23 Tips For Critiquing A Fellow Writer’s Work

If you are a writer who is not part of a writer group, then you need to do yourself a favor and find one immediately.  Choose a writer group populated with people your own age mostly, but any writer group will do.  Hopefully the writer group you find (or which you already are a member) is filled with a wide range of writing genres and levels of ability.  Either way, you need to get into one.

When you do, here are 23 things you can do to maximize your time in that writing group.  Good luck!

  1. Treat everyone’s writing as a work in progress. Nobody ever really finishes writing or improving something until it is published.
  2. Always begin your critique with something positive about their work.  As my mother always said: “You get more bees with honey than vinegar.”  Writers are usually sensitive souls, and if you begin a conversation with “Here’s what I thought worked well,” they may be more apt to listen to you when you show them what you didn’t think worked.
  3. Be specific.  Good writers want to hear more than “that was good” or “that was bad”.  They want to know specifically why the sentences worked or didn’t work so that they can repeat the process again.
  4. Be sensitive but honest.  Understand that the piece is something that the writer worked very hard to produce, yet they need to know what parts of it need improvement.  They will thank you for it later.  For example, say something like: “I really liked the way you phrased that description in the first sentence of the paragraph, but I really think that the other sentences don’t live up to the grandeur of that first one.”
  5. Regarding the piece’s purpose, did it achieve or fail to achieve the purpose?
  6. How could the writer improve the piece overall?
  7. If you find sentences or phrases that really “sing” or are very clever, highlight them in pink or another bright color and then praise the writer for writing them.
  8. Tell the writer what kind of impact the piece had on you, how it made you feel, or what you might have learned about writing from the piece.  
  9. Read the title carefully and determine if it best illustrates in a simple way the theme or subject of the piece.  If it does not, then suggest a title.
  10. Does the writing fit the genre?  If it doesn’t then perhaps there is another genre that the writer could be leaning toward.  Sometimes writers like to blend genres, and if they aren’t they probably should anyway just for fun.
  11. Does the opening line make you want to keep reading the rest of it.  The opening line should be the best line.  If it isn’t, it could break a reader away from reaching the end.
  12. Is the setting obvious?  Does the setting add or detract from the theme or the mood?  
  13. Does the writer show and not tell?  In other words, are they using concrete imagery instead of vague and generic cliches?
  14. Is the writing interesting?  Weird?  Too simple?  Is it at the reading level of the intended audience?
  15. is the writing too predictable?  Is there anything that surprised you about the plot?
  16. Is there anything about the writing that prevents the piece from having depth.  For example: Do they use a certain word so many times that it becomes a thing of nausea…sort of like the word “glorious” in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight?
  17. Does the dialogue blend with the writing and is it in its proper place?  Does it sound natural and not cardboard?  
  18. Do the characters feel like each one has a detailed back-story?  Do they seem like real people (even if they aren’t people)?
  19. Is there a definite break between scene changes?  Are there any places that spin the reader to a different place without a clear transition?
  20. Are there parts of the story that are too slow or that bog down the action?  These scenes could be heavily modified or cut altogether.  Highlight these in green or some other color that you didn’t use for the text you liked.
  21. Are there parts of the story that are just unbelievable even if the story is set in a fictional universe?  Did the writer fail basic physics in primary school?  Sometimes we forget how things work in the real world even if that world is magical.  Some things are just too unbelievable, even for elves.
  22. Are all conflicts resolved in the piece? If not, then why did the writer leave them unresolved and is it a reason that furthers the plot?
  23. Is the story tied off well?  In other words, does the writer tie off all the loose ends unless they are writing a sequel?  I made this mistake with The Transgression Box and have been paying for it ever since.  “When are you writing a sequel to that?”

If you have any more tips, then post them below, and remember to always treat other writers (and their texts) with utmost care and respect.  In doing so, you will only grow as a writer and help them grow a little, too.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

4 thoughts on “23 Tips For Critiquing A Fellow Writer’s Work

  1. I adore my critique group and have grown a great deal because of them. I guess if I were to add to that list I would add;
    1) Be wary of how you approach comments for a novel/short story/flash fiction. Though still prose fiction, the process involved is very different and the critique required very different too.
    2) Do your best to critique the writing not the genre (if that makes sense). A romance writer is still perfectly capable of critiquing horror, so long as they remain aware that it isn’t their genre of choice under the microscope in that moment.
    3) Don’t critique anyone when you’re in a bad mood. It shows, honest, and no one benefits from the comments that slide from your mouth in a situation like that.
    4) Give and take. Don’t attend a group just for critique and don’t attend a group just to give critique. Learning comes from the giving and receiving and from listening to what others have to say. Never under estimate the value of just listening for a couple of minutes.

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