What kind of critique partner are you?

The last few weeks of summer vacation have me shoving all sorts of goodies into the family memory bag: tubing down the Shenandoah, water parks, DC with friends, and me showing the girls the right way to throw elbows at the outlet stores for back-to-school clothes. That Coach bag is MINE, beyotch! But I digress.

Taking a break today, I found a few occurrences of writers and industry professionals asking/telling about critiques. How they give them and what ultimately the writer is looking for when it comes to feedback. I'm afraid I fall into the "don't blow sunshine up anyone's butt" category, while still leaving a bit of ego intact for the writer. I'm not cruel but I am honest. In the past year, however, I've learned the Kiss-Kiss-Kill-Kiss method that works in a variety of instances but for our purposes, we'll adhere it to manuscript/article critiques.

The premise is simple: say two nice things about the piece, one thing that can be improved in your opinion and follow it up with another positive thing. Reinforce the good stuff without leaving out the bits that need help. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

You'd be surprised how well this works with husbands. I never have to do the dishes again. ;)

Are you a long lost sister of the Bradys when it comes to critiques or can put the beatdown on Cruella?


  1. I'd like to think I follow your process of the 4 K's. I try to balance it out, and be honest.

    I have learned that I need to allow more room for those with writing styles that differ from mine, and not just tell them how to make it more like my own. :)

  2. The military version of this form of critiquing is called ... well, it's vulgar. The second word is sandwich. The first word rhymes with 'spit.' In any case, it's the same version of what you've described, minus one kiss.

    I would say simply this: get to the kill. "I read your manuscript and I discovered some things you should correct. They are as follows." Want to be more conversational? Okay. Want to interject something positive that stood out. Okay, but don't dwell. Be efficient, especially if the person asking for the crit is doing or attempting to do this for a living. He or she values your opinion for one reason or another.

    A critique "criticizes" and brings forward criticism of the work, which by its very nature will imply change or a differing opinion. The implication is that the things the reviewer mentioned need changing for one reason or another. The rest survives on its own merit because by silent affirmation; it's liked. There's also the notion that a green writer will begin to learn and the veteran writer will appreciate the brevity and candor of what's given. There's no need to be cruel, cynical or mean. Just state facts and make opinions rings with some truth.

    On a more pragmatic note, in a critique, you're asking for six to seven hours of labor. How much are those hours worth to you or your critique partner? $10/hour? $15? $20? If the writer's no-kidding business is writing, then the sandwich critique method is inefficient and costs time. It's also very American and this has been pointed out to me more than once by my European friends. Be direct. Be factual. Get to the point. Get out.

    More pointedly, why make the critiquer spend time figuring up a way to couch bad news? If the writer wants warm fuzzies or something to boost self-esteem, there are plenty of self-help groups, bad afternoon television shows and therapists that charge $150 an hour to build smiles. The writer also has that circle of people who constantly tell him or her that whatever he or she does is great. THOSE are where the kisses come from.

    What's asked for is a review of the work. What news it yields and the chosen reaction are both on the shoulders of the writer to use as a catalyst to improve and grow.

  3. Excellent comments!

    Janna, I found myself almost re-writing some pieces for people because our styles differed so much. Once I tucked it back in and gave them what they'd asked for, it all turned out better.

    Jason, I love your critiques; your advice always makes for a stronger piece (or query letter!) so I value it and your time. Thank you for the Sugar Sandwiches. ;)

  4. Hey Stace, that is a really good question. A while back I belonged to a crit group that pretty much demanded that each crit be as brutal as possible. They were just as hard to write as they were to receive. Even if you liked it, the group dynamic pretty much required you nitpick it to death. Worked for some, but not for me. I had to quit after a year, it was too depressing.

    Now, on the flip side, the very first group I ever belonged to was of the fluffy bunny variety. Everything was gushed over to the point that if you pointed out a legitimate problem (I'm talking major structural errors and SPAG), the writer would get rather huffy and point out all the high reviews and dismiss you as nitpicky. Although good for the occasional ego pump, not a place to become a pro.

    So, my reality falls more into the KKKK formula. If I like the premise and the overall plot, I tell the writer that. Heck, the fact that I could finish it says there is something there (I do not hesitate to toss books I don't like). Then I start in on my opinion of what needs work.

    Just my 2 cents! Terri

  5. I fall somewhere between your approach, Stacey, and Jason's. I do point out the stuff I particularly liked. It's nice to know what parts resonated with a reader. But they're not asking me to read it and point out all the fun parts. My critiques are those of an editor to a professional writer. I expect them to be received that way.

    Rewriting is not part of my repertoire. I won't do it, but I will make suggestions or ask lots of questions to try to get the author thinking in the necessary direction - I'll also mention what direction I think that should be, but because it's not my story, not my characters, I avoid saying "so-and-so should do this." It's not my decision.

    The level of criticism I provide differs depending on the needs of the manuscript, but I'm not much of a nitpicker unless it's a substantive issue like pacing, plot, or characterization.

  6. I'm late to this, but it's very fitting for me now. I try to strike a balance and point out good and bad things. I do this naturally though, I find that if I just comment whenever I feel the need, it all gets covered.

    I know I like to know when a reader especially enjoys a passage or has a reaction, so I try to include those in my own critiques. Whether the person WANTS that is another story.