This article is written for LitResources. Our goal is to be a collection and creation station for all resources pertaining to literature on deviantART. This article will feature the wonderful world of critique! DeviantART staff recently made it possible for unsubscribed members to leave critiques using the premium feature, so we thought it was an opportune moment to educate the community about the many facets of critique.
If, after reading the article, you have more information or resources to add, please leave your thoughts in a comment! And don't forget to this article to help spread the word.
Critique: What It Is, What It Is Not
Though the distinction might seem obvious to some, people often confuse writing a critique with writing a review.
To make it plain, a critique offers thoughts and advice for improving a piece of literature or art. Critique can take many forms, from a typical teacher's markup with that red pen to a simple list of bullet points with ideas for improvement. Critique can also contain praise for what works well in a piece (and in my opinion a good critique finds a balance between what works and what needs work), but its ultimate goal is to help the writer improve.
A review is meant to sway the opinion of an audience. A positive review often includes praise for style, content, word choice, and other writing elements. It very seldom contains any critical advice for improvement, and then usually only to rebut negative reviews of the piece.
To summarize: A critique always includes advice for improvement. A review generally does not.
What About Flaming?
Flaming is the intentional badgering of a deviant. It generally holds no real advice for improvement and is personal in nature. Obviously critique is a subjective process, but it focuses on the writing, not the writer. Comments that are purposefully hurtful, degrading, rude, and targeted at a specific person or group of people are against deviantART's Etiquette Policy and should be reported. FAQ #238: How do I report people for abuse, harassment, or another issue I think is a problem?
Obviously those who write critiques do so to benefit another writer. Sometimes they don't realize that critique also benefits the critic. I often find myself noticing inconsistencies or weaknesses in a piece I am critiquing that also occur in my own writing. The personal pride I feel in writing something often overshadows seeing my own weaknesses, so finding them in the work of others' helps me improve. On the flip-side, putting some serious analysis into the strengths of other authors can teach us how to apply certain tactics to our own writing. So no matter what way you look at it, when you critique work you are learning, too.
How to Write a Useful Critique
I say useful critique instead of good critique for a reason. Anyone can write a "good" critique. The only requirement of a good critique is that it include advice meant to help the writer improve. Useful critiques are a little more in-depth and require an investment of time, skill, and mentoring on the part of the critic.
Useful critiques include several aspects that give it balance, authority, and a touch of professionalism. This article won't cover all of them, but the following have proven most useful in my experience giving and receiving critique:
Structure: Having some sort of structure is important. Critiques can get rather long-winded, so to really help the writer it helps if your critique is well organized. There are any number ways to do this. I like to separate my critiques into four sections - an introduction, general impressions, a line-by-line evaluation that includes comments about what worked and what needs work, and a wrap-up of the major points with links to further reading. This style evolved over several years of giving and reading critiques. It works for me, but you will likely develop your own way of organizing a critique. What counts is having an easy to follow format that allows the writer to absorb all of the information and then be able to go back and find specifics while revising.
Detailed Explanation: Being able to explain why you think something should be changed is vital to providing useful critique. Even if the author already had misgivings about a certain aspect of the writing, it helps to understand why it isn't working and why it would work better another way. It's like math. 2 + 2 is abstract and doesn't make much sense until we see our parents hold up two fingers on one hand and two fingers on the other and make us count them together. Much of learning to write is abstract, so having things spelled out in painful detail is really important for developing writers. How much detail you need to include depends on the skill level of the writer. Sometimes all you need to say is "it might work better this way, because of this". Other times referencing resources for the writer to further educate him/herself is beneficial. That is largely a judgement call. Keeping in mind the necessity of explanation is the important point here.
Encouragement: Though a critique should aim to help the writer improve, finding ways to encourage good writing habits already present is also important. Often beginning writers (and sometimes even more experienced ones) will do something spectacular and not realize it. Pointing those areas out is just as beneficial as analyzing flaws because it gives the writer a base to build on. It also makes the rest of the critique easier to swallow for those fragile writer egos out there. Personally, I like to use the 2:1 ratio. For every two weaknesses I find, I like to try to find one strength.
