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Jae Onasi 01-09-2007 03:32 PM

The Padawan's Guide to Providing Good Critiques
After reading and writing here for a year or so, I've given, received, and read numerous comments. Some have been very helpful, some have not. Since we recently also addressed the issue of commenting in other people's fics in another thread, I realized we needed a guide on providing good, solid, constructive critiques. Offering a constructive critique helps people grow and develop as writers much more than if you simply say "Good fic!" or "Looking forward to the next chapter!" Sure, we all like being told that people enjoy our fics, but in order to grow, we need more help than that.

Please offer your suggestions on improving the quality of critiques. Feel free also to say what kinds of critiques helped you most as you wrote your fic(s), and the kinds of things you like to see when receiving them. Share your thoughts on how to give great criticism--what do you look for in a fic? How do you word your criticism? What do you think makes comments more effective? Are there any pitfalls you avoid when offering comments? Is there anything you always do with your critiques?

Share with the rest of us your helpful tips!

Grey Master 01-09-2007 03:39 PM

Read the whole fic and analyze its meaning if there is any. Try to put yourself in the position of the writer and think why did he/she wrote that fic.
Also, point out the things you will like to look forward to in the fic, and things that the writer requires to make the story more appealing to everybody, any comment is good if its constructive.

Diego Varen 01-09-2007 03:45 PM

Well I admit, critiques that I have made in the past haven't really been helpful to the writer, since all I've been saying is, "Good Chapter, looking foward to more."

Obviously this doesn't help the writer and it makes the reviewer lazy. I admit that I said what I said, because I was too lazy to read, so I do a quick read and if it looked okay, I thought it looked fine. What I think would help writers with their Fics would be to write it like a review, saying what you liked about it, what you didn't like about it and if you could improve in any way. For example, I struggle with writing good battle scenes, while some people can do that easily. If I was struggling with writing a particular scene, I would like members to give me advice about it and give me examples of how to improve.

I hope this all helps and shouldn't this be in the Resource Centre? Thanks for making this Thread Jae.

I thought about putting it in the RC, but since not everyone in CEC goes to the RC, and I wanted this to be easily seen by people who come here, I decided to keep it here in CEC instead. Thanks, Jae

Jae Onasi 01-09-2007 03:48 PM

Athenaprime's "Constructive Critiques 101"
When I was over at Kotorfanmedia, which is a Kotor fanfic/fan media site, I was browsing the fanfic discussion section and came across Athenaprime's thread on Constructive Critiquing and Beta-Reading 101. I PMd her and asked if I could quote it here, because I don't believe I could say it any better. She graciously consented, and so I've quoted it below. She asked that if anyone has suggestions, please add them to her thread as well. Consider double-checking the thread over there to see if someone else has had the same great idea you've had, too. :)


Constructive Critiques 101
by Athenaprime

1. FIRST, DO NO HARM! I cannot stress this enough. Each and every writer contributing to this site has done an amazing and amazingly brave thing by putting his or her work up for public consumption. This may seem like something obvious to a reader (well, duh, if they couldn't handle a few flames then why put their work up), but what you may not know is that a good 90% of people who pen stories (fanfic or otherwise) don't get up the courage to post them somewhere for others to read. If you are going to offer a critique, then it is your duty as a reader to do so in a respectful manner. If you want to pick a fight, find somewhere else to do it rather than in someone's story. If you are also a fic poster, ask yourself how you would feel reading an inflammatory review of your own work.

2. Ask yourself what is your purpose in posting the review. Constructive critiques are most helpful when they come from a genuine desire to help someone else improve. If you have the urge to post a critique for just about any other reason, sit on it for two days. If you simply hate the story for some undefinable reason, fine--different strokes for different folks--but posting a review that simply says, "I hate this and you suck," will do nobody any favors. Use your browser's back button and find something else to read. If, however, you can pinpoint why you hate it, and ways the author could improve the story, then you have the beginnings of a constructive critique.

3. Check the sarcasm at the door. In relation to the above point, if your purpose in posting a review is to showcase your own scathing wit, go to a flame forum and have at it. Even if you believe your wit isn't hurtful, or if being hurtful wasn't your intention, people can and will still be hurt by it. Humor is tough to do, and it's even tougher to write, and it's damn near impossible to do while criticizing another's work. Chances are, the humor will be lost and all you'll be doing is unnecessarily browbeating somebody who tried their best as far as you know. Even the worst story is someone's pride and joy. Be careful about how you tell someone else that their baby is ugly.

