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Posts Tagged ‘critique’

 

Beth Nguyen’s thoughtful article on writing workshops appeared at Literary Hub this week. She describes how her approach to critique changed when she began teaching nonfiction, work in which the integration of context and author with the text is more obvious than is sometimes the case with other genres.

Especially interesting to me was the way this reshaped feedback (emphasis mine):

The workshoppers, in turn, are asked to do less prescribing (I want to see more of this; I want this or that to happen; I didn’t want that character to be here) and more questioning. Why did you use first-person? How important is the sister character supposed to be? Instead of a typical old-school workshop comment such as “I want to see more about the mother,” there’s a question: “We don’t see much about the mother—how important of a character is she?” The former is a demand; the latter is an opening.

Even in settings where time or other constraints make full-blown conversation among participants impractical, feedback phrased this way invites reflection rather than defense. We best serve one another when our comments encourage thinking about the art and process of writing, from choices and techniques to audience and intention.

Implementing this in our own critique practices will require some adjustments, for both respondents and authors. But it seems like work worth doing if it allows each writer “to leave feeling heard and feeling motivated to keep working and revising, with ideas (rather than demands) in hand.”

“Unsilencing the Writing Workshop,” by Beth Nguyen
https://lithub.com/unsilencing-the-writing-workshop/

 

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When we participate in a critique session, whether giving or receiving, we want to make the best use of everyone’s limited time as well as provide and come away with the most useful information. We can do both if we keep the essential things in mind.

Writing professional Janie Sullivan has posted a great article about the art of literary critique on her blog, Center for Writing Excellence. The key thing to remember is that a critique is an opinion, rather than an edit. Be sure to read the whole post (which is brief and wonderfully concise) because the devil is in the details, as we all know.

http://www.janiewrites.com/the-art-of-literary-critique/

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Paranormal romance author Jami Gold’s blog (http://jamigold.com/blog/) is chock-full of great ideas and tools for writers. Her latest post on beta reading (Introducing the Beta Reading Worksheet!) offers tips that apply to critique groups as well. She lists a number of phrases that can help shape feedback into something both concrete and useful to the author. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • I don’t understand….
  • The detail seems….
  • The (character, setting, etc.) comes across as (feisty, depressing, important, etc.)
  • This (detail, phrase, etc.) conveys (irritation, happiness, etc.)
  • It’s not clear how (Sally got to the store, John sawed down the tree, etc.)
  • I would expect a character (with such and such a trait) to do/not do (such and such)
  • I’m confused about (what happens here, this character’s motivation, etc.)
  • I really liked…. *it’s very important to identify strengths!*

She specifically notes that “why” questions tend to bring out defensive responses. For that matter, questions of any kind encourage dialogue with the author, which isn’t the objective in a critique group. The author needs to be able to hear everything the group has to say, and answering questions takes us out of a listening mindset.

The post includes a worksheet that could be used by writers returning to their work for revision as well as by beta readers. Accompanying the worksheet is perhaps the most useful advice for any writer to keep in mind: take what works and don’t worry about the rest.

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