A Guide to Critiquing
Art critiques are lightning rods for conflict. The goal of this guide is to make the interaction between critic and writer easier. Consider it a suggestion on how to conduct yourself, both when critiquing and when requesting critiques from others.
This guide is divided into two parts: how to request a critique, and how to provide a critique.
Part 1 - When requesting a critique.
1 - Format your work correctly.
a - Use tags.
[Crit] Title of Work. [Word Count][Genre]
Using these tags helps would-be critics identify stories which interest them.
b - Preserve your text.
If you copy and paste your work from a word editor into a reddit self post, your work will lose it’s formatting. This creates massive walls of text which will be impossible for a potential critic to read through. Take the time to go through your post and add the appropriate line breaks. Also be aware that reddit self posts have 10000 character limits. Do not circumvent this measure by replying to your self post with story continuations.
An alternative to consider is using an easily accessible online document. Google Docs is one of the best, but other services exist as well.
Try not to use proprietary formats such as a PDF, and, if at all avoidable, do not add credential blocks to your work that force users to sign in to see your writing. Not all people will be able to access these.
2 - Know when it is appropriate to ask for a critique.
You are asking other people to help you. To provide a critique, that person is giving you their time and attention. Do not waste it.
Please don’t expect others to read your work if:
1 - It is not proof-read.
First - If you cannot be bothered to read through your story looking for the simple errors, you shouldn’t expect this of others. Second - The first draft of anything is crap. If you haven’t done at least one run-through, it is probably not in any state of ready.
2 - All you have written is the prologue/introduction/part of the first chapter.
It is great that you have just written the prologue to the next great sci-fi novel. Unfortunately, it is near impossible to properly critique a work that is little more than a thought in your mind. To get anything meaningful back from the community, you need to present something more complete - a whole chapter or a whole scene. The other side to this is that if all you have written is the prologue, it is a sign to others that you know very little about what your book or world is about.
3 - If you are only seeking affirmation that your work is good.
Be honest with yourself about why you are posting your work for others to see. Unfortunately, a good number of people only post their work for others to read because they are expecting praise for the amazing writing they have done. When their expectations are dashed by a critic who finds faults in said work, it can lead to frustration for both parties. This is the number one reason that writing critiques can lead to conflict.
3 - Let people know what kind of feedback is important to you.
There are many components to the art of writing, all of it subjective in importance. Some people will place a higher priority on characterization than they do on dialogue, others will think story is more important than plot. If you believe you are running thin in characterization, for example, feel free to ask up front for critics to pay special attention.
One other important thing to include is you goal for the piece. Are you trying to write something emotional? Are you trying to write something publishable?
To help your critics help you, let them know up front which elements you would like feedback on the most. These include:
Setting / World Building
Your goals for the piece.
Anything else that is important to you.
4 - Handle yourself with dignity, treat your critics with respect. Do this whether or not you believe they deserve it.
This is the perhaps the most important point in this guide. When you receive a critique, be gracious. When a person spends their time giving you a critique, they are doing you a massive favor. They might - and probably will - say things that you believe inaccurate. You might even believe some of their feedback to be malicious. Possibly they are just jealous of your talent.
Whether or not you agree with their opinion does not matter. If you cannot find any other reason to give them compliments, simply thank them for their time, attention and opinion, and leave them alone.
It is important to note that inciting arguments after a critique because you disagree is the number one way to prove that you are immature in your craft. It will be a warning to other would-be-critics to avoid critiquing your work.
5 - Don’t argue.
This is generally the same point as 4, but their combined importance bears repeating. If you believe someone is wrong, discuss their opinion with them. Do this in a non-argumentative, cautious way, and always treat their opinion with respect.
Part 2 - When giving a critique.
1 - Be Polite.
Art is personal. When you can put something nicely, do it. Please note that this does not mean to sugarcoat everything you have to say; being overly kind is often more harmful than being too harsh.
Do not be afraid to voice your opinion, even if you think it may hurt feelings.
2 - Be Specific.
If all you have to say is “show, don’t tell”, or, “I didn’t enjoy character X,” don’t post. Likewise, if your comments are vague (“The story was boring”, “The conflict is manufactured”) use evidence from the work to support your hypothesis.
A critique that doesn’t detail at least one element of the story is going to be near useless to a writer who is trying to improve their work.
Specific areas to consider critiquing:
Dialogue - Are the speech patterns of the characters natural, or are they stiff? If not, what errors is the author making? Are the characters needlessly repeating names or obvious details?
Characterization - Do the characters feel real? Distinct? Cliched? If not, does it matter, and why?
Setting / World Building - Does the setting add to the work, or is it merely incidental? Is it clearly explained, or is it vague?
Description - Too much? Too little? Not the right details?
Prose - Is the prose purple or sparse? Does it work for you, or are repeated awkward turns of phrase throwing you off? Is the work clear, or it does it sacrifice something at the altar of literary art?
Plot - Does the order of events confuse you? Is it believable, or are there gaping holes in logic? Are scared characters separating in the woods for no reason?
Story - Did you connect with the characters motivations? What grabbed you and why, or what put you off?
Conflict - This goes hand in hand with plot and story, but does anything actually happen? Is what happens believable?
Anything else that is important to you.
3 - Have Some Perspective.
Take a step back.
Everything you say, everything you assert, should be aimed at helping the writer grow in their craft. It should help their voice grow, not shoehorn it into what you think is the proper prose style - it should strengthen their ability to express a character, not strong-arm it into how you or your favorite author would characterize someone. Help the author develop their personal voice, tone, style.
The idea here is that we all have different views of what writing is and should be. We all have different goals for the art we create. When critiquing, we need to largely drop our personal values. We should not assume that because our overriding goal is to get something published, that this is also the goal of the author.
Credit to Redditor ysale for this Critique Guide. Send some Reddit Gold his way if you get a chance.