Good Grammar: This should be a no-brainer, but considering some of the critiques I've read here I feel it needs repeating. If you are going to leave critique, please make sure your own spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct. I write my critiques with the spell-check option turned on in Firefox. You could use any spell-check program as most include grammar and punctuation these days. At the very least, correct grammar gives your critique a little gloss of professionalism.
What a Useful Critique Covers
The list of what a critique can cover is fairly endless. It depends on what a reader notices and what a writer intends. For the sake of brevity, I'm going to let those who came before me speak on this subject (which is totally not cheating).
Poetry Critique GuidelinesClichés
Is the poem something we've heard a million times before? Does it contain metaphors, similes, analogies, or other such devices that are well-known and overdone?
Poems frequently have refrains, but sometimes things are taken too far. Here is where those issues will be addressed.
Ideally, poems are designed to move those who read them. Does the poem in question accomplish this? What emotions does it evoke versus what ones the writer is attempting to convey.
Rhetorical Questions to the Reader
Does the poem seem to be begging something from the reader? Is the writer asking a question that cannot be answered? Does it fit with the poem, or does it seem contrived and melodramatic?
Syllables and Meters
Does the poem flow? Do the syllables and meter(s) used work well together, or do they juxtapose? If the latter, is it misplaced? Could the poem be smoother, or is a "clipped" style appropriate?
Some poems rh
The Critic's Toolkit: LitThe Critic's Toolkit: Literature Edition:thumb24840061:
Critique, the examination or analysis of a work of art (in our case, a written work of course), can be an enjoyable, educational experience for both the critic and the author. If that sounds like something a teacher would say to you about a subject that makes you alternately fall asleep or want to throw up, don't despair, because it can actually be a great experience. You just need some tools to help you.
The main component to many critiques of beginner's work tends to be technical. This can be as basic as misspellings and punctuation errors, which can be an easy thing for you to put in your critique in order to give it more substance, but the technical aspect can also take on a wider scope. Technical critique can examine sentence structure in terms of general readability and how clearly an idea is portrayed, to even the metaphoric and the way imagery was used.
Poetry Self-Edit Checklist
Poetry Self-Edit Quick Start Guide and Checklist
The idea behind this is to give newer poets a way to better edit their poetry themselves, without having to rely as much on an external editor. It can be frustrating, especially for new poets to request feedback from a friend, or worse, to post a poem, and have all of the responses be about grammatical errors and other details. We write poetry to convey ideas and emotions, and when something is off technically about the poem it distracts the reader. When a reader is distracted enough to notice an error or other problem it means they might spend the time they might otherwise have spent glowing about your poem to post a comment correcting you instead.
After this introduction is over the checklist will be as brief as possible while retaining its utility. The idea is to serve as an organizational tool and a reminder rather than to educate on effective
Beta Reading Tutorial
What is a Beta Reader?
Apart from being a writer's best friend, beta readers provide a cross between edits and a critique. A beta reader does not edit a manuscript, but will note the errors for the author to fix. Advice and critiques are other services a beta may perform.
Establishing a Relationship
You've just partnered with an author; what do you do first? Establish with your author what each of you expects from the relationship. A solid understanding of expectations starts the partnership on a productive path and avoids misunderstandings.Time Expectations
Is the author expecting a 24 hour turn around, while you're thinking a week? If not discussed prior to an exchange, turn around time can cause tension. Be honest with your availability and then add some padding, in case of emergency. Do not agree to time constraints you cannot meet.
Length of Partnership
Is the manuscript a novel or a short story? Ask what the author is seeking a beta
Examples of Useful Critiques
These examples are gathered from my work over at Critique-It. If you want to read great critiques to pick up some tips, I recommend you start by looking through the comments left by members of groups like theWrittenRevolution, Critique-It, or ProjectComment.
Comment left on Candle by firepianosushi
Comment left on My Wonderland by Dreams-Of-Lightning
Comment left on Chagrin by M3iik
Critique left on Broken in the Snow by saevuswinds
Critique left on Dogs of War by KreepingSpawn
Critique left on Cosmetic by WorldWar-Tori
A useful critique benefits the writer and the critic, covers many different aspects of literature devices and themes, and holds a note of professionalism and authority. Writing useful critiques is a service to the community, and if you're someone who does this already or plans to try your hand at it - I sincerely thank you.
Questions? Leave them in the comments!
Thanks for reading.