Criticism

Are you keen to get feedback on your manuscript, but afraid a critique may crush your confidence? If so, you’re not alone.

After all, when a writer has spent weeks, months or even years pouring their heart and soul into a manuscript, they can become protective and sensitive. But a critique – a process where another pair of eyes looks closely at our manuscript, and gives us constructive feedback so we can make it the absolute best it can be – is undeniably useful.

Catherine CarvellAnd believe it or not, it can be pain free. Children’s author and writing tutor Catherine Carvell shares some tips for giving and receiving a sensitive critique.

 

THE GIVER.

The sandwich method.

Your critique should be constructive, not destructive.

The easiest way to ensure you give an encouraging critique is to use what is commonly called the sandwich method. The feedback begins with what IS working in the manuscript. It then addresses specific areas that could be improved before ending, once again, on a positive.

For example:

Start with a positive slice of bread: Your character Colin is well developed with a clear motivation and a big problem.

Fill it with constructive suggestions: I was surprised in paragraph 8 when you mentioned he was blonde. I had imagined him quite dark and brooding until then. Could you insert a line or two to describe what he looks like earlier on?

And top it with another slice of positive bread: I’m genuinely interested to find out what happens next and I am definitely cheering for Colin.

Be specific.

All critiques are subjective, but you need to be as objective as possible when providing your feedback. For example, comments such as ‘this paragraph doesn’t work for me,’ may be true, but it is purely emotive and of little help to the writer who is genuinely seeking to improve.

If something doesn’t work, take the time to identify why. Make your feedback as specific as possible.

‘In this paragraph, we start in Bill’s point of view then seem to switch half way to Fred’s point of view. I got confused and had to re-read the paragraph. Could make the transition smoother.’

This is more specific, less emotive and actually gives the writer something to work with.

THE RECEIVER

Stay silent

It is essential that you stay silent while your critique is being delivered. You may disagree with what is being said, but no matter how strong your temptation to defend your manuscript: stay silent.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, someone has taken time to put together feedback they genuinely hope will be useful to you. The critique will lose its value if you are not prepared to LISTEN to them.

Secondly, when your manuscript finally makes it to the editors table, you won’t be there to defend it. If your critique partner questions why your character behaves a certain way, there is a good chance an editor will ask the same thing.

Assess which feedback is useful

By staying silent during the critique, I’m not suggesting you need to agree with everything your critique partner says. You are the author. No one else knows it as well as you do. This is your story and in the end, you will know what is best for it.

I like to consider the feedback points one at a time (usually a day or two after the critique) and decide whether they are a ‘Yes, of course, eureka!’ piece of advice, a ‘Nope, definitely not, this person is totally missing the point’ moment, or a ‘Maybe there’s something in that’ comment.

This is often called the Adopt, Adapt or Ignore method.

Remember the writing, not the writer, is being critiqued. So when a critique says ‘this paragraph isn’t needed or I don’t quite get what your point is here’ they are not saying you are a terrible writer.

But if they had that reaction on first read, perhaps others will too. So think about it. Is the paragraph there for a reason? If so, leave it in. But if it is just a pretty paragraph (okay your absolute favorite paragraph), consider whether removing it would improve the pace or flow of the work. Sometimes we have to kill our darlings, as they say.

If you are keen to join a critique group there are plenty already established in Singapore. If you would like to tell the world about your group, feel free to leave a comment!

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and llustrators (SCBWI) runs an online critique group for its members.
Website: www.scbwi.org
Contact: singapore@scbwi.org

The Singapore Writer’s Group (SWG) run a variety of monthly critique groups for its members including; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Romance, Poetry, YA and Children’s Fiction, General Fiction, Short Stories, Narrative Non-Fiction.
Website: www.singaporewritersgroup.com
Contact: enquiries@singaporewritersgroup.com

Or you could start your own. It only takes a few writers willing to share their work and eager to exchange opinions and form a cohesive group.

***

Darcy Moon and the deep fried frogsCatherine Carvell is the Regional Advisor to Singapore SCBWI. She has lived in Sydney and Perth and is now based in Singapore, where she lives with her husband, children and two turtles. Sometimes she talks to the turtles but thankfully, they don’t talk back.

Her first chapter book, ‘Darcy Moon and the Deep-fried Frogs’, was published by Fremantle Press in March 2014.

2 comments

  1. Some may find criticism really hard to take. I was hesitant to join a critique group because of my own fear of criticism, so I changed my mindset to see it as a tool rather than something personal to better my writing and build resilience, in terms of familiarizing myself with receiving criticism.

    In a critique group, you’re more likely to get constructive feedback because everyone is there for the same reason you are. Feedback may also be interpreted as subjective and the author’s goal is purely objective; to make a piece of work as good as it can be.

    It’s another tool in the author arsenal and if you get published, you’ll get criticism, so it stands as good preparation for the inevitable. There are lots of reasons to embrace criticism, perhaps others have their own interpretations and experiences they would be happy to share.

    • Hi Simon, I totally agree – criticism is very hard to take, which is why I think Catherine’s first point is so important: it has to be constructive. As you mention regarding critique groups – supportive readers are gold dust!

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