4. Take up boxing if you want to beat people up. Any Psych 101 book will tell you that positive reinforcement is much more effective on people than negative punishment. Posting a flaming critique is negative punishment. When you beat some poor author for mistakes they made, how likely is it that they'll take any advice you have to offer to heart? Chances are, they'll either be crushed and never post again (so you'll never know if your advice was heeded or your critique helped in any way), or their ego will shore itself up and write you off as a flamer with nothing valid to say. You'll have wasted your time and your pixels.

5. Ask why. If you love the story, ask yourself what about it made you love it so much? if you loathe it, ask the same question, and do a good and honest job of answering yourself. You will not be doing anyone any favors by posting "I hate this crap" without being able to say why. Even if you discover it's just not your cuppa, expressing that in your critique (while always remembering Rule #1) will help the author a lot more than a blanket condemnation, even if it is just to realize that not everyone likes what they like. If you can pinpoint things like plot, characterization, or grammar, then you have the makings of a critique that will actually help an author. If you can say, "so-and-so seems out of character," you now have something concrete and understandable, and a good author will note your critique (and probably thank you for it eventually).

6. Nothing is set in stone. Especially on fanfic sites, most works posted are works in progress, which means the author changes them as they go along. This means your good, constructive critique can lead an author or a story down a new, unexpected, and entertaining path. This also means that posting is part of the author's learning process, and the story's growth process. Change is inevitable. As a critiquer, your good, constructive critique will be part of that change. Before you unilaterally write off a story, ask yourself if you have the whole picture.

Now...after you've assimilated the what-not-to-do's, here are some techniques that will make your critiques valued contributions, and give you the opportunity to maybe change someone's writing for the better.

1. For every negative, find a positive. Even the worst story in the world does not universally suck across the board. If the piece you're reading seems so, then consider it a challenge for you as the critiquer to find the merits in it. Going back to Psych 101, positive reinforcement lets the subject know the behavior they are good at, and encourages more of it. Presenting balanced critiques underscores the fact that you are serious about wanting to help the author, and the author will be more likely to listen to your criticisms when you demonstrate you also have the ability to see the story's strong points.

2. Justify yourself. If you don't like the way an author is handling something, and want to speak up about it, then be a sport and offer up a suggestion for changing it. The old saying, "if you're not part of the solution, don't be part of the problem," has its place here. If you simply say, "I don't like this," or, "this doesn't work," then offer up a suggestion as to what would work for you. The author doesn't have to take your advice, but at least s/he will have another idea about how to accomplish something in their story. And you as a critiquer will have learned something about writing that you can apply to your own work.

3. Be gentle. Too many people confuse "brutal" with "honest." You can be honest and tough and really push an author without being an a$$hole about it. Telling someone they need to set their Mary Sue main character on fire and put her out of the world's misery is brutal. It's also unnecessary and insulting to an author who was trying his or her best. And after telling an author something like that, do you honestly think they'll line up for more? It is just as easy (and a hell of a lot more productive) to say, "at present, your character reads like a Mary Sue. Try giving her/him more serious character flaws, and making the challenges she/he needs to overcome more difficult. For example..." In the second example, you've told the author that, a.) the character's state can be changed, b.) the character needs work in specific areas, and c.) you have a concrete idea on how to do that, to give the author a brainstorming start-off point.

You do not need to couch your critiques in insincere gushery. But simple politeness isn't too much to ask. How would you want a critique delivered to you? And before you say, "I would want them to be brutal and lay it on thick," be aware that in reality, others can lambaste you far more hurtfully than you can anticipate, and about different things than you might think they'd go after. Be honest--do you really want someone coming up to you and telling you that something precious to you, something you've worked hard on, and something you thought was the best you could do, downright sucked rotten eggs? If you can really and honestly say yes, then know that you're more of a masochist than most people, and that others *don't* like to be hurt as much as you do.

4. Remember that someone else is trusting you with their baby. Respect their trust in you by giving a decent critique. Put care into it. Check your own ego at the door. Be honest, but gentle. Do no harm. You have the power to either help polish the gem of someone's talent or crush their dreams under your boot heel. And if it's your goal to participate in the latter, don't expect thanks for it. Critiques are meant to help an author do better. Encourage strong points and offer kind corrections for weak points. Authors will thank you, and the community will come to respect your opinions. And when it comes time for you to receive critiques on your own work, your good example may have inspired *your* critiquers to be just as balanced, sincere, and professional as you try to be.

Diego Varen 01-09-2007 03:53 PM

Thanks for posting that Jae and please tell Athenaprime thanks for letting us read it. I shall read it after posting this.

