...

A great post, Lynda!
You cleared up some important points.
I need to bookmark this.

G. B. Miller said...

I thinking having a CP who doesn't cringe at the content of what you write (in my case, moderate sex and violence) is a must. If they cringe at the content, then it makes it really hard for them to offer constructive comments.

I Are Writer!

Anonymous said...

I've got some brilliant CPs through IWSG Critique Circle on Facebook. I've yet to fully apply the helpful comments but getting there Fear that I haven't reciprocated so much, and maybe got one manuscript still needing my attention. (and may have failed at some of items on list...not just time scale.)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

These are all great things to look for in a critique partner. I've never had one, but I remember the people who read my stuff in writing classes. One thing I want is someone who knows how to give constructive criticism without being brutally honest; I had more than one classmate who was very insulting and lacked compassion. Even though the writing I produced at the time wasn't great, I wouldn't want a critique partner like those people, the kind who always made me feel bad about my writing.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

In a word: excellent.

Thanks, Lynda. This is a great post.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good reminders, Lynda!

Carol Riggs said...

This is such an excellent list. I've bookmarked this post. Great reminders, every single one, Lyn!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Sara, exactly right. Practice makes perfect.

Denise, Hi!! yep, it's really helpful to know what works as well.

Michelle, thanks. Hope it helps.

GB, you made me chuckle. Your point is a good one.

Roland, we can all do with some improvement, I'm sure.

Neurotic, yep, there's being honest, and then there's thwacking you over the head with brutal honesty. No one wants the latter.

Joylene, aw thanks :)

Joy, thanks

Carol, thanks to you, one of my awesome CPs :)

Chemist Ken said...

I tend to forget the part about praising the good stuff. I just automatically assume the writer already knows how good they are. Getting better at that.

baili said...

wo quite a wonderful job

Nas said...

All excellent tips Lynda. I was just now reading this article...when the Emperor is naked-tell him.

Crystal Collier said...

I KNOW I commented last week, but it seems a few of those comments are getting lost. *shakes a fist at blogger* I think this is the best list of critique partner no-no's I've ever seen. You completely nailed it on the head.