Critiquing–Shannon Style

November 10th, 2010 | Blog Uncategorized


Since so many of you have entered to win my 25-page critique (which, btw, I am blown away by–I can't believe how sweet and enthusiastic you all are!) I thought I'd use today's post to talk a little bit about the way I critique. (Let's hope it doesn't trigger a mass exodus of people deleting their entry for the contest. *bites nails*)

Okay, setting my neuroses aside, I'm what you might call a thorough Critiquer. In fact, when I first sent notes to my CPs, they came with a long email explaining my method to them before they opened the document and saw how…colorful their pages were:

This is…pretty standard for a crit from me (okay, fine…maybe it's a little conservative–I didn't want to scare you all off. I leave a LOT of comments. My CPs will testify)

So what exactly are you looking at?

Well, first–I always highlight repetitive/redundant words/phrases in yellow and any adverbs that jump out at me in teal. I'm not saying the writer has to change them. I just want to make it easier for them to see where they are.  A lot of times they don't realize  how many there are until they see it that way.

And then…there's the comments. Anytime I'm confused, or have to read something more than once, or feel unsure about something–I leave a comment. Usually a long one. But I'm not pointing out things I don't like. I'm just questioning everything.

Every line of dialogue I ask myself: can I see the character saying this? Every description I ask myself: can I picture this? Every emotional beat I ask myself: can I understand why the character is feeling this? Do I believe it?  And if the answer I come up with to any of that is, “I'm not sure…”, I make a comment. Not because I necessarily expect the writer to change anything, but because I want to make sure they've really thought it through.

I know how writing goes. I know what it's like to get in “the zone” and the words are just flowing flowing flowing and it's SO clear in your head. But sometimes in the haste to get the words down, we rush through things or skip something important or forget to provide certain details to help the reader see what we're seeing. And even when we revise, it's so clear to us, we often don't realize it doesn't read that way to others.

It happens to all of us. Don't be fooled into thinking I send perfectly clean pages to my CPs. (I am woefully blind when it comes to my own writing.) But I try to read really slow and carefully when I read for someone else–the same way I hope someone will do for me. I try to point out anything that makes me pause and think..does that really make sense? And I leave lengthy comments because I like to try to explain why I'm feeling confused, what I'm wondering about, what I feel like is missing. That way the writer can better understand what I think the problem is. Then it's up to them to decide if they agree or disagree and tweak accordingly.

I fully expect they'll reject some or most of my comments–and I'm fine with that. (I'd honestly be a little worried if they took every note. No way I'm right all the time) 😉 And I never want them to see all the comments and think: she didn't like my pages, or she thinks I'm a bad writer. It's quite the opposite, really. I have been lucky enough to read some of the most amazing drafts ever–and they still got colorful, comment filled pages back from me. It's just my method. I'm slightly OCD, extremely detail oriented, and I ask a lot of questions. It makes for very…festive looking critique pages.

But for the most part it seems to be well received. (Well…my CPs haven't dropped me–yet… ) And I swear, I'm not brutal. I am also very generous with my happy faces and “awesomes”–plus plenty of blonde jokes and invented words. I promise you won't feel hopeless by the end.

So on that note, if you haven't left a comment to enter to win the critique, you might want to go here and do that (assuming I haven't just scared all of you away)

And what about you guys: what's your approach as you critique? What are you watching for? What makes you leave a comment?

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