Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Critiquing--Shannon Style

Since so many of you have entered to win my 25-page critique (which, btw, I am blown away by--I can't believe how sweet and enthusiastic you all are!) I thought I'd use today's post to talk a little bit about the way I critique. (Let's hope it doesn't trigger a mass exodus of people deleting their entry for the contest. *bites nails*)

Okay, setting my neuroses aside, I'm what you might call a thorough Critiquer. In fact, when I first sent notes to my CPs, they came with a long email explaining my method to them before they opened the document and saw how...colorful their pages were:


This is...pretty standard for a crit from me (okay, fine...maybe it's a little conservative--I didn't want to scare you all off. I leave a LOT of comments. My CPs will testify)

So what exactly are you looking at?

Well, first--I always highlight repetitive/redundant words/phrases in yellow and any adverbs that jump out at me in teal. I'm not saying the writer has to change them. I just want to make it easier for them to see where they are.  A lot of times they don't realize  how many there are until they see it that way.

And then...there's the comments. Anytime I'm confused, or have to read something more than once, or feel unsure about something--I leave a comment. Usually a long one. But I'm not pointing out things I don't like. I'm just questioning everything.

Every line of dialogue I ask myself: can I see the character saying this? Every description I ask myself: can I picture this? Every emotional beat I ask myself: can I understand why the character is feeling this? Do I believe it?  And if the answer I come up with to any of that is, "I'm not sure...", I make a comment. Not because I necessarily expect the writer to change anything, but because I want to make sure they've really thought it through.

I know how writing goes. I know what it's like to get in "the zone" and the words are just flowing flowing flowing and it's SO clear in your head. But sometimes in the haste to get the words down, we rush through things or skip something important or forget to provide certain details to help the reader see what we're seeing. And even when we revise, it's so clear to us, we often don't realize it doesn't read that way to others.

It happens to all of us. Don't be fooled into thinking I send perfectly clean pages to my CPs. (I am woefully blind when it comes to my own writing.) But I try to read really slow and carefully when I read for someone else--the same way I hope someone will do for me. I try to point out anything that makes me pause and think..does that really make sense? And I leave lengthy comments because I like to try to explain why I'm feeling confused, what I'm wondering about, what I feel like is missing. That way the writer can better understand what I think the problem is. Then it's up to them to decide if they agree or disagree and tweak accordingly.

I fully expect they'll reject some or most of my comments--and I'm fine with that. (I'd honestly be a little worried if they took every note. No way I'm right all the time) ;) And I never want them to see all the comments and think: she didn't like my pages, or she thinks I'm a bad writer. It's quite the opposite, really. I have been lucky enough to read some of the most amazing drafts ever--and they still got colorful, comment filled pages back from me. It's just my method. I'm slightly OCD, extremely detail oriented, and I ask a lot of questions. It makes for very...festive looking critique pages.

But for the most part it seems to be well received. (Well...my CPs haven't dropped me--yet... ) And I swear, I'm not brutal. I am also very generous with my happy faces and "awesomes"--plus plenty of blonde jokes and invented words. I promise you won't feel hopeless by the end.

So on that note, if you haven't left a comment to enter to win the critique, you might want to go here and do that (assuming I haven't just scared all of you away)

And what about you guys: what's your approach as you critique? What are you watching for? What makes you leave a comment?

42 comments:

  1. My critiques are pretty thorough, too. I tend to make notes whenever I stumble on a word or phrase. Sometimes it's just to question; other times it's to suggest a change. I look for repetitious phrases or words, using too many clauses in a row...stuff like that. I also seem sensitive to voice and character development. I like to 'see' a character and/or scene. I'll highlight what drew me in. If there's an area I think might pull a reader out or they might skip over, I'll mention that. Always to help the writer improve their story. I'd love to know someone's work I critiqued got published. How cool. lol

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  2. Depends on what my CPs want. Most of the time, I'm thorough, similar to your critique. Sometimes my CPs want a read through. Where does it slow down, voice, etc.
    Great post!

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  3. I do a combination of overall review and line edits. I agree it's hard as the writer to have an objection view of your own work.

    I'm glad you're getting so many entries, but darn it, it's reducing my odds of winning. I hope you'll offer it again sometime when you have the time.

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  4. Once I know what stage they are at - first draft or polished draft and then what they are looking for, I'll comment on anything that doesn't seem to flow, or could be written stronger - and I try not to comment if it's just something I would do differently.

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  5. I do a lot of the same things. I haven't highlighted adverbs though, but I tend to be a very thorough critiquer these days. When I first started I had no idea what I was doing, but now I've gotten a lot better at it.

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  6. I love partners who take the time to really dive in!

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  7. That's pretty much how I critique. I always have to give a warning at the beginning about how verbose I am and that I'm really just writing through my thoughts.

