Good Critiquers Make Suggestions

Is this controversial? I don't know, though I've heard people say they don't like it when critiquers suggest ways to fix things or (gasp!) try to write the scene in their own words. "It's my novel!" they say. "How dare they try to write it for me!"

Me? I love it. Sometimes it's because the critiquer is a much better writer than I am, and I steal their suggestions outright (with permission, of course). But most of the time I love suggestions because it helps me really see what the problem is.

For example, one early beta reader said some action scenes felt "flat." That alone could mean a lot of things, so I asked if he could give me an example. He came back with a little over a page of my novel, revised and rewritten as he would have done it himself.

I loved it. I kept some of his sentences and phrasing, but also I replaced a lot of his stuff with something that better fit the voice/character/situation. But most importantly, because of those suggestions, I learned. I now understand more of what makes action flat or tense and am able to apply the same lessons to my other action scenes. I couldn't have done that without his suggestions.

When critiquing for someone else, you do want to be careful about making suggestions/rewrites. Some people take it badly, and you need to word your suggested revisions carefully.

But not for me. Rewrite and suggest revisions all you want. I'll take it for what it is: your opinion. But it's better than an opinion because it's specific. And that's what a good critique is.

What do you think? Do you like specific suggestions/rewrites in your critiques, or do they ruffle your feathers?


R.S. Bohn said...

They ruffle my feathers, LOL! But I want them. I realize it's not them, it's my reaction, and a reflection of my own insecurities and pride issues. Having said that, I treat suggestions/revisions the same way I tell those I edit for to do: Take it or leave it. If I suggest something, it's just my two cents. In the end, the work goes out with your name, so be happy with what you do.

I'm rather heavy-handed with the Red Pen of Doom, though. Not everyone wants that.

Very good topic.

sherri said...

I've never had anyone tell me they didn't want suggestions, so maybe that means I'm getting the balance right. I try to make sure to present my suggestions as possible fixes for example purposes only. I love getting suggestions for the same reason you do, so that I know how to avoid the problem in the future, but I really hate it when people tell me "this is how you SHOULD do it." As long as they acknowledge their opinion comes from their own subjective experience, it's very helpful to have examples of rewriting.

And on another note, examples will also help me evaluate whether the critter is a good fit for me. If their suggested rewrite is completely out of what I had in mind, I know we're not on the same page and I give that crit less weight.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I actually draw a fine distinction between suggestions and rewrites, and I love one and hate the other.

I love it when my crit partners say things like, "This scene didn't work for me - maybe rewrite it from so-and-so's point of view," or, "Try to do more showing in this section."

But I really hate it when they just rewrite a section of my work. I've actually just deleted critiques outright when people have done that. I think it's too heavy-handed, and plus, I want my work to be mine. That's just me, though. Everyone wants different things from a critique partnership.

Sarah Ahiers said...

oh man, me too. I LOVE suggestions for the same reason you do, because it helps me to see the real problem and devise a way to fix it. It's also why i often offer suggestions in my own crits, because i'm always worried i'm not making myself clear, and an example seems to help

Victoria Dixon said...

No, I'm with you. Such comments are a priceless learning tool. Ignore them to your detriment, though I try to encourage people to see what I'm saying with their own writer's eyes.

TL Conway said...

I'd MUCH rather get a thoughtful comment from a reader saying "This didn't work because of... and here's maybe what I'm trying to say....". I'd take that any day over someone reading it and saying, "Yeah, that sounds good. Keep going!"

There's nothing worse than glossed over positive feedback.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I look forward to your suggestions! :) And I'm very capable of saying "no" to a revision/change if it's not consistent with my story intent. But most often, suggestions are either just what the story needs, or it sparks an idea of how to do it even better.

Nancy Thompson said...

Oh yes! I feel the same way. I mean, it would be great if every critiquer could be nice, but that's not necessary to learn from their insight. My best CPs were the ones who said, "I think this would sound better is you wrote it like this...or something like that." Giving me concrete examples really helped me hone my skills. So I'm like you, hack away and tell me how you think I should write it. I might not agree, but it's nice to gain a wider perspective.

Steve MC said...

I've worried over just this subject 'cause I've often shown a friend how he can change some sentences about to get rid of passive verbs or add clarity. I always say, "Something like this," to show it's just a suggestion, and he's always appreciated it.

I've never been on the other side of it, though, in which case I'd probably be totally miffed and not talk to them for weeks. :-)

Anonymous said...

I would never rewrite more than a sentence, and even then, it would be a margin note -- "Try something like ......". I make the suggestion, and then if they say "wait, I don't know what you mean" then I'd rewrite it to show them, but even then I don't like it. Writing is so ridiculously subjective that it just feels wrong, like wearing someone else's shoes.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I think that being vague when critiquing is about the worst thing a critiquer can do. It makes the writer feel like it's crap, but they have no idea how to fix it. (I speak from experience here.) Sometimes a simple, "Maybe you could add a little ___ here," or a "Do something like this or this here" may not give the actual fix, but it sparks the perfect idea of what to do. I love when critiquers give specifics! That's what makes them valuable.

S.P. Bowers said...

Personally I think as long as the critiquer is respectful then giving examples is a great way to learn. I've seen it done very disrespectfully (not recognizing the effort the author put in or why they had made certain choices)and all it did was turn the writer away from all their comments.