12 Easy Ways and Proven Techniques to Give Constructive Criticisms to Authors
When friends or family members know that you’re a writer, more often than not, they’re the people that you go to for ideas, criticisms, suggestions or any form of feedback. Different individuals take criticisms differently, so the right approach is necessary to garner a positive outcome for both sides. Occasionally, we may even avoid giving any feedback altogether to avoid any unwanted arguments or risk messing up any existing relationship. You want the best for your writing buddy, to grow and develop, but do you struggle to strike a balance between honesty and kindness? Sometimes the criticism can be so disheartening that you’d actively avoid certain people simply because of how they expressed their feedback.
This post will list down 12 easy ways and proven techniques to give constructive criticisms to authors, compiled from experienced Redditors from varying backgrounds and fields. There’s no single perfect approach for every situation but understanding the person who’s at the receiving end is important to engineer the suitable things to say. We hope this will help you in various ways in assisting another story-builder in constructing brand new adventures for all us to read.
“Use wording that steers clear of laying a judgement on it (bad / meandering / juvenile / confusing), and instead focus on two things: my own experience while reading it, and concrete things they can do to improve it.
So, instead of, “The chronology is confused,” you say, “I got a little confused by the chronology in parts.” By making it about you, you’re not insulting or damning his work, you’re simply gently reporting your own experience.
Then, instead of, “The dialogue is unbelievable,” you say, “I had trouble relating to some of the dialogue. For example, (specific example). I’d suggest revisiting the dialogue there, making it a little more casual.” (Giving him something concrete to work on).
These subtleties of wording make a big difference in giving feedback. You are showing respect for the artist and the work. You’re not saying “This work is weak.” You’re saying, “Here’s what you can do to make this work stronger.””
“Constructive criticism is key here. Don’t just bash his book. Cite specific examples of things he may want to go back to and revisit. Maybe suggest giving a character more distinctive traits or cutting certain bits of dialogue completely if they aren’t needed. Maybe tell him about a certain part that didn’t quite work for you and why it didn’t work so he can make changes. Stuff like that. As a writing hobbyist myself, I’ve found that almost none of my first drafts are ever very good. It isn’t until I go back and revise that it really starts taking shape into something I can be happy with. And the more revisions I do, the better the piece gets. Hopefully the same will happen here.”
“Don’t list everything wrong with the novel. Only discuss the three biggest problems (dialogue, chronology, character). You don’t want to overwhelm him on the first edit. Finally, include something you like about the novel. There has to be something, even if it’s minor.”
“Just help him with edits and clarifying his thoughts, not deciding weather the book is good or not.”
“One practical thing I learned from my experience was to give legitimate criticisms but stay away from criticizing the work as a whole or their writing abilities. You could tell him that at times you had trouble following some plot developments, or that a particular scene didn’t ring true to you, have you heard of xyz style where authors will…?, how about a more traditional three-act structure? etc.”
“There’s a saying – There are no good writers, there are great re-writers.”
“Only comment negatively about the technical problems. Not the story or the characters. Start with the nuts-and-bolts like spelling and grammar. Then you can move on to terms like “clarity.” Make sure the reader understands who is speaking to whom. Things like that. At the end, it may be a crappy book. You can’t fix that, but you can make sure all of the technical details are good.”
– TheLastGiant & PaulsRedditUsername
“No one enjoys being criticized, all writers take it personal, but the ones that get better know that nothing is perfected that isn’t broken and beaten a little first. There has never been a perfect first draft.”
“Often when people ask for criticism they are looking for validation instead. If your relationship with him is important, and that’s what he wants, give it to him. Don’t worry if the book is good or not. Find something vague and nice to say and move on. It’s not your responsibility to ensure that he’s doing good work. It’s more important to stay on good terms and let him be happy on his way out. If writing a novel is on his bucket list, let him feel like he’s done it. If you want to test the waters, use the feedback techniques offered here and lightly critique one small element. If he’s receptive, you can address other issues over time. If he’s not, let it go.”
“At most, I would hint criticism by asking questions. Instead of saying a passage is weak, ask him why he wrote it and why it’s there. It’ll make him think more about it and wonder if what he wrote is conveying well. From that he’ll be more receptive to more specific advice.”
“Depends on the type of person the writer is. The kind that wants to be coddled like a toddler and told everything his hunky dorey or the kind of writer that doesn’t like people treating him like a helpless person and would appreciate honesty over sugar coated nonsense. Don’t hide with that “going easy on him” because it means its easier on you to lie.”
“A lot of people think writing a novel is something they are going to get around to someday; maybe when they’re retired, maybe when they have some free time etc. Anyone who can write an email or tie a few sentences together thinks they have a novel in them. In reality, it takes a lot of work. A lifetime almost of reading critically, examining storycraft, writing hundreds of thousands of words that will never see the light of day. Just like it is arrogant to think that you can instantly pick up a craft and have mastery over it, the same goes for writing. With a writer, I’d try to find something redeeming about his story and lead with that in your critique, then follow with the ways it falls short. Maybe it will be useful and he will have the humility to go back and hone his craft. People can learn to write late in life, but they need to work at it.”