What makes a worthy critique? Those of us who have tried on multiple critique partners over a number of years, in hopes of finding the one right fit, have a fairly good idea of what helps us in our own writing. Most critiquers are sensitive enough not to rip apart another artist’s work. It takes a bit of experience to find that happy ground between sugar-coating and bashing. A good critique should be productive, not painful.
Five days from now, eighteen advanced writers will come together with Carol Lynch Williams for a Master Class/Writing salon in central Texas. Those of us in attendance have received five pages and a synopsis of everyone’s work-in-progress and are charged with offering productive feedback during our workshop day.
As I immerse myself into each of these pages, so full of tremendous talent, I try to frame my comments with many points in mind. Cynthia Leitich Smith said it best when, at an earlier event, she suggested using the sandwich method when criquing. For the purposes of this blog post, I offer the hamburger method.
Bun: Always begin with positives. There is something to compliment in every manuscript, even if the story isn’t to your tastes; the concept, unique setting, visual details, kid-friendly dialog, humor, marketability, etc.
Meat and fillers: Respectfully offer constructive criticism in the middle. Maybe this is about a voice that sounds too mature for the speaker, a problem with story logic, a detail that detracts from the story, or an unrealistic emotional response. Maybe even a secondary character that does nothing for the story. Whatever the criticism, frame it with empathy. We’re all in this writing boat together. Do unto others…
Bun: Always end with positives. Compliment the writer for tackling the project and encourage him/her to keep at it. If your middle is too “meaty”, restate some earlier compliments.
Ultimately, our goal is to satisfy the writer’s longing for productive feedback without giving them a creative bellyache.
“There are two kinds of dramatic critics: destructive and constructive.” George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) American critic