Critique Technique, Part 2–How Do You Feel?

[This is a reposting of a piece that was originally published on the Cochise Writers blog on September 10, 2011.]

Before I get to the first real topic in this series, I need to give a shout-out to local writer/poet/editor Harvey Stambrough for a blog post that he put up yesterday, “A Dozen Ways to Make Your Critique Group Work.” Good stuff there. Well worth your time to follow the link and give it a look.

New members of a critique/writers’ group will say, “I don’t know how to do this [provide feedback].” The tendency, I suspect, is to think they have to replicate what they had to do in high school and/or college English classes: things like identify and explain the symbolism in a passage, say, or compare and contrast the use of metaphor with onomatopoeia.

Nope! Nope, nope, nope. That’s not what critique/writers’ group feedback is about. It’s about helping the author get better by identifying what worked, what didn’t, and why.

Let’s start with the easiest thing: how did the chapter/story/poem/article/whatever–let’s make that easier: the piece–how did the piece make you feel? Did it:

  • excite you
  • anger you
  • make you happy
  • make you sad
  • confuse you
  • fascinate you
  • annoy you
  • thrill you
  • make you giggle
  • make you swear
  • make you stay up all night thinking about it
  • make you throw it across the room
  • make you want to bang your head against the wall
  • bore you
  • something else entirely
  • all of the above
  • some of the above
  • none of the above?

Note that it could have done many of these things at once or sequentially. Even a four line poem can do this–and a really good one will.

Whatever it might have done, capture that emotion–write it down in your comments: “This piece made me feel X (and maybe Y and Z and A and…).” This requires a bit of self-awareness, a kind of second track running in your mind as you’re reading that’s taking note of your responses to the story. That can take some practice to develop, but doing so will pay big dividends because everything else in this series will also depend on that second train of thought running on that parallel track, taking notes, as it were.

So, once you’ve noticed those emotional responses to the piece, the next question to ask is, “Why did it make me feel that way?”

Ah, now the fun begins. Now you get to start really analyzing the work.

WAIT! Come back! This isn’t scary! Really it’s not. But to let your heart rate get back down to normal, we’ll save the topic for next time.

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