How to Critique Fiction

I’m just back from writer’s group, in which I received critiques on a fantasy short story of mine.

Scott, the critiquer, always gives great critiques. Here’s why:

  • He’s detailed. As he writes, if anything strikes him as strange, out-of-place, or awkward, he immediately notes it in the margins. This is incredibly valuable, as I try to figure out what a reader understands as he or she reads.
  • He doesn’t rant or punish. He describes his reactions and problems, and suggests remedies, in the spirit of improving the story. His entire critique is focused on improving the story and the author.
  • He’s unfiltered. While always polite, he writes down every opinion and judgment as he makes them, even if they’re personal or may not apply to every reader. As he says, the author is always free to ignore every critique made, but it’s better to have more suggestions to think about than less.
  • He marks everything with an easy-to-read red pen, in print (not cursive).
  • He writes overall impressions on the last page, so I can compare his reactions as he read the story to his final impression. This is invaluable.

If you ever have to critique someone else’s writing, please emulate Scott. I look forward to critiques partly because of him.

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