Alice’s Restaurant

December 10, 2006

Critiquing Rant

Filed under: Writing Craft, Writing Life — aliceaudrey @ 8:09 pm

If there’s one thing I’ve done a lot of over the years, it’s critiquing.  I have come to the conclusion that most of the time when someone does a poor job of it, they simply don’t know how to go about it.

In my experience, the most valuable thing a critiquer can do is simply write down how they react to the story as they are going along.  Something confusing comes up?  Say so.  Don’t like the hero?  Tell the author.  If you can also say why, that’s great.  But the absolute best thing a critiquer can do is simply allow the author to watch them read.

There have been many times I would dig in my heels and not fix something when a critiquer went to a lot of effort of telling me what to write in place of what I wrote.  The same thing in the hands of a critiquer who simply says “I don’t like this part.  The hero looks like a dweeb”  will get an immediate revision.

Probably the most annoying of critiques is when the critiquer goes through meticulously converting your voice into hers.  I don’t want every word altered to suit the critiquer’s taste.  Tell me when a phrase doesn’t work at all, or simply leave it alone.  This tends to be done more by novice writers than those with more experience.

As to those who viciously tear into someone’s work for the thrill of being able to hurt someone, I tend to blow them off.  Their power trip is blinding them so much I seriously doubt they can actually see what I wrote.  Why should I care what they think?  Besides, those people don’t generally last very long.  No one wants to hear what they say, let alone bother reading their precious work.  In a small group, they simply aren’t invited back.  In a big one they are either reviled, or ignored.



  1. I agree — It is hard when it’s your voice and style they want to correct (not simply pointing out typos or dangling participles (my favorite thing) — heck if they want it written a certain way, they can write their own darn story!

    Comment by Pam — December 11, 2006 @ 12:44 am

  2. I definitely agrees — though I will admit that when I critique, I do sometimes make suggestions for a different construction on a sentence or a different word. It’s always proceeded with “Have you considered” and critiques always carry the caveat that these are my opinions and are not writ in stone. It’s also done only when something stands out strongly for me.

    Actually, the pieces where I find myself doing that the most are the usually the ones I like the best. More than once I’ve wrapped up a critique by saying that I’ve found myself picking nits because the piece worked well enough for me otherwise that this stuff stood out.

    As for people who use critiquing to slam others — I have no patience for them. Clearly, they’ve got their own problems and a feel a desperate need to take it out on everyone else. They’re not a good addition to any group and spread negative energy no writer needs around.

    My biggest pet peeve in critiquing, though, is the people who repeat “the rules” — “Your hero and heroine must meet on the first page,” etc. When someone does that, I realize that thy’re not likely to offer me points I can actually use because they’re too locked into slavishly following the writing books or lectures they’ve heard.

    Comment by Caro — December 11, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

  3. I don’t like to rewrite sentences. Mostly, I wouldn’t know how, but I think it doesn’t fit.

    Comment by miladyinsanity — December 11, 2006 @ 3:33 pm

  4. Exactly, Pam. Let them use their own wording in their own stories.

    OTHO I’ll admit to throwing in words on someone else’s manuscript when the wording could almost be considered a typo. For example, when the word “the” is left out of a sentence where it clearly belongs.

    Caro I know what you mean about “the rules”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gently suggested people let me know if they honestly had problems following whose point of view we were in when they claimed I was head hopping.

    May, your respect for my voice is one of the things I greatly appreciate about the critiques you’ve done for me. Thank you.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — December 11, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

  5. Woohoo, I finally made it over here! Great blog, Alice.

    I actually find critiquing to be nearly as hard as writing. For a long time, I had a tendency to be one of those critiquers who was a little nit-picky. I guess it was a reflection of my normally anal retentive nature.

    But the more I put my own work out there, the more I scaled back, trying to give only critiques that I would find helpful if they were applied to my work. I try to remember that if we all wrote in the same style, the literary world would be a much more boring place. 🙂

    Comment by Kelly — December 12, 2006 @ 1:23 am

  6. Hi Kelly! You made it! I take it this means the boss has stepped out for a minute. *grin*

    I don’t think your nit-picking was necessarily a result of an anal retentive nature. It think all new critiquers go through it. I’ve seen it so very, very many times over the last 30 years. The first thing new critiquers see is the most superficial. What’s more, wording is something most of us feel some confidence about.

    How many of us can pinpoint the place where the characters goals and motives no longer mesh with the basic conflict? And yet the deep-down critique is what all writers need the most. If you get that elemental level of the story wrong, no amount of rewording will make it worth reading.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — December 12, 2006 @ 3:29 am

  7. *blush8

    Comment by miladyinsanity — December 14, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

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