The Art of Judging and Critiquing

Scarlett ran this article a year ago, but feels compelled to post it again.

The examples are a little outdated, but nonetheless, pertinent to judging entries in TARA’s Contest or critiquing someone’s work.

This article, Bleeecchh…Critiquing, by Kristan Higgins, first appeared in CONNECTIONS, April 2007 edition, Connecticut RWA.   

The Art of Critiquing Party time! Now you get to be God. Okay, well, God-ish, let’s say. You get to tell the author what’s wrong, and you’re going to be right. Let’s face it — you’re smart, you’re kind, you know books. You rock. You love thinking about (bleeecccch) plot, character development, voice, pacing, dialogue and yes, even grammar. You have no ulterior motives, just an altruistic streak to help. Oh, and you have some free time on your hands. Good for you!

RULE #1: Be kind. It’s American Idol and you’re Paula Abdul. That’s right…no matter how bad the singer is, that woman finds something nice to say. You will, too. Tell the author what works as often as you say what doesn’t. This is just as crucial as pointing out what leaves you cold. Plus, it just makes you feel good.

RULE #2: Be clear. Now you get to be Randy. Be specific in your advice. Randy tells people what to do. “Dawg, you’re pitchy. Work on your breathing, dude.” If you hate a character who’s supposed to be loveable, don’t just say, “He’s mean.” Tell her why, for heaven’s sake! “He’s very self-centered. He never picks up the tab. What about a scene where he saves a puppy from a burning building?”

RULE #3: Be critical. Finally, you’re Simon. Remember, it’s a critique. You’re not her mother. If it’s not working, say so (and please, refer to Rule #1). Rather than “Your heroine is an idiot,” try perhaps “I found the heroine a bit immature and impulsive when she chased the puppy into the burning building.”

RULE #4: Pay attention to the big picture. Is it irritating when the author constantly misspells `their’? Yes. But don’t lose sight of the two most important elements of a novel — plot and character development. Each scene should advance the plot. Each character should act, well…in character. If these two things aren’t happening, say so.

RULE #5: Don’t forget to note specific problems. When you see a pattern emerging, note it. Maybe the author needs more sensory input. Maybe she switches point of view like Robin Williams sweats through shirts. Maybe she consistently misspells `their.’ Tell her.

RULE #6: Be honest about your personal preferences. Hate dogs? Didn’t mind when little Fido caught on fire? ‘Fess up. Admit if there’s something that you personally don’t like before you criticize.

RULE #7 Don’t dawdle! Get to work, people! Someone is hanging on your every word. It’s not nice to keep them waiting. And finally…

RULE #8: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Sure, you’re great…but guess what? You’re not omniscient, either. It’s just your opinion. Your criticisms are merely suggestions, and your author may well win the Golden Heart or RITA without changing a word. Most of us can’t get to market without a really good critique. Whether you’re working in a critique group or going one-on-one with a partner (that sounds quite sexual, doesn’t it?) …Okay, now I’ve lost my train of thought. At any rate, critiquing is an important part of getting published…not to mention a wonderful way to learn and grow by studying the work of another author. Go for it. You won’t be sorry.


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