Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Critique a Short Story

If you are in a writer's circle or plan to start one, here is some basic etiquette for critiquing each other's fiction:

  • The author stays “cloaked” until all comments are finished. Obviously, readers can only respond to what has made it to the page. The writer’s intentions, explanations and defenses are irrelevant to the power of the written piece.

  • Be positive and constructive and friendly.

  • You don’t need to tell the writer how to fix it. (“Maybe cut out some of the longer dialogue and throw in some sex with aliens.”). Let the author handle the improving. In other words, report your symptoms of reading the story—your head and gut reaction—not a diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • Least of all, offer literary criticism. (“The theme suggests, but perhaps falls short of, a recapitulation of the birth crisis.”)

  • Tell (in detail) how it felt to read the story—a record of what the story ­did to you. For example:

    • Did you like the main character(s)? Did you care about what happened to her? Did she hold your emotional interest? Did you feel like you knew her?
    • Where the character’s actions and reactions believable?
    • Could you understand the antagonist (the “villain”), sympathize with his motives, at least somewhat? Was he credible?
    • Did any of the characters seem overly stereotyped?
    • Plot cliches? Did you know what the outcome would be from the start?
    • Notice any bloopers? (f.g., You can’t shoot the werewolf seven times with a six-shooter.)
    • Was there anything you didn’t believe? A point where you said, “Aw come ­on!
    • Were you bored at any points? If so, exactly where did you lose interest?
    • Was there something you didn’t understand? A part you had to read twice?
    • What do you think will happen next, beyond the end of the story? Are there loose ends that seem to be dangling? Any tensions or questions that haven’t been resolved?
    • Anything you really wished had happened in the story that didn’t happen?
    • Anything that did happen that you wish hadn’t happened?

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