How to Critique – General Feedback

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PART 3: CRITIQUING IN DETAIL – GENERAL FEEDBACK

General Feedback Broken Down
Here I’m going to talk about very specific things and how I think it’s best to deal with them.  I’ll try to give short explanations about all of these as best I can manage.

Story Pacing
Pacing is how fast or slow something is going.  When it comes to story, this means how fast or slow your plot is moving along.  If you have a vital plot point coming up, you need to make sure it doesn’t come up too suddenly.  (We met this person who is really important to the MC, but oh look in the very next chapter he dies.)  Pacing in a story is vital to keep your readers’ interest and also to make sure it doesn’t just seem convenient or anything like that.  When critiquing pacing, generally the best thing to do is feel it out and say if it’s too fast (example I gave above), or too slow (if things seem to be crawling along and the plot is nowhere in sight).  When you do point these out to the writer, tell them exactly why it seems too fast or too slow, and maybe give them some advice on how to change things. (Character dies too quickly? Have some things in between; give more character interactions and actually make us care about this character who dies before he does die).

Character Development
This is, I think, a harder thing to critique.  You can claim while reading a first chapter that none of the characters are developed, but really that’s to be expected in a first chapter (especially when dealing with first drafts. It seems unfair to the writer in the first chapter of a first draft to cry UNDEVELOPED CHARACTERS because yes, they will be undeveloped. However they will most likely get more developed later on in the story.)  Now, if a character stays consistently bland throughout the entire novel, that’s when you’ve got a problem.  Or if a character is consistently contradicting themselves, that’s also probably bad (unless that’s the point, but it’s pretty easy to tell when something is supposed to be a certain way vs it just being inconsistent on the writer’s part).  It’s okay for characters to change in small, subtle ways throughout the story as a way of character development, but you can’t have a giant change for no reason (and even if there is a reason, it’s still best to take things somewhat slow when having a character make a change: human beings do not change overnight, it’s a slow process. The exception to this is if someone was being mind controlled and then the mind control is broken.)

Dialogue
Dialogue is essential to character development, as you will see a good deal of what a character is like through their dialogue.  That said, I personally think it’s a bad idea to critique dialogue.  People don’t talk grammatically correct, so if you’re going after poor grammar, chances are it’s like that on purpose.  If it’s redundant or repetitive, it could be like that on purpose.  The best times to critique dialogue are when you can tell it’s poorly written (if it’s really flat and stale and there’s no emotion to it whatsoever) or when you find something that you believe is inconsistent with the rest of that character’s dialogue (if they’ve suddenly picked up a habit of speaking without contractions, for instance, when it doesn’t feel natural for them to do that judging by the rest of their dialogue).  Don’t nitpick dialogue or the grammar used within it, except in the cases I specified.

Plot Development
This is more something that you have to be looking over the entirety of the story to really get a good grasp on.  Reading through the whole story and then giving your thoughts afterward is the best way to do this (maybe even reading it through twice, as there’s foreshadowing you won’t notice until you’ve seen all the plot twists and stuff).  However, it’s pretty easy to spot poor plot development.  Obvious foreshadowing, obvious plot twists, plot points that don’t make any sense whatsoever, etc.  If you can guess the ending of the story, or guess what the plot twist will be that’s building up, then that’s probably not a good sign. It’s not necessarily bad either because some people are just perceptive about that sort of thing while others could be totally blown away by it, but it is something to consider.  When critiquing plot development, tell them what’s confusing, what’s too obvious, and what just doesn’t work at all.

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