    By the way, I have to mention that yes, you're tough, but not harsh at all. In fact, after you critiqued my first chapter, I was SOOOO eager to make some of the changes because after you pointed them out, they were obvious to me. :D

    I ended up rewriting that chapter and it is TONS better.

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  8. I love the fact that you highlight repititions and adverbs, I didn't realize how many adverbs I had been using until I had them highlighted for me. Talk about an eye opener.

    Thanks for sharing your process.

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  9. I ask myself the same questions as you do. If something is confusing, I comment. If words are repeated or incorrectly used...but I also keep on eye on the big picture- character development, believability, plot, pacing, etc... Sometimes I finish the whole piece and then go back to try and help figure out why the pacing was off or why the tension was diminued due to lack of clarity in some cases.

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  10. I'm pretty much the same, except for highlighting adverbs. I just like to delete them so that they get crossed out (in MS Word 2007, I think 2003 put it's own auto note on the side between comments). I would never presume to tell another writer what they should or shouldn't do, but it helps if they agree about cutting because then they can just accept that change.

    I also get pretty in depth with comments. I can't help being long winded, but I also really like to delve into why I like something as well. It's all so subjective that I don't expect my partners to change anything based on just my opinion, but if it resonates with them, sometimes the explanation helps.

    I know it does when people critique my work.

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  11. I am the same way. I line edit with a ton of comments. If I loved it, I'll say it. If I stumble over reading it (I try to read it aloud to get the flow), I comment on it. If something doesn't sound right, or in character or anything, I comment. I put in a ton of smily faces, too, and "WOO HOOs" as I want them to know exactly what I was thinking as a reader. So far, my partners seem to like it. And I know I appreciate a similar style :-)

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  12. I'm totally entering the contest - thanks!

    My crits vary depending on what I think the author needs to hear most. Sometimes it's an overall story direction kind of crit, but lots of times it's just a colorful as yours! And I know that those are extremely helpful, so bring it! :)

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  13. Let me just testify that you want Shannon to read your pages. She is AMAZING, and you won't be daunted by the long comments because they're AWESOME and somehow make you smile even while you're cringing that you have to do this major change and all that.

    So yeah. :) :)

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  14. That's my critiquing style too! And it's amazing how much more you'll see in someone else's work than your own. I wish I could have my criticial eye on my work but it's impossible to be impartial enough. So that's why we need critique partners and beta readers. :) And this post just makes me wish that I win your critique all the more!

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  15. It's the best way to critique! When I see a lot of comments, I know I might have a lot of work ahead of me, but I also know that the critiquer has likely put a lot of thought into it, reading more closely. I wouldn't do it any other way, and I wouldn't want it any other way in a critique I received. The best critiques I have ever gotten are the ones with the most comments, the ones where the critiquer points out the things that stood out, whether good or bad, and why they think it stood out. Loving the multiple colors! It's so organized! Anyone would be lucky to have a critique from you.

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  16. You look like an awesome crit partner! I tend to be thorough, too, but my crits are never that pretty :)

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  17. Yup - my CPs get equally colorful pages back from me. I don't highlight adverbs, but I do point them out if there seem to be a lot of them.

    I actually always give everything at least two read-throughs. The first time, I comment on everything I love and that I think is particularly well-done or awesome. The second and subsequent times, I comment on the question things: what isn't working for me, and why I think it isn't working. I might say that I think it's missing a connection between characters, or an explanation of the layout of the room so we can follow the action better, or that I think there is too much explanation and that more should be left for the reader to figure out, or something else.

    And I always include a cover page that gets into the general issues: the subplot is competing for my attention, or the romance part peaks too early, or a certain relationship needs to be made stronger, or a general issue with conflict, or some other manuscript-wide comment like that. And I also make sure to note what I liked about the MS as a whole in my cover letter, too. Like you, I don't want my CPs to feel discouraged by my comments; I want it to be clear that there's a lot that I like about their MS, and also that I don't expect them to make absolutely every change I suggest because it's all just my opinion anyway.

    I love critiquing.

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  18. I think it's really important to explain your method up front - it just makes things so much clearer. And isn't it funny how you can se things like repetitive words in other people's writing but it's so hard to see them in your own? My copyeditor is still coming back to me with repetitive words in my MS even though I've read the darn thing about a hundred times now!

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  19. Love it. That isn't something that would scare us away, Shannon. It's something that would make us do bloody battle in the streets to win. You rock, and everyone knows it, girl. Time to accept the adoration! LOL. :-)

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  20. Wow!! You are so thorough!! Whoever wins your giveaway is one very lucky writer!!!! Yay!

    I try not to concentrate on the grammar because I think that's for a complete expert to do! Unless of course if the spelling for instance detracts from the actual story! Otherwise I concentrate on my emotional response to what I'm reading. I'm not very logical about my critique! I really really try to see only the good things and if I feel there are things that don't work I try really hard to suggest alternatives.

