Participating in a Fiction Writing Workshop can be a hugely enriching experience as a writer, and one that many famous authors cite as being an enormous help when it comes to reading critically and honing their own skills. Knowing how to critique effectively can make the experience truly worthwhile for yourself, and for your fellow workshoppers.
- Pay attention. Whether your fellow workshopper is discussing their struggles in writing or actually reading their piece aloud, there is no way you can give thoughtful, helpful critique if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Often, the person seeking criticism will mention one or two key points they’d especially like to focus on in terms of critique; whether it’s the dialogue or characterization, having a specific goal in mind gives you a clearer idea of where you can help.
- Read the material. Same goes for this as for the first step- you can’t talk about something you’ve never read. Read slowly and carefully- taking notes can also be a helpful way to remember specifics about what you’ve read, especially if more than one piece is being workshopped on the same day.
- Think about the material. Consider specific aspects of writing, such as point of view or tone, as well as the impression of the piece as a whole.
- Prepare several observations about the piece. More often than not, the person being workshopped will have specific points or questions to discuss, but if they open it up for more general criticism, it can be helpful to have a few specific things to mention. These can be aspects you liked, such as an effective passage of description or a lifelike section of dialogue, as well as aspects you didn’t feel worked in the story.
- Be nice. Writing, like any other method of personal expression, is something that people may take very seriously, and careless comments such as, “This paragraph sucked” or “this character is annoying” can be rude and seriously disheartening. However…
- Don’t be TOO nice. The entire point of critique is to improve and receive honest feedback, not to have an ego-boosting praise-fest about what everyone loves about the story. Rather than too nice or too mean, keep your comments balanced and specific. If a character is boring or flat, that’s a critique you want to express, but say it in a way that the author knows you’re speaking critically, not cruelly. Balancing critique about aspects you didn’t feel were effective with aspects you did enjoy can convey your critique in a fair manner; for example, “I really enjoyed the language you used to describe the castle, but a few paragraphs later when the prince is being introduced to the princess, I feel like we’re being bogged down with TOO much description.”
- Finally, keep in mind that the end goal is for you all to become better writers. Through honesty and communication, everyone in the workshop can grow together.
- Take plenty of notes!
- Oftentimes, critique given to other stories is something you can take into account with your own writing. Pay attention, even if you are neither being workshopped nor spoken to.
- Look for the good in stories. Sometimes, you will come across story that is truly awful from beginning to end. Rather than ripping it to shreds, point out one or two key points for the author to work on, as well as something that they do well.
- Often, there will be authors in workshops that do not want criticism at all, but rather to hear their story praised and their ego stroked. If you come across someone like this, there’s not much that can be done beyond making one or two simple observations and letting it go. If they don’t want to truly experience a workshop, it can’t be forced.
- As in any situation that requires constructive criticism, people may become defensive about their work. Rather than get into an argument that neither of you will win, state your point, and let it go. Ultimately, the author is going to write what they’re going to write, and that’s that.