This is a group where you can discuss tips and techniques for writing in any genre. Or you can discuss anything to do with writing and writers.
Since I started participating on Naija Stories, I’ve been having a think about how I criticise people’s work.
One the one hand, I want to encourage my fellow writers to keep on writing by pointing out what I like about their work… but on the other hand, I also want to point out what I don’t like, so that they can use the feedback in improving their work.
So… what’s the best way of doing both? How do you criticise work? Is it better to give more positive than negative feedback? Or maybe criticism is useless – after all, just because I like/don’t like something doesn’t mean that other feel the same way.
Let’s hear your feedback.
I think if you are criticizing, you should say what you like and why and what you dont like and why. And maybe give an example of how you would have written the ‘unliked’ part(s) differently. I dont always do that, but thats the kind of criticism i want.
Lade’s made a valid point. Criticism isn’t necessarily easy to take; it can easily become personal. Giving criticism on the other hand, is easy. First, how do you handle criticism? If very well, then be reminded that not everyone’s like you. If not so well, then let that guide you. Soft pedal.
People generally don’t take easily to criticism and may not necessarily implement same. Draw their attention to it and state that its simply your opinion and others might have a different opinion. Ask what the person thinks about it? Say for instance: “I noticed you used ‘forth’ instead of ‘fore’, is that a mistake? Looks like it should be the latter but would you mind educating us on why you used ‘forth’ if it was delibrate? What you’ve done is to crush the person’s defensiveness and given him/her an opportunity to teach, in case you were wrong, or implement the correction, if you were indeed right.
How about when you do a total overhauling of a person’s work? Dangerous territory you might want to avoid but methinks there’s a way around it. Let’s say you do that, you could end with “How does that sound?”, “What do you think?” or “Do you agree?” It effectively puts you on his side, as against him, which criticism portends. It also puts him/her on the spot to at least check.
Criticism is hard work trust me, so you wanna be careful how you go about it, just in case someone else deems fit to return the favor.
Hope I helped a tad.
Do watch language usage as well. Please do not use heavy words that may portray you as all-knowing. Inject a bit of humor so its easy to swallow. You’ll definitely run foul more than a couple of times; that’s a given but time plays a crucial role in smoothening out our jagged edges. I’m no sage as far as criticism goes so do let me know when you get a handle on it. Will say though that you don’t do that badly a job already. Happy sailing.
Criticism isn’t for the shallow minded. I am new on the site and have noticed most criticism is favourable to the writer, good, but not good.
If criticism is offered in a non condescending manner and pointers are given, i’m guessing that a lot of us would welcome it. I personally do not like to be told this is wrong and you don’t tell me what is right.
We are here to help/carry each other, all of us should know that healthy criticism wont hurt us.
For me, the implication of criticism is that the critic has a set of ‘rules’ by which he uses to decide whether writing is good or not. Sometimes, the rules are explicit to him – for example, he can know clearly that he likes writing with lots of dialogue, or writing that obeys the rule of grammar.
But sometimes, it’s harder for him to say why he doesn’t like what he doesn’t like, so that his criticism ends up being something like “I just didn’t feel this story.” I know I feel this way sometimes, and I feel bad that I cannot be more explicit about why I don’t like the story. Should I keep my thoughts to myself then, since they may not be very helpful to the writer?
I think the problem is that as @Lade implies, good criticism is quite hard to give, because not only do you have to figure out what exactly what you like/don’t like, but you have to give an example of what you might write instead of what you don’t like. Maybe the writer who wants to improve his writing also has a responsibility to ‘open his ears’ to criticism of any kind so that he doesn’t miss out the diamonds in the dirt?
Yes, a writer who wants to improve must be open to criticism. What helped me as a writer was when i joined the Abuja Literary Society. There you would stand up and read your stories, poems and articles before some of the greatest literary minds this country has ever produced and an impressive array of professors.
The first time i confidently and proudly read out a story, i almost didn’t return. I was literally ripped to shreds. My expressions and tenses were criticized, my delivery flayed, my imagination rubbished. At that point, not even the belated “you have promise” could lift me from the depths i had sunk.
