How To Give Feedback and Critiques
This is a guide intended to help clarify the difference between feedback and critique, and offer some useful pointers on providing each. Basically, the difference between the two is that feedback is the reader's impression or reaction to a story. It can be as simple as a "yea!" or a "boo!" or as complex as pointing out which lines were especially good or bad. Critique is a more along the lines of what a beta-reader would do: offering opinions on what about the story was good or bad, pointing out what did or did not work, and making suggestions for improvement. Critique need not include all such things, and feedback can be quite detailed. (For every declaration there is an exception....)
For the purpose of this site, a distinction will be made between feedback and critique.
How does one give feedback? It's simple. Email the author and say "I read your story." That's what feedback is for. Authors don't have any other way of knowing someone read the story other than feedback. (Why is this important? That's another essay.) It should be noted that when readers don't get a reply to their feedback, sometimes they get discouraged and stop sending feedback. Not every author expects feedback; not every reader expects a reply to feedback. But consider the effects of saying nothing -- eventually nothing gets said. It's enough to say 'thank you', 'you're welcome'.
It can be more involved than that. It needn't be. But if you want to say more than just "I read it", here are some suggestions:
How to send feedback:
- Say 'thank you'.
- Say whether you liked it, loved it, disliked it, hated it.
- Say 'I liked the part where...' or 'I enjoyed seeing...'. In other words, point out a part of the story you particularly enjoyed. Or hated. You can say 'I hate that Willow died!'
- You can say 'this didn't work for me' and point out which bit didn't work, if you know. Was it the fact that Spike was always wearing a hat? Did you not find it believable that Buffy would run away with Tara? Remember, if an author doesn't know what
s/he is doing wrong, how can s/he ever know to try fixing it?
How to know if you should send feedback?
If you say 'yes' to any of the above, consider sending feedback.
Obviously, not every story is going to be worth feedback. Whether you don't have time, or you simply don't care about the story, no one expects a reader to give feedback for every story s/he reads. Try asking yourself these questions, to determine if maybe you should send feedback:
- Did you enjoy the story?
- Are you glad you read it?
- Would you like to see this author write anything else?
Critiquing is a whole nuther ball of electrons. Critique is what a beta reader does, or what a reader does who wants to say an extra special 'wow, this story was worth my time'. It can be both positive and negative, and the intent is to improve, if not that story, then the next story the author writes. It's like sending Austrian chocolate, rather than a thank-you card.
What does a critique involve? It can include any of the following:
- Comments on spelling, grammar, punctuation, plot, character development, presentation (or formatting), style, emotional impact.
- Spelling: all stories should go through a spell-checker before being sent to a beta reader or a list. A critique can point out that either the story was not spell-checked, or that some words seem to have been auto-corrected when they should not have been.
- Grammar and punctuation: This can be optional, depending on your grasp of the rules of grammar or punctuation.
- Plot: Were you left wondering what happened at some point? Wondering why something happened? Did you love the fact that at the end you find out Riley was the secret mastermind?
- Character development: Did Xander act like himself? Did you find yourself wondering who this guy was that everyone was calling Spike? Did you think that Giles sounded exactly like the guy on the show? Did you find it unbelievable that a simple broken nail could make Buffy decide to become an insane crossing guard?
- Presentation: did your email program turn a MIME encoded file into garbage? Does the webpage need an html tag overhaul? Should the longer paragraphs be broken up into smaller ones?
- Style: Is the prose too flowery? Not flowery enough? Should the story use proper grammar, or does breaking the rules work? Do you want more dialogue, more description?
- Emotional impact: Did the story seem to achieve its goal in making the reader feel something (in general or particular). Did the death story not quite make you cry? Did the romance make you giggle? Did you think the story should have gone for laughs, when it was intended to make you sigh happily?
- The critique can be a detailed, line-by-line critique, or a summary of comments. Line-by-line means indicating every line for which the critic has a comment, whether it's as simple as 'wrong word here' or 'insert comma', or as complex as 'I don't think he would sit down on Xander's lap at this point, because he's still wearing the wet scuba gear.'
- In both cases, the purpose of the critique is to say what worked, and what did not. Ideally the critic should offer suggestions for fixing what doesn't work, but it is at least helpful to explain why something doesn't work.
Remember, unsolicited critique may not be well-received. On a list such as S/X, Lies, and Fiction, it is expected and encouraged. If you feel moved to critique a story from another list, you might ask the author privately, first, if s/he would like your critique.
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