Saturday, August 27, 2011

[Critiques: pt2] Giving Critiques

[edited re-post from former blog]

This post is building upon Part 1, so if you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I would suggest it.

Giving critiques, like giving anything in life, is much different than getting. It requires a lot of thought sometimes! And loads of concentration. I have a bad habit of getting really wrapped up in some of the incredibly well-done books I critique for friends, and when that happens…the amount of comments I leave decreases drastically. I tell them that’s a good thing, though. Because it means, to me anyway, that they are doing a great job.

In my previous post, I defined three kinds of critiques that I have found: the Good, Bad, and Balanced.
Building upon that, I’d like to add three more to the mix that are interconnected to the first three: the Techy, the Story, and the Blend.

The Techy: I am very guilty of giving way too many critiques of this sort, especially in my early stages of giving critiques. Techy critiques are basically just that: comments on the technical aspects of a manuscript. Misplaced commas, missing question marks, paragraphs that belong to the previous paragraph, et cetera. It rarely ventures past commas, “*likes*”, and the occasional “this sentance is awkward!”.

The Story: This is the antithesis of the Techy. This sort of critique, which, in my experience, is much harder to give or get, delves into the aspects of Story (if you’re an OYANer, this will make perfect sense. If not…keep reading my blog. Someday I’ll write a post about Story ^.^ Or go here and check out the OYAN curriculum! [/shameless advertising]), the characters’ motives, and the like. Techy comments in this kind of critique are usually few, unless the mistake is glaringly obvious.
Comments tend to sound more like, “Really…could Rosa honestly trust Mike so soon after he almost shot her?”
Or, “This piece of dialogue doesn’t fit what you’ve shown us of Nikki’s character. It sounds more like something Troy would say.”
Or…worse still…”This scenario is completely far-fetched. I can’t believe any of it at all. And…it’s boring me. If this were a published book, I’d probably set it down about now.”

The Blend: Just like with the Balanced, the Blend is a “hybrid”, so to speak. It covers the Techy side, but the Story side as well. These are the ones I strive to give. And it’s tough! I’m so tempted to read quickly, skim over things, and just enjoy the story without stopping to comment when my little inner-editor starts screaming his fool head off, even if I don’t realize he’s talking but just feel that something about the story is “off”.

Let’s say you’ve never critiqued before. Maybe you haven’t. Or, if you’re one of my amazing OYAN friends, you’ve probably critiqued a lot. If you are one of those awesome people, please comment and tell me what I’ve gotten wrong in this post/add your 2c.
Now, back on track. You’ve never critiqued before, and your best writing-buddy has just sent you a chapter of her book and asks for your feedback.
What do you do? Just saying “awesome job!” could work…but would that really help her?
No (yes, yes, I’ve done that before myself. Especially if I haven’t been asked to give any feedback, even though I should ). Not really.

Read carefully. Make notes.
If something doesn’t make sense, make a note.
If there’s something missing, whether it’s a word, a period, or whatever, make a note.
If something elicits emotion in you, make a note!
If you really, really like something a certain character does, or the character in general, make a note!
If the plot takes a turn you weren’t expecting, or rather, if you predicted the ending way too easily, make a…you guessed it! A note.
Really, that’s an easy way to sum up what critiquing is. It’s making notes of what you’re observing in the story–the good and the bad.
It’s finding the passive voice and the adverbs that really could be replaced with something better.
It’s finding inconsistencies in characters, holes in plot, things that could be better described.
The things that simply aren’t right…like a semi-automatic .22 taking down a deer, or a bottle of gasoline exploding when thrown against a hot motorcycle engine.
The things that make you laugh…or cry, or grit your teeth, or give you that funny feeling almost like you’re feeling pain or adreneline right along with the book-people. Make notes of it all! I can't even begin to describe just how valuble good critiques are, both for the giver and the receiver.

Well, there you have it. That's what I have learned so far about the nature of critiques.

Chazak,
- Hannah

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