Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Criticizing or Critiquing?

In the world or writing there’s a thin line between critiquing and criticizing. Unfortunately, some writers (especially emerging writers) take offense when a mentor or a fellow writer critiques his/her work. When I edit someone’s short story, which is on a rare occasion, I am extremely careful; I try to be objective, professional, yet honest. Below are some of the techniques I apply when critiquing a short story.

• I usually highlight passages that I find confusing or that don't seem important and relevant to the rest of the story.

• I circle in red the wrong tenses.

• I underline or circle weak adjectives and/or verbs.

• I point out all figurative devices: allusions, alliteration, similes, symbols, metaphors and other similar techniques.

• I ask the author if these literary techniques make the reading experience more enjoyable or strengthen the story.

• I make sure the ending the author’s trying to convey relates both to the story as a whole and to the beginning. Does the ending resolve the plot and bring closure to the crisis of the characters?

I find that my fellow writers usually respond positively to my technique. However, last year an acquaintance of mine asked me to read her story and to give her my opinion. So I did. She was not thrilled with my comments because she thought I was criticizing her. I told her to get a second opinion.

Have you dealt with oversensitive writers who are not open to constructive criticism? Do you know anyone in your writer’s circle who falls into this category? Or are you guilty of being of one them?

P.S. the writer in my anecdote never admitted I was right but she asks for my opinion from time to time. (LOL!)


  1. I also found out that knowing my cps on a personal level helps too, they understand my sense of humor and sarcasm.

  2. Thanks for your helpful tips (as always!), Claudia :) I was recently given a blogging award that I'd love to pass onto you. Visit in your spare time to see the details :)

    Take care,
    Ms. C

  3. I wimp out and just point out what I think are the good things in the story I'm critiquing!!!

    I've had both criticisms and proper critiques. For me criticism is a very negative subjective opinion without any offer of a positive alternative suggestion.

    I used to be quite sensitive when I first started but these days I just hide somewhere quiet and dark and will myself to re-charge! LOL! Take care

  4. Hi Joanna,
    Yes, sometimes it helps when the person critiquing your work knows you or your writing style. But if the critique is coming from a professional or someone who's been on the field for a while one should be humble to hear comments. Don't you agree?

    Hi Ms. C,
    Wow! it's been a while. Thank you for stopping by and many thanks on the wonderful award you're passing on to me. Much appreciated! :)

    Dear Old Kitty,
    I thought you'd be as daring as Charlie ;) How could you be shy about it. Believe me we learn "a lot" in the process. I know I have. I am tactful when I edit/critique but the process itself has also taught me to be a stronger person, writer, editor.
    have a great day!

  5. My martial arts trainer always tells me: "You have to remain smart about the game".

    Same thing to writing. It's easy to think everything you write is made out of pure gold. It's harder to actually write something worth that much.

    Breaking sensitivities is like breaking people in the army, it's necessary to make them better. I do it all the time in the gym. I am an advocate of the heavy pen :)

  6. Hi Ben,
    Ooohhh, I like that "advocate of the heavy pen" ;) LOL!
    Being a teacher myself helps me a lot when I critique someone's work. I am stern yet tactful and professional. I've also learned to be tolerant. ;)

  7. We had one person in my writing group who was particularly defensive. In the end, it actually became pointless to criticise and we just noded our heads!

  8. i agree with old kitty about always having an alternative suggestion, but sometimes even that comes off as being a know-it-all. Bottom line is no one wants to feel like they failed.

    When I taught 2nd grade and graded writing I would always find one very specific thing I liked (you can always find something) and lead with that so they felt good going into it, then we'd focus on the most important issue, and then I'd show punctuation mistakes.

  9. Hi Talli,
    Oh, I totally understand you. I've found myself nodding around certain people :(

    Hi Chris,
    Although I agree with what you're saying, I also have to consider the fact we're adults and professional writers. I do begin my critique with something positive about the story but it would be totally unfair to omit the bad parts.
    Thank you for sharing your comment.

  10. It's very true that how you provide comment is very important. Saying your story/text is blah blah instead of you did so and so is one way, I was told, while teaching a college course. That said, if a person is too defensive, I think it is good for the instructor/ critic to speak frankly to him or her about their attitude, in private. It is important for any professional to understand that they cannot grow unless they learnt to accept analysis about their work.

  11. Hi Veena,
    You hit the nail: you can't grow as a writer if you can't accept criticism (constructive, that is). You have to be humble and listen to what others have to say (I'm talking about emerging writers, but even professional writers listen to their editors).