Monday, October 24, 2011

Critique + Etiquette = Critiquette

A writer’s critique group can be a beneficial resource for a writer—both new and experienced. Last month I was part of SCBWI-LA’s Working Writer’s Retreat and thought I’d share some of the critique etiquette (critiquette) we practiced. (This goes for beta readers too.)


~Start with something positive. First point out those things the writer is already doing well, maybe the beginning of a great idea, clarity, sentence structure, etc.

~Critique the writer, not the writing. Rather than saying, “I’m not sure you want to start here,” you can say, “The story gets interesting to me on page four.”

~Speak from your own perspective. Acknowledge that your reaction is a personal opinion. Saying something like, “My first reaction to this part was…” Or “I found this to be…” works better than “this part of your story is…”

~Be specific. Instead of saying, “You need to work on characterization,” try to offer a specific way the writer might improve the characterization.

~Bring something new to the discussion. Instead of repeating what’s already been said, try to find something new to add.


~Let the critiquing run without your comment. Write down notes/comments as you listen to the critique, and maybe you can address them at the end, but do not interrupt. Give the group the chance to fully evaluate your manuscript.

~Remember your goal: A STRONGER manuscript. The group is offering ideas to help make your story stronger.

~Every reader is different. What is confusing to one reader may be perfectly clear to another. Try to relax and remember that other people’s suggestions are just that, their suggestions. You, the writer, have the final say on any changes you make and why.

~Try not to be defensive. If several readers agree that a scene is confusing, then you need to separate yourself from the love of your words and listen to the suggestion being offered.

Overall, you should feel good about a meeting. If you go home angry or more frustrated than when you came, this doesn’t make for good rapport. Remember, you often learn more about your writing by critiquing someone else, than by having your own critiqued.


  1. First of all, that is the greatest word mash-up ever.

    And this is all great advice. It really does help to word your critiques in such a way to acknowledge their absolute subjectivity.

  2. Nicole, I just started major edits to my YA vampire novel thanks to your phenomenal feedback. I had to let it sit a couple weeks to really start to see the suggestions. This is always the case for me after I receive major critiquing – letting it settle and percolate in my mind.

    Now I see the manuscript with fresh eyes and recognize the slow parts and feel the same impatience to move on to the smack, bam, whop moments.

    Great beta readers rule and you’re one of the best!

  3. I have one tiny disagreement (to overall AWESOME advice). Definitely bring something new to the critique, but if you agree with another critiquer, mention it too. Many times, when I'm in doubt about something a critiquer or beta reader has mentioned, I go by the rule of two. If two or more people think it's a problem, I need to address it. Sometimes I disagree (writers, that is SO okay), and it's easier to see objectively on an issue if more than one person comments. Already on my query I've seen this. One person didn't like my hook. Three others did. If the two subsequent lovers hadn't said anything, I would have been left with one person saying they didn't like it and another saying they did. How's a girl to choose? :D
    But this is totally awesome advice. Thanks for posting!