Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ferret's Six Guidelines to Good Critiques

As a Clarion attendee, Ferrett feels very strongly about the benefits and lessons he learned during his time at Clarion, and is trying to put some of these hard earned lessons out there for discussion.

Ferret's Six Guidelines to Good Critiques

These guidelines are excellent. They focus on the TEXT rather than the author, the author's intent, or the critiquer's opinion. A good crit is worth gold, and it's a techniques that needs to be learned.

At the KSP we encourage people to use the Milton method of critiquing:

* What's It About?
* What worked
* What didn't work
* What Happens Next?
* Notes

- Suggested method the 'Milford Method' (explanation by Lee Battersby):

1. What It's About- the critiquer gives a short description of what they thought the story was about (A man wants to marry his girlfriend, but then she reveals that she's a mermaid, he leaves her but falls into the river and almost drowns, she saves him, they reconcile and have an underwater wedding). This enables the author to see whether the story and narrative they *thought* they were writing is actually being received by the readers.

2. What Worked- the critiquer outlines those technical elements s/he felt were the strong points of the story. Note: that's NOT the things they liked, emotionally, but whether the elements worked in writing terms: you may *hate* the drunk paedophile villain of the piece, but if you were supposed to hate them, well, that element is working.

3. What Didn't Work- the opposite of section 2: the critiquer focuses on what elements didn't work, or which let the story down (The hero states he grew up in France, but then didn't know the difference between a baguette and a croissant....). Again, it's not an emotional response, it's a decision regards what technical matters need improving.

4. What Happens Next- the critiquer offers an opinion regarding what the author needs to do with the story, whether that be "combine all three bad guys into one so the hero has a stronger focus and the reader doesn't get confused" or "Hey, it's perfect, get it in an envelope" The goal here is to give the author a plan of action.

Lastly, if you're especially confident, and definitely if you've got a group that communicates well, give the author a right of reply at the end of the critiquing circle (ie: after everyone else has spoken). It gives everyone a chance to expound on points the author may wish redefined, or for the author to open a dialogue regarding what they were trying to do, and whether it was successful.

Often when I am stuck, I will cut and paste the header text and use that as a tool to critique some one's work. Critiquing is a fine balance of helping to make a text stronger, but not to over power that need by offering too much suggestion, or too much opinion, or too much detail. A crit is not an edit. It can be a lot of fun, as long as you are working in tandem with the author, not against them.


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