Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Cheat Sheet of Things to Consider When Critiquing a Short story

Critique_005I’ve noticed a number of posts recently on critique groups. Janice Hardy, from Fiction University  had a great post yesterday about her online group and how to start one of your own. Here’s the link, Are You Looking for a Critique Group or Partner?

Whether you participate online or in a group close to home, knowing how to provide a helpful critique is essential.

I realize many of you are accomplished writers, but for those who have never participated in a critique group, but would like to, I hope this information will help make your experience a quality one. Remember, critique groups and how they function differ from group to group. Know the rules prior to joining to ensure the commitment is one you can make.

I remember the first time I attended a group, I didn’t have a clue how to critique a story, poem or other pieces submitted. As the newest member, a newbie writer, and at a complete loss on how to offer a critique, I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling. Although, tempting to stamp each submission presented with, “I loved it,” and leave it at that, I knew doing so would be unfair to the author. Those who submitted work to the group wanted a genuine response and critique. If I wanted to participate, I needed to learn how to become a valuable contributor. I owed it to each member, as well as myself, to learn a way to offer a quality critique.

So, for those just starting out in a group, I’m sharing my cheat sheet on how to critique a short story. I would also recommend, if this is your first group, to familiarize yourself with the terminology (genre, protagonist, antagonist, point of view (POV), voice, conflict, backstory, info dump, pacing, opening and resolution).

Things to Consider:

  1. Did you enjoy the story? Yes or no? If not, specify why.
  2. Could you tell where the story was taking place (setting)? Or, did you get lost in too much backstory?
  3. Did the story engage you? In other words, draw you in? Did you want to keep reading?
  4. What about the opening sentence or paragraph made you want to read further. No? What made you hesitate?
  5. Was the protagonist clear to you? Did you understand the goal? Did you have enough information about the main character? Did you like the character or care about his/her situation (goal vs. conflict).
  6. What about the conflict? Was there enough?
  7. Was the dialog believable? Too much internalization?
  8. Is the genre easily identifiable?
  9. Did the story progress in a natural flow, or places you felt confused? Explain.
  10. Is there a resolution at the end? Did the ending make you happy or, leave too many unanswered questions?
  11. Could you identify the theme?
  12. Explain specifically the things that gave you pause. Make notes in the margins of the submitted piece indicating pertinent information. It could be a wrong word choice, sentence length, credibility, pacing, or something else.

Being able to clearly articulate your impressions provide specific feedback which will help the author strengthen his/her story. Sometimes, we’re simply too close to our work to see the flaws and another set of eyes will help point out the weaknesses and/or holes in the story. A good critique partner will give you distance you need, valuable feedback, and improve your craft.

Here’s to wonderful critique partners.

I’d love to hear your comments. Talk to me. Tell me your story. And as always, you can follow me on Facebook at SheilaMGood and  Twitter @cofcmom.

Filed under: Cheatsheet, Critiques, Groups, Writing Tagged: #amwriting, #critique #groups, #FictionUniversity, #shortstories, partners, Writing

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