Penning Valuable (and Helpful!) Critiques

In case you didn’t see my Twitter profile, read my tweets, follow this blog, or my FB page — I’m taking a Gotham fiction writing course.  Did I mention I LOVE it??  Anywho, now on to today’s topic…writing helpful critiques.




One of the first topics discussed in the Gotham course was how to pen a valuable critique of a fellow writer’s story submission. This came up because the first few days saw very few critiques posted. The instructor, Michael Davis (MD), decided to jump in and give additional support for this topic. I say additional because he provided a rather lengthy post WITH a critique example at the end of it. However, as the discussion unfolded, it became clear that many students did not feel comfortable critiquing the work of the other students because they felt they were novices.

Well, MD shared that part of the experience of reading and critiquing work from your peers includes one’s experiences in reading. We have read all of our lives and through that process have absorbed thoughts, ideas and insights about particular genres, styles and books. We should use those experiences to help shape what we discuss within our critiques.

MD also suggested that giving a summary of the work, sharing what you liked &/or thought worked well before going into what didn’t work so well in the piece is a great way to do a critique. This way, the critique writer is sharing positive feedback initially before sharing the not-so-positive stuff.

Another tip is to take a look at the writer’s bio and background prior to reading their story. This gives you a sense of who the writer is, their worldview, and maybe the bio will give a clue as to why the writer wrote the story you are about to read. While it is not germane to reading and critiquing the actual story the writer wrote it will sometimes help. For instance, if it is a WWII story and the writer was an infantryman. After reading his/her bio, you anticipate some ‘real’ Vet dialogue, or accurate depictions of battles from a perspective not previously seen/read before.

What if you read the story amped to get the above info and the writing is terrible? The critique writer may be more sympathetic and wonder if the Vet needs a ghost writer. Or, might you think the Vet is not really a Vet of the war? Who knows, but you get the gist.

In essence, MD suggested that we share our thoughts about what we feel as we read the story. Each of our perspectives is valid as we are READERS first and foremeost. While we should not sugarcoat what we write in the critique, we can frame things in the positive. Lastly, we can also ‘notice’ things about the story we read. We don’t have to say ‘if this were my story, I would do xyz –‘. What we could say is, ‘I noticed that you shifted the POV at the bottom of page x. Was that intentionally done to show us abc?

The goal is to share your thoughts – from one writer to another. A simple way would be to turn it around. How would you feel if you received the critique you are about to submit/send/email? How would you prefer to hear it? Remember, at the end of the day this is a medium of expression. We don’t want to trample on budding writer egos!


Writing Rule #1: Verbosity Does Not Make It Literary



I’m taking this writing course with Gotham (NYC) and there are so many aspects of the fiction skill basket that are being covered, discussed, exercised and butchered.  Yes, BUTCHERED.  By whom?  Yours true-ly. 🙂

The most fun butchering occurred in this week’s exercise.  We were to write a a descriptive sentence about the sky we’re looking at right now.  Okay, no biggie, right?  (Oh, you’d be so wrong if you agreed!)

My first stab at this assignment went like so…

The flat whitened grey blue expanse filled the uppermost portion of the subway car window complete with wispy strips of cumulus clouds strewn about; the sky seemed to be encouraging me to doze off as I stood sways arthythmically while the train bumbled along its route.

Did you happen to count how many words are in this one sentence?  46

Yup.  I know — OVERkill. [Well, mine was not the longest one sentence!]

But lemme tell you, this was a freakin’ hee-larious class because the sentences got wilder, longer and crazier.  There were a couple of short sweet and to the point ones (oops — a cliche!  OMG.)  But they were in the minority.  The big verbose long-winded ones ruled the class and the last few days.

Before descriptions, it was POV.  Before that we were focusing on plot and the first lesson was on character.  We still have  bunch of tools to handle  but I am most interested in gaining more insight into ‘visual styles of writing’.  This sounds like it will yield a lot of great depth in my work.

Getting back to the descriptive assignment I redid it and submitted a shorter (hopefully!) cleaner line:
The train bumbled along as I stood swaying and watching the flat grey-blue expanse interrupted only by spears of buildings.

So, even if I learn nothing else I know that a sentence should NOT have 46-billion words in it — length does not mean literary!! :-O

Ta-ta for now,