I know there's a third Campaigner Challenge going around, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to swing it this time. I'm suddenly very swamped with... things. Things I can't talk about yet because I am
So for now, let's talk about a critique tip. Not for receiving them, but for giving them.
*** Upfront disclaimer, just in case: this post is not directed at anyone who has ever critiqued my work! You are all fabulous and awesome and I love you.
There are many very important things to remember when critiquing someone else's work. Be honest, but courteous. Don't slam them or snark them (although occasional smartass remarks are okay if you both have a sarcastic sense of humor and it's welcome. I DON'T KNOW ANYONE WHO CRITIQUES LIKE THAT, DO YOU. COUGH COUGH.). Be timely. Ask them ahead of time how thorough they want you to get and/or if they have specific questions they'd like you to keep in mind.
And then there's one thing to remember that's at the top of the list: always remember that you are not the author. You're helping the author find holes in their work to patch up. You're not telling them how you would write their story.
This can be a difficult thing for some critiquers to master. It's easy to forget that sometimes other authors make intentional voice and narrative choices that you might not make. When critiquing, sometimes we want to change the prose or plot elements around to match what we ourselves would do. And that doesn't work.
Always, always, always remember that the work you are critiquing is not your story. It's not written in your voice, and the author's choices are not your own. As best as you can, try to slip into the author's mindset and try to understand where they're coming from.
This is one of the many reasons why it's important to match up with critique partners who jive well with what you happen to write. Sometimes you just aren't going to connect with someone's work. This is, after all, an incredibly subjective business. If you find that you aren't connecting and you're feeling the itch to change page after page to something YOU'D write, then you probably aren't the right partner for that author.
None of this is to say that you shouldn't point out when you feel confused or when something isn't working for you. That is what you're supposed to do. But keep your comments directed to the structure of the story, the pacing of the plot, dialogue that doesn't feel realistic, weak characterization, technical errors, etc. Things that are structurally keeping the story from being its best.
Do not try to change someone's style to match more closely to your own. And MOST OF ALL, please never, ever, EVER rewrite someone else's work. That's just rude.
To clarify, suggestions like this are cool: "This sentence reads awkwardly to me. You might try cutting some of the extra wordiness or reworking so the subject and verb agree better."
It's cool because you're critiquing the STRUCTURE of the sentence. You're not trying to rewrite it in your own voice.
Suggestions like this are where you start stepping on toes: "I'm not really feeling the line, 'She had drops of Jupiter in her hair.' It's too flowery and the metaphor seems weird. I'd say something like, 'The starlight shone on her hair and turned it silver' instead. It's more concrete."
Can you see how that example might not be very useful to the author? And, in fact, might upset them quite a bit?
Give your thoughts, but don't rewrite. It's okay to say a metaphor isn't working for you. It's okay to suggest changes you might like to see and let the author run with them. It's not okay to "show them a better way."
I hope that all makes sense. I'm a bit loopy for lack of solid sleep these last few nights. But anyway. What sort of critique tips do YOU have to share?