Do you have any advice for critiquing a friend's writing? I don't want to discourage their enthusiasm, I think I may just be in a negative mindset but I can't think of much positive feedback. They have a lot they need to work on, and I want to help, I just don't know how to do it without coming accross shitty. I feel like I'm very lacking in my critiquing ability and I won't be able to help them the way they need to grow, but neither of us know anyone else who could help.
Hey, anon! I have a few suggestions, so bear with me for a slightly longer response than usual!
First, I want to say that it’s okay not to give your friend critiques, especially if you don’t feel comfortable doing it! Stick to positive feedback (I have a few ideas for that!) until you come across something you feel comfortable suggesting to them. I have a few friends who I tell, “Look, I’m not going to critique you. I can give you a suggestion and totally be excited for what you write, of course, but I don’t think my way of critiquing is going to help you.”
It’s better to be honest up front rather than try to tell them what they want to hear!
1) What is positive feedback? Positive feedback is anything that you like about someone’s story. It doesn’t have to be the way it was written! Maybe you like the plot, maybe you like the characters, maybe they did description particularly well! Just because someone’s writing skill level isn’t as high as they’d like doesn’t mean there’s nothing good about their work!
“Oh, I like the setting a lot. The tall, red brick buildings are perfect for the apocalyptic thing you’ve got going on.”
“I really like how brave Character A is! It takes a lot to stand up to Character B.”
“I love Sci-fi, so I was really excited to see your story going in that direction!”
“This sentence here, the one about X, I really like this turn of phrase!”
These are all examples of positive feedback! There are so many layers in story-telling, there’s always something good to comment on!
2) Use AND not BUT. A lot of times, “but” can feel invalidating. “I really liked X, but y needs work.” That makes the author feel like all the reader will see is Y. They totally miss out on how great X is! Think of it as improv! You can’t keep building the scene (or story!) without “and!”
“I really like X and I feel like the reader will feel it even more if Y really focuses on…”
“You’ve got the beginnings of a great character here and I think you can continue that by adding a flashback or something similar.”
“I love the direction this is taking and think it’ll really bring it all together if you vary your sentence structure here…”
You’re working with the writer to bring their story to life, you’re not judging their writing. When I started thinking about it like improv, I actually improved my relationships with my writing friends because they knew I was on their side!
3) There’s a lot to fix. The simple truth of the matter is that the only way to get better at writing is to read, write, and edit. There’s no way around that! So don’t try to make a new writer’s work look like Hemingway, it takes forever and it’s super discouraging!
Try to offer two suggestions per piece someone shows you! (The number of suggestions will be up to you, but for new writers, I’d suggest two!) Try to make each suggestion different. Maybe one will be about sentence structure and another will be about pacing. Or one could be about characterization and another could be keeping an eye out for dialogue formatting!
There’s nothing wrong with having a lot to work on and as much as we’d all love to tackle every problem at once, we can’t! So just giving a few suggestions until next time is much better since it lets the author just focus on those in edits!
It also helps to give the author context for your suggestions.
“I think this needs to be slower, but that’s based on my personal taste.”
“This sounds awkward to me and I don’t know why. I really liked how this author did it in their book. Maybe take a look when you have time for ideas?”
“I’m having trouble with this too! Recently I’ve tried X, Y, and Z. Maybe you could try?”
4) What are they asking? If you don’t know where to start with suggestions, ask them! Ask them if they want you to pay attention to this character or pacing or description. Writers will, a lot of the time, already know what they’re struggling with or what they want to work on next. Ask for parameters so that you’re both on the same page in the critique!
“Could you keep an eye out for awkward phrasing?”
“And also, Character A is supposed to be angry with Character B. If you have any suggestions on how to show that, please let me know.”
It’s also the writer’s job to work with you, especially if you’re friends!
5) Who else can help? That sucks that there aren’t many writers around you! I’d try Scribophile (X) if you’d like some reviews from strangers! It’s a site I use fairly often!
Hope this helps anon! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!