By: Professor Sonja Mongar
How to Critique
“[It's] not what I like, but what this piece is like. Interrogate it. Suggest its context. Explore its nature and its possibilities.” Janet Burroway
First: every story is sacred. As readers, we appreciate the courage it took for the writer to share imtimate details of their thoughts and lives in terms of non-fiction or to share their visions as fiction, drama and poetry writers. We respect this sacred act by carefully reading the work and using all the skills we have aquired in class to give an objective, useful and supportive review of the work.
We also respect the confidentiality of each story meaning it’s not appropriate to share them with those outside the classroom or to discuss them with anyone, including the writer, outside the boundaries of writing and critique activities.
Our single-minded goal is to help the writer realize his or her vision.
Only the writer understands his/her vision and only the writer is an expert on his or her story. There’s always a chance that you failed to “get it.” There is an equal chance that the writer does not possess all the skills yet to realize his/her vision for the story. But always keep in mind, that none of you has the full expertise to tell another writer what they should change – we only have our opinion based on our limited experience and knowledge and we can only make suggestions that the writer is ALWAYS free to disregard.
That’s why it’s good to ask questions like “What did you mean by…?” or to SUGGEST elements that the writer may not see. You could say i.e., “WHAT IF, you changed the point of view from first person to second person” (see the list of possibilities below.)
Critiqing is never about the word – SHOULD. AND it’s never about grammar or spelling. However if grammar/spelling errors make it dificult for you to understand what you are reading, you can mention this fact.
Critique IS about craft. Craft elements depend on the assignment. i.e. imagery, sensuous details, concrete versus abstract, active verbs, details versus generalizations, structure, characterization, scene and dialogue, plot and so on. As the class progresses and you gain more and more knowledge and skills, your critiques will become more and more effective.
Critiquing is also about connecting with the writer by reflecting how the work affected you as a reader.
Effective, useful critiques require effective but objective language. Avoid a subjective, generalized expression of your experience such as: “I liked it, It works, It’s good, It doesn’t work, It’s poor,” etc..
Burroway suggests you use questions and phrases like this:
I’m wondering if this suggests…
This reminds me of…
I think this character wants…
The rhythm is…
Could this be expanded to…?
Is the conflict with…?
Always give examples from the work to back up your observations and conclusions.
Be gentle but effective.
Sonja Mongar – all rights reserved 2007