The truth is, most people don’t handle critiques well. Critical commentary, no matter how helpful, still has a negativity about it that drives people away. Who wants to have a zit pointed out on their face? Or someone mention they could stand to lose a few pounds? Criticism hurts.

This year, as most of you know, I participated in WriteOnCon, a free online writing conference. It was my first writing conference, and I learned a lot from it. One of the features offered on the website, was a chance to submit your first five pages and be critiqued by other authors. I was lucky enough to get critiques phrased for the most part nicely. Others were not so lucky.

I don’t feel the need to point out specifics here, but it was clear that a few of the writers were more interested in rushing through each manuscript pointing out flaws, than in phrasing it in a consructive manner. How do you point out flaws constructively?

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

The above is a raw selection from my work. If I were to critique it, it would look something like this:

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

It may be confusing who is talking here in the first sentence. It starts with Zev, and then switches over to Elizabeth and her dialog. Consider two paragraphs for clarity. “Furious and frightened” does not sound like natural dialog. Consider revising. Also, ‘just’ could be removed for stronger sentence.

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Lots of adverbs in here. Consider removing for stronger sentences.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

“murmured” could be replaced with stronger descriptions to create the same feel. Descriptive dialog tags tend to be crutch words.

Notice there is nothing positive in that at all. I’m just skimming through picking out what’s wrong. The problem with this is, not too many people are going to take it well. Their mind will close off in self defense, and they’ll shut it away thinking, “That can’t be right!” because it hurts. A few people may be willing to pick out the advice, but what’s the point of helping with a piece if 90% of the population is going to ignore the advice? Let’s try it again, but with positive statements added in.

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

The above is a raw selection from my work. If I were to critique it, it would look something like this:

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

This is a very powerful moment in the story. It’s good to see her behaving true to herself. It starts with Zev, and then switches over to Elizabeth and her dialog. Consider two paragraphs for clarity. “Furious and frightened” does not sound like natural dialog. Consider revising. Also, ‘just’ could be removed for stronger sentence. I do like how the strength of her personality carries through to the very end of the sentence.

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Good internal monogue here. We can see what she’s thinking very well. Replacing the adverbs with stronger sentences may help bring us closer to her internal thoughts.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

I love the visual of Zev’s hair falling over his eyes. “Murmured” could be replaced with stronger descriptions to create the same feel, and heighten the whole paragraph to that level.

See the difference? Surrounding the negative with the positive really helps make it easier to accept the bad parts. What’s your secret for constructive criticism?

Advertisements