Critiquing – Assisting or Defeating?

I have done a lot of critiquing, and I have had some work critiqued.  I like reading other peoples work, and as a result of critiquing (and proofreading) I have found a new appreciation for literature.  But I have to wonder, if I am being too critical of the work I am critiquing because I am a writer.

What I mean by this is – I write because I want people to read it.  I read because I enjoy a story.  I often read and critique as I go, so that I get an idea of the story, therefore most of my comments are more about the flow of the story or spelling errors, or something that isn’t quite right.  I try not to be nitpicky about issues (unless it is a word that occurs a lot – like ‘then’) because it might also be a fault that I myself have.

Having had some work done through a critiquing site, I have often found that my work is seriously dressed down (done in the nicest possible way, of course!).  They tell me what is wrong with my story and why I need to change it.  Often it is only one or two people out of the ten to twenty who will read it, but I wonder if they are missing the bigger picture.  Are they reading the story for enjoyment, or are they ripping it apart because they see their own faults in it, or because they are jealous that my story is better than their writing?

That’s a hard one to answer, and when I first started formulating this article, I wondered if perhaps I was too critical in my critiquing.  I don’t read other published stories and pick holes in it (there is a blog out there, totally involved in critiquing the entire Harry Potter series – obviously someone with nothing else to do!)  Once a story is published, it is there to be read, not ripped to pieces and all the faults pointed out.  If the yarn is good enough, you won’t notice the faults.

I have recently given a story to a friend who is an English Teacher and asked her if she would read over it, critique it if you will.  She agreed.  She kept telling me how much she enjoyed reading it, and how she liked the story, the only fault was the timing of the story (which is something that does admittedly need work).  I wonder what my writing friends will think?  Will they view the story as a whole and work on that, or will they find fault with it because they are a writer?

So here is some food for thought.  If you are asked to critique a story, consider it as a whole first.  Are you judging this story as  a writer or as a reader?

 

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6 thoughts on “Critiquing – Assisting or Defeating?

  1. Interesting thoughts on the crit process. I generally do two crits in one – one as a writer and one as a reader. As a writer I say what I think needs work technically, and as a reader I am able to look back on it from a more abstract POV and decide if I enjoyed it or not. Of course, it’s hard to really ‘enjoy’ work that you are critiquing, because you are reading it for a second purpose. I think the most important thing is honesty either way, and to express that your critique is your own personal opinion, and should be taken as such.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this recently as well, because I definitely read something in a different manner when I know it’s ‘finished/published’ than I do when it’s on the way to being so.
    I think it’s definitely important to, as JJ says, give feedback from both perspectives – the reader hat tells you whether you what worked/didn’t, how it was interpreted and the writer bit tells you the why and helps you to figure out how to make it better.
    I think in the past I have critted with more of a writers perspective than a readers, which means I’ve probably been a bit brutal! But I am tending towards a more middle path these days.
    The average reader isn’t necessarily a writer, and is probably reading for pleasure rather than anything else, so I think that thoughts from just readers are important too. A good balance, with complete honesty. And as JJ says, again, an understanding that the critiquer is only one person and its their opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.
    In order to really work on your writing, and improve, you still need to look at all the smaller scale stuff though. Personally if I had to pick, I’d rather someone told me what wasn’t working than what was – it gives me something to work on, and I can just assume that if they didn’t mention it, it’s something I am doing well enough ;-)

  3. As a writer I find the harsh critiques helpful. I can look at each suggestion and agree, disagree or completely replace at my own discretion. Allows me to focus on bits that might not work properly. Consequently I tend to give pretty harsh feedback. But I always let people know I’m harsh.

    With my internet groups I tend to talior critiques to the level of the writer. If their writing is full of gramar and spelling errors then advice about structure is almost useless, no one will get that far.

    Biggest trouble with internet groups is attention span. I write novels (or the first few chapters of novels). Getting someone on line who will critique five hundered words is simple. Getting someone to look at twenty or thirty thousand is another issue.

  4. Thank you JJ, JC and BoredMormon for your comments, everyone has their own ideas about critiquing.

    When I crit, I try and give my impression of what I thought of it to read, what I enjoyed and what I didn’t like. I don’t get too harsh, but if I find something doesn’t work, I will explain why. Whether they accept it or not, is really their choice, and I really don’t mind what they do with the information I have given them.

    I’m not being negative about critiquing, but I often wonder if people judge other peoples work by their own standards.

    By critiquing, I have opened up the world of fantasy, horror and science fiction, but I just wonder if I tell people the things I don’t like in their work because they are things I don’t like in my own. They often say that critiquing others work makes you more aware of your own and this is definitely true.

    BoredMormon, if you have anything you would like looked at, send me a message at KiwiWriters – I prefer larger pieces to smaller ones.

  5. I like to identify things that throw me out of the story as a reader and then try to identify why by putting on my writer’s hat. I think I read more critically because I am a writer, I notice the foibles more and am more susceptible to being thrown out of the story because of it.

    P.S. I’m writing up my critique of Medusa’s Garden now. Sorry for the delay!

  6. Kerryn, like most writers, they do tend to be more critical because they know the art, the work that goes behind it, and the in’s and out’s and I sometimes have to wonder if that is a disadvantage rather than an advantage.

    No worries about Medusa’s Garden – you are a busy girl! :o)

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