I crawled home and wept, then spent that week cursing them all, lol.
But i went back the following week and the week after. I didn’t read anything, i just listened to others and paid attention to the praises and condemnations and i learned.
It took another two months before i could summon the courage to do another reading and the review i got again was barely better than the first. I still cursed them but didn’t cry. That time i got angry and determined to earn their praises. I worked hard and improved.
I might not have recieved a standing ovation, but by the time i left Abuja, i was acknowledged a writer by the same people.
It was a baptism by fire. I would have preferred a softer landing for my first public attempt (that criticism would have made a person with lesser guts hang up his/her pen and paper forever) but maybe if i had not had that kind of almost cruel criticism, i would not have pushed myself so hard to improve. Who knows?
Thats just my own; what works for me cannot work for all.
This is such a helpful forum, and though I’m joining 2 weeks after discussions commenced, I hope it’s okay to add my 2 cents. I find that the critics take different approaches depending on the circumstance. An editor for instance is less likely to be considerate of your feelings- after all you are being paid to produce good work! However, in a place like NS, a militant approach might not always be graciously received. I was once asked to critique some work and had to observe these guidelines:
1. Always acknowledge the effort. Even if the work is crap and you can’t find anything specific to compliment, try ‘good for you for putting yourself out there’. it cushions whatever ‘hardness’ might follow.
2. Be frank/truthful but courteous. Tact can be learned. e.g- instead of saying a piece is ‘boring’ or a ‘snooze-fest’, try ‘your story will benefit greatly if you quicken the pace’. Rudeness is viewed as unprofessional and counter-productive.
3. Back emotions with facts. ‘I wasn’t feeling the story’ or ‘It just didn’t do it for me’, might be your honest opinion but it is not a critique. These are FEELINGS. This is different from saying, ‘the language was hard to follow’. In the latter critique, you are specifically talking about the language. In both cases, try to proffer a solution.
It does not help the writer and leaves him/her with a feeling of inadequacy and no way to remedy it. Try tempering such statements with a ‘perhaps’. ‘Perhaps if you tried ….’ As a critic, you are also a repair-man. It’s not enough to see the problem, you should also volunteer a solution.
4. Do not rush. be comfortable before you take up someone’s baby. A person’s mood can greatly influence their perception of the work being evaluated. Take your time to do a thorough/just job.
5. Remember to build up not tear down. Watch out for condescending phrasing. you don’t want to alienate the person you are supposed to be helping.
6. Be open to hearing a defense from the originator. Your word may not always be the law. You can miss it sometimes.
Critiquing is work! Sometimes it’s easier to just move on to the next story- I’m really glad people are taking this part of writing seriously ‘cos, it is a part of writing in my humble opinion.
Thanks Ce Ug for putting it succintly. Criticizing a work should never be a tear-em-down affair. As Lade stated in her own experience, some critics derive joy at tearing efforts apart and thats not good. I don’t care if the critic is a professor or an emeritus, a criticism that berates its writer can be very damaging. While in School, one of my courses had to do with constructive criticism and literary appreciation has a part to play.
Back in school, I happened to be a member of ANA (Association of Nigerian Authors) and whenever we did a reading session, there were bigots who where there to tear your work to pieces. I’ll enjoin anybody criticizing a work not to do that.
A good critic never rubbishes anyone’s work. After all, he was never part of the effort of getting that job done.
I just had to come here and see what’s up after what went down on boomingsol’s post. And Ce Ug did it for me, i have gained some from your post. @ Afronuts i read your post on boomingsol’s wall and i am happy there are folks like you on NS, we wont sit back and watch people turn tail and run because of criticism. We should all lend our voice to tact backed criticism.
I am not Peter Perfect, also still learning but i maintain there is nothing like a gentle put down, it will make you see reason.
As my momma always says “if you cannot find 3 good things to say about a person, don’t say 1 bad thing”. That simply means ‘give triple praise for every knock’.
Lade Lade… Elly Elly…
@Ce Ug, I just wanted to thank you for your post. Some of the stuff I try to do instinctively, but it’s great to have it all crystallised in the way you’ve done.
This is enlightening. Thank you Tola for bringing this back.
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