New members of a critique or writers’ group will often say, “I don’t know how to critique.” The tendency, I suspect, is to think they have to do what they did in high school or college English classes: 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 or writers’ group feedback is about. It’s about helping the author get better by identifying what worked, what didn’t, and why.
How Do You Feel?
Let’s start with the easiest thing: 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
- bore 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
- 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. 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…).
A Two-Track Mind
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. It 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 that topic for next time.
Meanwhile, do have any suggestions on how a new critiquer can develop or improve their awareness of their response to a piece while they’re reading it? If so, please put them in the Comments box at the end of the post.