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February 15th, 2006, 03:55 PM
How do you decide what you're going to critique? Just stories you like? Just stories you dislike? When you go about writing your critique, do you take notes as you read, or just write it all out once you're done with the story? I joined a critique group online, and realized I haven't done this sort of thing since college. Any input about the process (not so much what to put in the critique), would be helpful.

February 15th, 2006, 04:33 PM
If I read something on these pages, I citique it, if I have the time, and if I have something to say. (I rarely just say, that's great, or that sucks. Although, perhaps, sometimes the former would be appreciated... Hm....)

If I don't manage to finish it I don't critique it. (I once critiqued the first page of something I quit on; I didn't feel comfortable, because I had the feeling I didn't know what I was talking about).

I always go through once as a normal reader; then, I either give a general impression (sometimes, plus comments about features that struck out - grammar, inconsistencies, especially appealing formulations...), or I go through it again (in speed-read mode) to analyse something I think is key (a strength, a weakness, something intriguing...). I only do the latter with stuff I liked, and only if I have the time.

Sometimes, though rarely, I have the reply window open and copy/paste anything that might be of interest. (I don't really know when/why I do that, occasionally; I suppose it's the time-saving version of having a second go at it.)

Sometimes, I manage to confuse myself to the extent, that I close the window instead of submitting the reply.

Very occasionally, I do close readings at various detail levels.

One thing I try to avoid is to impose my voice on the story. Any edits I suggest are meant to illustrate the point I was trying to make (as my abstract explanations can be hard to follow at times; I'm not always that coherent...)

I try to avoid clichés ("show, don't tell" etc.), to the point that I feel embarrassed when I do use them (because they seem appropriate).

That's about it, I suppose. Also, I'm customisable. What that means is: if, in a thread, an author asks specific questions, I'm going to answer those and be otherwise silent (unless something's especially brilliant, or just grates).

simon woodhouse
February 15th, 2006, 09:39 PM
I try to offer observations rather than suggestions on how I would change what is written. I think that's more inline with how a real reader reads, as opposed to someone doing a crit.

If the average man on the street is reading a story purely for pleasure, and something comes up he doesn't understand, he's going to think 'oh, I didn't understand that because of this', and not 'oh, I didn't understand that and I would have done it like this'.

I don't think it's down to me to tell the writer how to write something, if I did I'd be doing her job for her. I just say what I liked and what I didn't like and why.

February 16th, 2006, 04:04 PM
i also first try and read it once as a "reader", and then a second time with a critical eye.

a lot of the time we read drafts - sometimes early drafts - so detailed comments on technique, etc. might not be that appropriate. so, on the first read i'm looking to be able to convey to the author:

- how it made me feel
- overall tone
- does any consistent theme come across? is it subtle or bang you over the head?
- how do i feel about the characters - in my gut. sympathetic, boring, flat, etc.
- if its just a part of a project, am i left curious about what happens before / after? how curious?

then on the second read i'll try and think about
- consistency (in characterization, language, etc.)
- realism - or rather things not ringing false - for setting, actions, etc.

stuff like that

February 16th, 2006, 06:46 PM
A lot of my decision about what story to critique is time driven. If I have time, I'll give it a read. I also feel a certain obligation to those who have commented on my stories.

What do I do? If it's from here I usually print the story (a disposable version) then when I read it I can write comments on the page. I look for parts that don't make sense, or which stand out in some way, or where the pacing is messed up. I also look for what's good. Then I write comments from my notes. I try to be specific and constructive. Sometimes I will offer a "I might do this here" comment, hopefully it is understood as an example, not a command.


February 19th, 2006, 06:32 AM
I don't critique much on the SFFworld site, but I do through critters.org.

Initially I read the first page. This usually gives me an idea of how much work it's going to be (I either do a good, detailed job, or I don't bother). I have to admit, if it's real newbie stuff, requiring crit at all levels (pace, characterisation, POV, tense, grammar, paragraph and sentence structure) I don't bother. I have too much on my plate to be able to give that sort of work the time it needs.

I select stuff that has real promise, but needs certain issues tightening up (POV slips here and there, balancing out pacing, crafting good dialogue). People who I feel are maybe a couple of rungs below me on the ladder to whom I can give a useful leg up.

I also look for good work that is clearly publishable and do a line edit, just highlighting proofreading stuff and any minor points that might be worth considering. In this case I'm more a fresh pair of eyes, doing work that the writer would usually be able to do for themselves if they had time to put the ms away and let it 'cool down'. Since nowadays stuff tends to be sent out quite quickly after it's written, I feel it's useful to have someone go through it with a fine comb rather than just saying 'that was really good.'

I go through stuff line by line, usually spending about an hour per 4000 words (obviously there's a big variation). If it's a long piece, with repetitive problems, I will crit about 6000 words and leave the rest unless there is a specific agreement with the individual writer to do more.

I pull out everything except punctuation and spelling. I'm not your teacher, and if you can't spellcheck your own work that's not my problem. Punctuation in modern fiction is often a stylistic choice, so unless there's something I really disagree with, I don't touch it.

Lines that don't flow simply get marked as 'feels clumsy'

Stuff that doesn't make sense gets ???

repeated words or phrases (those favourites we all unconsciously use) get highlighted.

Sections that have got tied up in knots I rewrite as an example for consideration. Ditto dialogue.

General notes on pacing and characterisation get left to the end of the crit.

There's much more, of course, but that's an outline of how I crit. Feel free to contact me if you want any further info.

February 19th, 2006, 04:05 PM
I've just critiqued 26 chapters of my friend's novel, chapter for chapter.
This is what worked best for me.

I take notes as I go along, just noting things down as they occur to me.

Then, when I write it down properly, I group things.

- First a general impression:
did I understand where this chapter was going, what was good/bad about it as a whole, how did it fit into the rest of the novel, what did I feel the main points were and did they work.
- Then, more or less chronologically, positive and negative details. I don't quote in full, only three or four words of the part I mean (I figure she can go through with word search to find which part I mean, if she doesn't recognise it)
- And last of all spelling, word choice and other technical stuff.

I find that if I don't take notes beforehand, my critique is less coherent.
Hope that helped!

ETA: As to choice: I tend to have a soft spot for beginners. I figure, people helped me a lot, so even if it's amateurish I try to give some help. I just don't go into so much detail and focus on two or three important points.