Apr 022014
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~ Everyone’s a Critic: How to be the one Everyone Wants ~

by Tam Francis

40s teens or college girls writing











As writers, it’s in our best interest to have our works critiqued, and we need to learn to take it on the chin, and how to improve our writing with the criticisms we receive.  If you want to be treated like a professional, you have to act like a professional and I believe in taking the path to become the path. I was recently reading a wonderful blog post by Kristen Lamb where she lays out just how to do that.

But it got me thinking about my own writing group with Janet, Gretchen, Phil and Wayne (each a unique critic)and how I could be a BETTER critic and be more helpful. It’s not only important to learn how to take criticism, but how to give it. So, after scouring the internet and making notes in our meetings I’ve come up with helpful hints of how to be a better critic.

Approach of Critique

  • Read the work. Read it again, and read it maybe one more time. Try reading it out loud. When trading critiques in a writer’s group, make sure you give each piece its fair amount of time. You need not dissect every sentence, but I recommend reading at least twice. First time, read for pleasure, (read as a reader), overall impact. Second time, (read as a critic),  critique, be picky, look for  typos and grammar problems. If time allow, read a third time and pay attention to plot holes, or places where you were confused.
  • Disassociate yourself, your personal preferences, likes and dislikes from the work. Just because you don’t like the word “plummy” or the color “puce,” doesn’t mean it’s not okay. Does it work in the story? Don’t like present tense writing? Get over it and look at content.  Don’t start your critique with, “I think, I feel, I know…” Start your critique with “The work…the paragraph…this section.  NEVER say, “I would have written it like…” You are the critic, NOT the writer.
  • Criticize the work, not the person. Don’t ask, “Why do you like to write mysteries, or romance, or Sci-fi. Why don’t you like Westerns? Why is all your stuff so dark.” Never start your critique with, “You don’t…or you’re wrong about…you’re style is…”
  • If someone is new to critique take it slow and offer a sandwich approach. (When I was managing a cosmetic line, my regional manger suggested I read, “The One Minute Sales Person.” It  changed the way I dealt with people in all aspects personal and business. It’s where I first learned the sandwich approach). POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, POSITIVE. Sometimes it’s hard to take a huge dose of negative, and criticism often seems negative, so try sandwiching it. Don’t be a jerk of a critic. Find something you liked about the work and start with and end with that.
  • Find out what your fellow writers are looking for in way of critique. You may be a stickler for comma’s, but he’s looking for general timeline flow, or overall mood of a piece or if the setting description works. Don’t assume your wants and needs in critiquing are the same as your peers. We are all in different stages of our writing journey and have different needs.

learn to write 40s 50s graphic









What to Critique

  • Content: Character, setting, plot. Are the characters believable, likable, wonderfully despicable. Does the setting work, have enough description and create the right backdrop for the action. Does the plot have enough action to propel the reading and keep it interesting. Is it believable within the world created?
  • Style, Flow and Mood: Does the style of writing suit the story? How does the author use literary devices to affect the flow of the story. Is the pacing too slow, too fast, too jumpy? What is the mood or pathos the writer is trying to convey? What does the author want us to feel, and has the manuscript accomplished its goal?
  • Rules: Does the author conform to the basic standards of grammar, punctuation, syntax, structure and usage? (though all this can be played with if done purposefully and interestingly).

1930 Writing 2 guys and a girl











Golden Rule

Treat people the way you want to be treated. Many people hide behind the concept of “Truth,” to satisfy their own need for superiority and control. Ask yourself if there’s a kinder way to deliver a criticism.

Instead of: “Your characterization sucked and was two-dimensional.”

Try: “It would be wonderful to know more about your character’s likes and dislikes and their motivations for their choices. Have you considered adding any internal dialogue or scenes to flesh out your character?”

Instead of: “This sentence/paragraph/chapter didn’t make any sense. I don’t get it.”

Try: “This sentence/paragraph/chapter didn’t clarify your action/character/mood? What were you going for? What did you want the reader to feel or think in this passage?”

Instead of: “I don’t know where you’re going with this?”

Try: “Who is your target reader? What elements do  you feel you’ve added to appeal to that audience?”

Overall, giving and receiving critiques can be a wonderful rewarding and inspiring step in your writing journey. Make sure you are giving as good as you get. In fact, I’ll go one step further, try giving a little more then you get and see what magic happens!


Have you received bad critiques? Has someone torn you down. Have you inadvertently said something hurtful or judgmental out of haste or ignorance? Do you agree with the sandwich approach?

Tam Francis, authorTam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She  shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page


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  9 Responses to “Everyone’s a Critic: How to Be the One Everyone Wants”

Comments (9)
  1. After meeting weekly for going on four years now–way over 150 gatherings–I still look forward to our critique circle each week. I still try to follow the guidelines Tam posted. To me reading a submission at least twice is critical. And of course, the sandwich rule still applies. As an aside, we’ve had a number of new members drop out after a while. I don’t know if it’s our criticisms, or grind of weekly meetings, or the weekly homework of reading and critiquing others’ submissions. But the group sure helps me, and I say that after they have hacked at three complete novels of mine, in a genre none of them read for pleasure, I suspect. All that said, playing well with others seems to me to be the main key to our group’s longevity.

  2. One thing I love about our group is that we each bring a different talent to critiques. Some of us are structure sticklers while others catch the holes in the plot or places where the plot seems to have changed. I learn from others’ critiques each week, not only how to be better at critiquing but also how to be a better writer.

    • I agree. I learn a lot from not only the critique of my work, but the critique of others. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!


  3. It’s really neat having my name as a link!
    I’d like to add one thing. Don’t let a critique derail your writing. If your submission is a work in progress, save the revisions for later and continue your story until it’s finished. Then go back and evaluate the critique suggestions.

  4. Well said, Tam.

    To anyone who is a fledgling novelist: As a member of the writer’s critique group that Tam references, I confirm that our weekly one-hour sessions have become a highlight of my week, and a huge influence on my in-progress novel. The group doesn’t critique every chapter, but the feedback I get on selected chapters continues to be important. And Tam is quite competent in sandwiching her criticisms among many compliments and phrasing those criticisms quite nicely. That’s appreciated..

    • Thanks Phil. It’s is a pleasure to work with the group.I learn just as much from other’s critiques as I do from my own! And thanks for stopping by the site and taking time to comment.


  5. I’m a big fan of the sandwich approach when both giving and receiving feedback. At the moment I’m on the other side of things, surrounded by beta feedback and about to embark on making my story better! Really appreciated your tips here – it’s all about the Golden Rule.

    • I thought I could use some tips and a refresher and maybe other’s could too. It’s too easy to slip into your own likes and dislikes when critiquing another’s work. Funny how many folks haven’t heard of the sandwich ;) Good job getting busy on your beta feedback. I just sent my ghost story collection off to a pro editor. Scary!

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