‘How to Critique Creative Writing’ Review

2-star rating

British author Norman Turrell does something difficult for a how-to book: he manages to simultaneously be both too vague to be useful to the would-be critiquer, and too detailed. On the one hand, the “advice” he gives on what a reviewer should look for when critiquing a work is so general the reviewer has nothing to hang his or her critique hat on. Then he suggests the reviewer take so many notes on each read-through of the work that they could end up with more words written than the story or chapter they were reviewing contains. (Those notes being based on the vague guidance he provided.)

A former mathematician, Turrell recommends the reviewer graph out their impressions, chapter by chapter, for features such as plot, character development, percentage of dialogue contained, and pace: each chapter would get a numerical score based on whatever rating scale the reviewer wanted to give to that feature. His intent is noble—to see how each of these characteristics develops over time—but to be kind, I can only see a few critiquers being willing to apply this technique.

Finally, Turrell tries another potentially good idea when he applies the topic of each of the very brief analysis chapters to his very first book, Alice in Virtuality. Recognizing that many readers of this critique book will not have read Alice, he encourages them to go purchase a copy, which seems like a pretty cheesy way to generate a few sales. For readers who choose not to buy the book, Turrell’s analyses fall flat because they mean nothing. I ended up skipping most of them. The idea of providing examples was a good one, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” according to Shakespeare’s character Polonius, but this 84 page handbook is too brief to be useful. Not recommended.

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