Tuesday, August 6

The Art of Critiquing Short Fiction

Source: www.chicagonow.com
One of my Creative Writing units this semester has a strong focus on critiquing.  It's an art that I'm far from perfecting, but at least I feel like I'm getting the hang of it at last.  I have so many notes on how to write a good critique, that I thought it would be worth sharing with you.  

The Book Florist's Guide to Critiquing Short Fiction

PART 1: Getting Started and Structure

1.  Be a reader.  

Start with your role as a reader and observe your responses to the story in order to identify what caused them.  

2.  Identify the author's goals.  

Your critique should be aimed at helping the author achieve their goal.  Anything that doesn't relate to the author's goal is irrelevant.  EXAMPLE: if the story is a romance, recommending the author to include a T-Rex crashing into a building is very misguided.  

3.  Start with things that 'worked well', with specific examples.

Three examples of things that worked well is the general rule-of-thumb for a short story critique.  And make sure to include specific examples from the text.  

4.  Identify areas for improvement, with specific suggestions.

Three areas for improvement is the general rule-of-thumb for a short story critique.  Same as before, make sure to include specific examples from the text.  I'll again emphasise how important it is that your suggestions for improvement relate to the author's goals.  

5.  List a similar author.  

Using a similar author as an example can be very effective, if you can think of one!

PART 2: What to talk about in a critique

These points come from a critiquing guidelines handed out by my Creative Writing tutor.  You'll find that certain points are more relevant for you to focus on than others, all depending on the particular story.  

0.  Short story essentials check list.  

Does it start with action and conflict?  Does it have a hook to lure the reader in?  Is there a character to love (or hate)?  Is there an interesting setting?  Does it avoid cliché?  Melodrama?  Overwriting?  

1.  Plot

Does the character have obstacles to overcome?  Do these obstacles create tension?  How is the story paced?  Is the conclusion satisfying?

2.  Character

Do the characters develop over the course of the story?  Are they plausible and consistent?  What is at stake for them?  Do we care as readers and why?  What is revealed about them through dialogue?  

3.  Voice / Style

What kinds of recurring stylistic techniques do you notice?  What about sentence and paragraph structure, and the balance between dialogue and description?  

4.  Theme

What themes does the story explore?  Is the treatment of these themes effective?  Is it subtle, overbearing, or original?  And why?  

5.  Setting

How is the setting revealed?  Why is it important?  Does the author use the setting to draw the characters, and if so, how?  Is the description of the setting original and interesting?  

6.  Language

Is the language fresh and engaging?  Is it precise or too wordy?  What about metaphors, similes, symbols etc. used by the author?  Are they under or over-written?  How do they contribute to the story's themes?  Are they consistent?  

I'm hoping that this can give you a hand as your simple and snappy critiquing guide.  Thanks for reading. 

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