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How to Critique/Review

by Rick Taubold

Silver Pen's primary purpose is to help writers be the best they can be, and that means helping them to improve their writing to the point that it's publishable. This is a peer-review environment, which means that everyone is here to review the work of others and in turn to have their work reviewed.

In that regard, it's also teaching environment, but it is not a classroom setting where instructors (or the Silver Pen Directors) do the teaching exclusively. The members should be here to learn from one another.

Silver Pen is not a place to show off your work to others in the hope of impressing them. This is a critique and review site, not a reading site. If you have no intention of rewriting or revising your work based on the reviews, or if you do not plan to read and review the work of others, then this is not the place for you.

Critiquing is a part of learning to write well because it exposes you to techniques you may not have thought of or experienced. That said, we're providing some suggestions on how to critique the work of others. Experiment with these, then develop a style that fits you.

REVIEW ETIQUETTE: The purpose of a critique is to help the writer improve his or her, not to slam the work. Destructive criticism or the deliberate trashing others' work, no matter how bad a piece is, has no place on Silver Pen, and the moderators reserve the right to remove such reviews and to take other actions if necessary. Since it's presumed that anyone posting work on Silver Pen is here to learn how to make it better, a whitewash job of reviewing doesn’t help the writer. Be honest, but be courteous and respect the writer's efforts.

WHAT'S EXPECTED IN A REVIEW: Learning to review well is not something that comes easily to every writer, and we don't expect anyone that comes to Silver Pen to have mastered it, so we will approach it in two stages: one for beginners, one for more experienced folks.

FOR EVERYONE: At a bare minimum, a review should express what you thought of the piece. Because you are awarded points for reviewing (so you can post your own pieces), a review needs to be more than one word or one or two sentence saying "Good" or "I really enjoyed this story" or "I think this is good, but I think it needs to be longer." These are not acceptable reviews. As a general guide, a review should be probably be at least 100 words. There's no maximum length.

Use the four principles of critiquing. If you're new to critiquing, start small and keep your reviews short but as informative as possible.

1. Begin with something positive and encouraging.

2. What do you feel is working and what is strong in the piece?

3. What needs work and what parts are weak?

4. Offer suggestions for improvement if you are comfortable doing so. Otherwise, wait until you have more reviewing experience.

FOR BEGINNERS: Focus on why you liked or didn't like the piece in terms of what worked or didn't work. If you think the story needs nothing more, say so, but don't stop with that. Here are three things you can focus on.

1. Did you like the piece? If so, what about it impressed you? If not, what do you think was missing or what detracted from your enjoyment? Did the opening grab your attention and did the piece hold your attention throughout? How did the piece make you feel? Does the ending work (assuming it's a complete story)? If not, what do you think would make it a better ending?

2. How is the writing? Is it smooth or is it rough and in need of work? Does the story flow smoothly? If there are problems, try to give the author some idea of what you think would help.

3. What did you think of the characters and the narrator (the one telling the story)? Are they well drawn and believable?

FOR ADVANCED REVIEWERS:

All of the points mentioned for beginners apply, but you may wish to delve more deeply into the piece. Here's a more detailed list of areas to consider. The review doesn't need to cover all or even half of these. What you choose to point out is at your discretion.

1. How did the piece make you feel?

2. Did the opening hook and engage you immediately, or was it a slow beginning? Did the story begin in the right place, or should it have started sooner or later in the chain of events?

3. Did the piece flow well from point to point?

4. Were there areas of confusion?

5. Were there any places where you wanted to stop reading?

6. Did the characters resonate with you? Were their personalities (and names) appropriate for the piece? Were the characters believable in the story's setting?

7. Did anything feel out of place or incongruous to the story?

8. Did the writer engage all the senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch) when appropriate?

9. Did you feel as if the writer was telling you the story, or were you experiencing (being shown) through the characters' perspectives?

10. Did it engage you emotionally? Did you laugh, cry, feel anxious for the characters, etc.?

11. Was the level of conflict (physical and emotional) appropriate for the piece?

12. Was the writing itself smooth throughout? Are there specific issues with grammar and punctuation you want to point out?

The Workshop review section permits rating the piece based in several criteria. Rating each item is not required, and you may wish to skip certain ones that don't apply. If the piece is not yet complete, you can't rate the ending. While the star rating is somewhat subjective, you might consider the following in your ratings:

1=very little or not at all; significant rework necessary; confusing; absent

2=somewhat; weak; needs considerable work; shows a glimmer of promise

3=average; good in spots, but weak in others; needs attention to develop it; needs to be stronger

4=good, but not yet perfect; almost there; minor touch-ups needed

5=excellent; solid; perfect or extremely close; any improvements are just nitpicks

From time to time, you may encounter a piece that requires significant rework in many areas. Instead of attempting to cover everything—which might discourage the author—point out a couple of major things to work on and save the small stuff for later when the piece is coming together better. It's best to avoid nitpicking such pieces because the writer is likely to make significant changes that could eliminate those small things.

Finally, some authors put up very polished stories to ensure that they've caught everything, and they well may have. Your job as a reviewer is to evaluate whether a piece works for you and—in your opinion—is publication worthy. Don't go looking for problems that may not exist and don’t offer changes simply because you think you need to find something wrong.

 

Last modified on Thursday, 03 March 2016 12:40

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