Notes from The Pain and Pleasure of Critiquing at Orycon 32


But I Thought It Was Perfect!
The pain and pleasure of giving and receiving critique
John C. Bunnell
Dave Smeds
Diana Rodgers
  • the distinctions between critiquing, reviewing, and editing a manuscript
    • reviews are written for readers: saying what’s good or bad about a given work
    • critiquing is saying how a novel could be better
    • one is a practical concern for a reader vs one is for a writer
  • there’s a difference between an editor and a peer critiquing a novel
    • be clear about who you are asking for a critique from, and what you are expecting back
  • in some groups, the critiquer is considered in be on the outside, and their role is not to suggest improvements or fixes, but to merely observe what works and and doesn’t work.
  • At what point is a work ready to be critiqued?
    • The sooner the better. 
      • after a certain point, an author has an investment in what he’s written. 
      • as it nears the end, making substantial edits requires uprooting so much that you lose good and bad.
      • the later it happens, the less potential for effect it can have.
  • Critiquing a short story or even a novella is relatively easy. Critiquing a novel is more challenging. You might get a chapter at a time over a long period of time, or you might get a big chunk: a quarter or a third of the book. Neither method worked all the time for all works. 
    • group size can have an effect as well: with a bigger group, it’s harder to critique a bigger work. sometimes you want to pick out a few people that would serve you well.
    • short stories are kind of the ideal for writer’s workshop.
      • you can get global feedback and use it: “i think the theme should be this, or I think this story should be about...”
    • for longer works, it’s harder to get and use global feedback.
  • Sometimes you look for particular kinds of feedback:
    • does this character behave in accordance with their motivations?
    • do i need to know if this is good? or do i need to know what’s wrong?
    • do i need copyediting help, or plot help?
    • the better you can articulate what you need, the better feedback you will get.
  • On the one hand you want the most relevant feedback, e.g. the hard science fiction writer will have weight than the fantasy writer when you’re writing science fiction. On the other hand, you can get some very useful feedback from beginning writers, which you might try to discount their feedback because they aren’t published. but frequently they have really good feedback, and they are really invested in the process.
  • Oral vs written
    • You get different kinds of feedback for each. Oral works for some issues, and written works better for others.
    • Techniques for oral: 
      • have written manuscript, so people can write critiques as the author is reading. 
      • have others read the dialogue, so the author can write notes
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