Emalin 01-09-2007 06:41 PM

Yes, thank you, Jae; it's thoughtful of you to post this here. I hope to start reading more fics here and on other sites, so this is a great help. :^:

KotO[REvan] 01-09-2007 07:24 PM

Nice thread, this will help in the future.
I have a few things to say about critique; don't make it short and don't make it pointless. Such as "Nice, keep it up!" as Pottsie has typed above. When you post critique like this, it really makes the author feel like you didn't actually read it (I say this because that's what I think sometimes). It really is best to read the writer's fic through-out and post a good comment/critique about it. If they're doing bad in grammar or spelling, notify them in your post. And if you see areas in their fic where they need help on, give them a little advice on what you think would be good to see.

Also to the authors; be patient! I've seen some people on this forum, during my short stay, that get too impatient with posts on their thread. So they bump the thread with a two sentence long add-on or they bump it with a "Anyone wanna post about my fic?". I've found that if you wait, people will comment/critique on your thread eventually. And if they don't for a matter of days then try to add another chapter that is well thought-out and is as descriptive and has as much effort put into it as your first chapter. This is the advice I have on Fan Fictions. Hope it helps.

JediMaster12 01-09-2007 08:29 PM

This is a handy thread to have and I appreciate the gesture Jae.

I was just discussing this with Pottsie on my Heart of Deception thread when he asked about my archive edition of HotG. I know he's lazy but when he can, he does give a good review and ask about my intentions on where the plot is going. A good critique points out the good points that the reviewer thinks is good and the bad things say the weakness of a plot or the clarity issues. Athenaprime's guide is a good one to follow.

KotO[REvan] you emphasized a good point about patience on the part of the authors. People will read them but posting is a time issue. Just keep posting a new segment and people will eventually say something.

Jae Onasi 01-09-2007 11:10 PM

And don't be afraid to critique the moderators, admins, or machievelli. I think some people see mach's name or the moderator status title and think 'man, if I say anything negative, they'll give me a negative review or ban me.'

Nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn't matter how experienced we are at writing, or how high we are on the forum chain-of-command. We all need help making our writing better, too, and any help is useful. None of us is ever going to give you a hard time if you're giving a critique that is intended to help us improve our writing, and we need that help just as much as anyone else. Best-selling writers have editors who read through and critique their stories, and if best-selling authors can use help to write better, we all can. :)

CSI 01-09-2007 11:58 PM

Same here, and, eh, I don't know how to say, except I like it, and because, uh, I think it's very resourceful and I can refer to this when I don't know how to comment on fanfics.

Also, thanks to Athenaprime for these tips, too.

machievelli 05-04-2008 12:32 PM


Originally Posted by Jae Onasi
And don't be afraid to critique the moderators, admins, or machievelli. I think some people see mach's name or the moderator status title and think 'man, if I say anything negative, they'll give me a negative review or ban me.'

There's an old saying 'when you think you're perfect, try walking on water'. I have believed it all my life and apply it to my writing. Part of the reason I started a poll when I started my tenure as critic was because I wasn't sure how well I would do. Darth 333 spent a lot of our first conversations assuring I would not be a Hollywood style critic looking for every bad thing to ding, and I watched that poll like a hawk, and still do.

A couple of the forumites have commented (When I would ask plaintively why no one commented) that I scared the crap out of you kids. Yet if you look at the poll, only nine have told me 'go away'. Of those only four have been authors I have critiqued, one of whom gave me that because I accidentaly attributed a story to another author. Of those three I reviewed all of them after their scorn, and hope that I was still honest, not an overbearing old man, or a whimpering boy who didn't want to get hurt again.

If it's good, I'll say so, if not, I'll tell you why. Not because I think I am better, all I have on most of you is almost 40 years of doing the same thing. That experience like any life experience assures that I can point out the same pitfalls I have dealt with. There isn't a mistake you can make that I haven't made myself.

And to earn my pricely salary. Before you ask, I was promised one thing by Darth333 when I started. What is incidental. But I have been well paid for my work here. Every time I see an author I critiqued improve, every time one of you asks me to review it early or beta read, I am handed cash in the only way that counts for a man doing my job for that much money,

The fact that I can tell you're listening.

Bee Hoon 05-05-2008 09:33 AM


Originally Posted by machievelli
There's an old saying 'when you think you're perfect, try walking on water'.

That, or try re-reading the fic when your brain isn't fried by sleep deprivation, and be utterly astounded that you can write such nonsense:( *sigh*

On topic, imho, the best tip in there is "ask why". A simple nod in acknowledgment of a little joke or a particular turn of phrase or plot twist always gives me the warm fuzzies, and I'm sure that's the case for all the authors here!

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