Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Creative Writing 101: Critique aka Swallowing Fire.

    Be it a pat on the back or a 'smack upside your head', critique can leave you shell-shocked. Ah, critique, critical thinking and delivery of a response warranted by the impact of a subject's work. Layman's terms: opinion and advice on how to take your work to the next level, in the critique's opinion.

     Now, good critique is different for everyone. Some people need an extra spoon full of sugar with their review-brew, whilst others don't mind having their work torn to shreds for the sake of improvement. 'Good critique' has to be tailored to an individual, but seeing as I can't tell you how to submit or receive critique for each writer/artist, I'm going to give you a broad brush approach that won't get you hung, drawn and quartered.

How to Give Good Critique:

     Hope. Give a writer hope that there is promise in their work. No matter how had a piece is, it has potential. But, if you trash the creator and rip them a proverbial 'new one', how are they going to realise their hopes and dreams?

Honest – don't sugar coat everything, but don't poison a perfectly good mouthful. Be honest, be fair.
Opinion – remember, the work you are critiquing has stemmed from an idea, and opinions clash. What might be right for you might not be right for everyone.
Purpose – give your review direction. Either critique chronologically (start to finish) or by means of headings (characters, technique, plot etc.). Make sure its constructive yet critical - that's the purpose of critique after all, right?
Evaluation – have you weighed up the goods and the bads at the end? Not everything is bad, point out the strengths, consider the weaknesses.

     Bad critique is horrible. It's when someone smashes a writer to smithereens just for the sake of it. Yes, some may want to watch the world burn, but be fair…only go so far as to push them onto hot coals and make them dance for their money's worth! Good critique will give a writer the helping hand to the next stage. Don't forget: one man's story is another's life. What you say might directly offend or upset someone.

How to Accept Critique…Good?

     Thank your critiquer. Sounds odd trying to tell someone how to accept critique. But, you'd be surprised how many writers and artists react poorly to critique. Yes, it can be hard when you've got a rabid pit bull of a reviewer gnawing at the very bones of your greatest masterpiece (TO DATE!), but shaking it off is only to making the bleed worse. Don't be a sore loser if you're shortfalls are laid bare to you. But, then again, don't be a sore winner if you're heaped with praise! 

Timeliness – look, think of it this way: there are thousands of stories/pieces out there and someone took the time to discover, inspect and review yours. The least you can do is offer them a timely response…not three months down the line when they've moved on.
Humility – you're not god's gift to life, the Adonis of art, the Perseus of poetry, and so on. Take praise in your stride, as you would critique. Don't let it go to your head, as you'll take a fall when someone rips the carpet out from underneath you, and it'll hurt all the more with a swollen brainbox!
Acceptance – you're not the greatest for everyone. You never will be. You CAN NOT please everyone. So when someone points out a fault, or something that they don't like…fix it or move on.
Never argue back – if someone has ruined you in a critique, thank them and move on. Don't argue. You're lowering yourself to their level, and you're about to upset them (and possibly others) as much as they have upset you.
Know when to change – Sure, spelling mistakes and grammar need to be dealt with, but if it's a question of style…ask yourself, do you want to change your work to please someone else, or would you rather keep doing what you enjoy?

     Wow, now don't I feel like some sort of agony aunt? I hope that this has been an eye opener, and you'll keep my points in mind when you next turn to receiving or submitting critique. Remember, we're all part of a wider community, an artist community, and we don't just have an audience, we have peers!

     Anyhow, I'm off to go sharpen a few wooden stakes and dig a few holes, before any of you miscreants come charging over to give me a piece of your mind!

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