    Take care
    x

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  21. Wow, I'm actually more hopeful that you'll pick my manuscript to read now. Although I tend to get confused when I get a whole lot of critique and I wonder, "should I take this certain piece of advice? Or ignore it."

    Normally what I do is read something like I'd read a book, and if something stops me, or slows me down, or confuses me at all, that's when I mark it.

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  22. I highlight, write in red- I like the red. There is alot to keep in mind for the overall feel and just the one chapter. I usually red through it, maybe do simple edits, and re-red for the bigger stuff like pacing or character.
    My partners and I also write about the parts we love. It really is nice to get the comments of what I'm/we're doing right, too. I'm going to have to go enter now!

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  23. OMG Your critiques look exactly like mine! I make SO many comments, and comments on my comments, and then I also type up a couple pages of thoughts and notes. It can be quite intimidating. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who does this! Awesome!

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  24. I love when crit partners dig deep into my stuff! I love how you do it!

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  25. My critiques are pretty thorough as well. I love the questions you ask about dialog, description, and setting!! Thanks

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  26. Shannon, I don't think I'm as organized as you with my critiques but I really do try to be thorough. I point out repetition, weak verbs, sentence flow, passive/active voice, story development, plot holes, character development, pacing etc. I'd say that I'm better with the overall structure of the story analysis than the line by line edits however.

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  27. I'm harsh but with lots of love. I guess it's better to get everything straight at that level of the MS than trying to figure out why it didn't sell later.

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  28. Yep, that's pretty much how I critique too! Though it depends on what the person on the other side wants. With my critique partners I'm very thorough and I'll comment on everything, from plot points to misplaces commas. When I do random critiques I tend to keep it a bit more general.

    Also, it's highly amusing reading English in Greek letters.

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  29. Love your style!!! It's so pretty.
    We highlight quite a bit too and you gotta love that crossed-out line feature.lol

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  30. I've never really critiqued anyone's work, but your example reminds me of what the editor sends to me. (With more of course!)

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  31. *puts $1000 in envelope*

    *mails it to your house*

    *also sends manuscript*

    Do your CP's know how lucky they are?

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  32. I love the way you crit, it sounds a lot like my style. I also comment like crazy--questions, suggestions, just verbalizing what I thought when I read something, and I comment when I love a certain phrase or description. Highlighting repetitive words is also on my list, and passive verbs. Although, sometimes I get a fail because I get to caught up in the story and a whole page will go by without a comment. But that could be good too, right???

    My current critiquer does the same, and I love it!

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  33. Its always wonderful to get a second opinion on a piece of work. But I think that the author and the critiquer both have to be in the right mind. I'm sure it takes a lot of time and effort for a critiquer to do their job and the author has to respect that. Some of my friend get really emotion when I make a suggestion or ask a question because they think I'm criticizing them personally. Mind you, I sometimes have to take a step back for my work in order to appreciate other peoples points of view.

    Thanks for this post.

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  34. hi miss shannon! yikes! im running for my life! if you did a critique on stuff i wrote it could look like a lit up christmas tree. ha ha. i just got started critiquing and i got a real neat cp. its miss sharon on random thoughts. for my first on i did a little book she wrote. i looked how it flowed and how it could read out loud cause it was for kids. i think reading stuff out loud gets you to know if its smooth. i said stuff i didnt like and stuff i did like. wow for sure i didnt do all that stuff you do. for sure im gonna get better at it cause im knowing more what to look for. i like being a critiquer.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  35. You sound like you would make a fantastic editor! Thank you for visiting and following Middle Passages.

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  36. You would be an absolutely amazing editor. I'm a littly jelly of your CPS

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  37. I find that my critiques are not so much critical and more questioning as well. I ask a LOT of questions when I go through pages.

    I have to admit...I actually LOVE it when I get pages back that look like that!

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  38. Aren't critiques fun? My editor helped identify numerous sacred cows to slay. It hurt at the time, but in retrospect the MS was so much more professional. Tight. Clean, lean, and mean. Best wishes for you and your writing projects.

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  39. Oh, and I see you live in So. Cal. too. I'm in Orange County. Nice to meet you, and thanks for stopping by Shannon's blog today!

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  40. Dude-Shannon is a freaking AWESOME critiquer! Anyone who wins her critiques is lucky :)

    PS Shannon, don't ever leave me! Like evereverevereverEVER <3

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  41. Now I really want to have you look at my work, caveat being probably not on this round. I don't plan on being ready for critique on my WIP until closer to the end of the year. Now, if that is OK, then definitely I am in. Love following your blog!

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  42. Ha, I always preface my critiques with, 'now don't be scared by all the red...'

    I talk a lot in crits, LOL


    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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Yay-I love comments! Thank you so much! (But please remember to keep your comments spoiler-free. Also, I try to keep this a happy, positive place. Friendly debate is fine, but always be kind to each other). <3