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My Personal Rules for Critique

I just wanted to share a few thoughts on what I try and do when making comments about somebody's work. I have a few rules that I follow in terms of how I express my criticism- and I've noticed that (so far) people have been great at both giving and taking criticism (remarkable- my wife was shocked to see some of the comments exchanged). I don't always follow these rules myself, but they're the general formula I try to stick to.

First, I always try and lead off with something good about the work. Some turn of phrase, or plot point, or part of character development that I liked. This isn't just to cushion the harsh words of honest criticism either. Writers often tend to be blind to their own work- and this includes the merits. Some turn of phrase that the author threw in as a spacer or what-have-you might actually be extremely clever and leap out at the reader. When offering advice, the first thing I like to do is highlight things like that.

As a writer, I really want to know what doesn't work. The main part of my critique always focuses on the flaws and weaknesses. At the very least, I'll point them out. If I've got the time and inclination, I'll offer suggestions on how it can be improved.

Most important, however, is being dispassionate in your delivery of critique. I always try to keep the tone emotionally neutral, clinical. Certainly, I don't want to offend the person I'm offering critiques to- but at the same time, I don't want to do the author a disservice by not giving them the honest critique they deserve. As a person who's very blunt and inconsiderate, I have to make an extra effort to clean up my critique and make it something that's going to help hone someone's work.

Thanks for bringing this up.

Thanks for bringing this up. Our hope for oort-cloud is that it will become a place known for constructive criticism and for engaged discussion. Not to mention a fun place to be.

Good criticism is honest, and a critic should try to be as clear and specific as possible about what isn't working in a story. But that can and should be done in a spirit of mutual respect, and you make an important point about the need for dispassionate delivery.

Of course, oort-cloud is still a young community, and we have to expect that misunderstandings will happen as we make our way. Offering good criticism always requires a delicate balance. But I agree--I think we're off to a good start.