30 July 2011

The Quick Critique – Critiquing Writing – Part 2

Okay, so you’re looking at this piece of writing in front of you. Someone requested a quick once over of the piece. The writer wanted your impressions. Perhaps they’ve asked for a specific something from you. This may be true more with genre writers, but anyone can ask for a focused critique. No problem.
Personally, I recommend having a piece of paper and pen or pencil with you when working any critique. It allows you to make notes on your impressions without marking up the manuscript with unnecessary marks. With computers, it’s easier for a writer to give you a throw away copy of the story. However, the scrap paper offers more space for notes, so it’s worth having handy.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will assist you in this process. If your writing has issues with shifting point of view, touch on the subject if it jumps out at you, but don’t concentrate on the subject. With all that said, here’s what you do.
First step: Read the story. Duh. The first pass won’t be a deep reading. You just want to get a feel for the voice, the style.
On the scrap paper, write down impressions of the story as you read. Include both good and bad impressions. I’ve had a sheet that started with “Great Opening!” followed by a series of notes on shifting point of view, only to praise two more unique phrasings I’d not seen before. If something in the story freezes you midsentence, that deserves a notation as well.  Draw a line on the page to separate the initial impressions from the next step.
Step two: Go through the story a second time. This pass requires a bit deeper reading. You’re reading this time for show stoppers. Find that sentence that took looking at five times before you figured out what the writer wanted to say. If the writer gave you a throw away copy, note the issues on the manuscript. I’ll use a pencil and draw a bracket around the offending sentence. If jargon or other story specific piece grabs you and won’t let go, question that as well. Make notes about each piece you’ve found on your paper.
With critiques like this, two passes may take all the time you have available. With the second pass complete, now you want to present your findings to the writer. Go through your notes with the writer, giving a small explanation on what you’ve found. I’ll cover this a little more in another post.
Before that post, however, let me give a Big Important Thought on the subject of critique writing.  Normally, I won’t give absolutes here. I don’t feel it’s my place. Today, I’ll make an exception.
NEVER EVER state that a piece of writing is crap, garbage, or any other euphemism you can think of for horrible.
Pay attention to what you find in others’ writings. It may be you’ve seen it before – in your own.


  1. So far, that has been the simplest how-to critique piece I've read. I find critiquing a lot of fun, but sometimes a lot of work too.

  2. Thanks! My intention with this post was to allow someone to run a quick overview of a piece without having to burrow into grammar books and such. I've got another posting planned with a more in depth critique technique planned. Stay tuned!