Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Constructive Criticism

Yesterday, I touched briefly on the concept of creating a fake religion for your story world. We will go over more world-building techniques later, but today I am going to talk about critiquing.

The best resource for writers is other writers. Even if its just a friend you bounce ideas off of, or an older mentor, you need to give and receive critiques to be a better writer. Having counseled many young writers over the years(and even ran a creative writing club) I can say with great confidence that knowing how to give constructive criticism is vital.

The first step, no matter how bad the subject matter is, is to find one positive thing to say about it. I hate poetry as a rule, and I have heard some very bad teen poetry in my day, but I was always able to open my critiques with a compliment.

Writing is an extremely person thing for most people, and showing it to someone else is very hard. Now, this dynamic changes if you are dealing with an older, more seasoned writer, but for the sake of this journal we’re going to assume you aren’t. So if your first response isn’t something positive, it can be crushing.

Now you can move on into the criticisms. Phrasing is everything here, choice of words makes all the difference. Nothing is ever ‘bad’ in constructive criticism, it’s just ‘not good’. Try to stay away from statements based on personal feeling “I didn’t like this”, or “I didn’t like that”. These have a way of making the whole thing less about helping them and more about talking about what you don’t like. The exception here is if you did like something, since the person is brining their writing to you for your approval, if you really liked a specific part or the whole thing, let them know.

Again, coming back to phrasing, probably the most important thing comes in when you do explain which parts are bad. Or more specifically, when you don’t. If you say “this part needs improvement”, or “this part could be better”, it’s much more uplifting to the individual than “this is no good”.

Finally, try to offer up concrete examples. If something needs improvement, give examples of how they could make it better. Add more detail, make the character’s responses more realistic, consider the laws of physics here. That’s the sort of thing that helps build a stronger writer.

And keep in mind that at the same time you are offering up useful critiques, you are teaching this individual how to critique, and thus building a better writing partner. When I was running the creative writing club, I had plenty of people come in who had absolutely no idea how to offer up anything more helpful than “I liked it.” But meeting after meeting, as they shared their work and received critiques, they learned the basic tricks I have offered above. Just like any other skill, critiquing must be practiced.

I’m going to close today by talking a bit about the book series for which this journal is named, that would be the Course Books. The third book in the series is currently going through final formatting, and will be available just a little later this month. Books one and two, which I link to frequently, are already available. The fourth and fifth volumes are actually finished, though I still need to add about 20,000 words to book 5(and I’m sure I’ll get that in editing).

Also, for those of you playing along in the home game, the count is at 914, and only one person knows what that means. 8-20-12 71-18-3 1-10-5 101-4-3 103-3-2 105-12-7.

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